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Your rights on arrest - legal help and useful information   Five Reasons against National ID Cards
  The implications for our privacy and freedom

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Once again, the government is making loud noises about the supposed need for a National ID card. Here's five reasons why we should be opposed to the cards, and a statement by John Wadham, director of Liberty

1. Privacy: who will have access to personal information about us? The card could hold vast amounts of information from your address (and where you have lived in the past), who your family are, your religion and on to your priority for heath-care, education and public services. It is likely to contain your fingerprints, scan of your iris or even your DNA profile. What reassurances are there about how our personal information is shared? We are particularly concerned about 'function creep'. A national ID card would require a National Database containing continually updated personal information. Once created, it will almost certainly expand. Who would seek access to the information and how can we be sure that permission wont be granted?

2. Enforcement: what will be the consequences if you fail to carry, or lose your card? Even if it is not compulsory to carry the card at all times, if we need the card to access services surely it will be virtually impossible to live in society without it? We are concerned that the system will foster discrimination and prejudice and lead to some sections of society being asked to prove their identity and their right to access more than others. The inevitable outcome is that an 'entitlement' card will be optional for the minority who are wealthy but in effect compulsory for the majority who make greater use of public services.

3. Resources: surely there are better ways for this government to spend hundreds of millions of pounds each year? Setting up the scheme, including computerised cards, could easily cost £1bn. Maintenance of the system, probably including a huge national database, would cost millions more each year.

4. Functionality: why should we believe that ID cards will reduce crime, when there is no evidence of this in any EU countries who have ID Cards? Evidence from other EU countries highlight the potential dangers in an ID card scheme, and no benefits in terms of crime reduction. In France there are concerns over discriminatory practice by the authorities and in Germany the safeguards protecting privacy have been eroded. We should heed the warnings of these countries.

5. Privacy: when will this government take steps to protect individual privacy rather than continually proposing measures which erode it? The government is apparently determined to introduce a national identity card - but even ministers don't seem sure what it is for. First it was to 'combat terrorism' now it's to 'reduce fraud' neither of which are supported by convincing evidence that it would have any practical effect. It would be naÔve to believe that once in place use of the cards and database would be restricted to the original stated purpose. The government's attempted re-branding of national identity cards as 'entitlement cards' does not detract from very real concerns over privacy and freedom; but it does imply that we will be endlessly required to prove we are entitled to services we already receive.


Statement against ID cards by John Wadham, director of Liberty, Apr 2002:

"There is no evidence to suggest that introducing national ID cards will help the fight against terrorism. Sophisticated terrorist networks would not find it difficult to forge or steal the cards. Those who carry out terrorist attacks are often chosen because they are unknown to the police. Identifying those who carried out the attacks on New York and Washington before boarding planes would not have rung any alarm bells.

Preventing future terrorist attacks is a real and complex challenge. There is a danger that in the current climate in which people feel genuinely concerned about their safety, the government could implement a series of measures which will have no real effect in combating terrorism, but which will seriously undermine freedom here in the UK.

There is similarly no good evidence that ID cards would help tackle illegal immigration or domestic crime. There is, however, ample evidence that compulsory ID cards - and the police stop and detention powers that must inevitably accompany them - can do real damage within communities. Thatís particularly the case if, for example, - for example, if particular groups are seen to be disproportionately targeted for stops and feel that they are being harassed and criminalised by the authorities on the basis of their appearance.

ID cards only help you track people if you know who you are looking for, if you are certain they cannot possibly be carrying plausible fake papers, and if you stop them.

That means you have to use the police to stop vast numbers of people on the street, detain large numbers who arenít carrying a card or who in some way are deemed to arouse suspicion. This cannot be a sensible way of focussing our already overstretched police forcesí time and resources on combating terrorism, or indeed any other crime.

There are plenty of available means of identification available in the UK for when citizens need to establish their identity. What is at stake here is whether it should be a legal obligation to show your ID card at any time when asked by the police, even if they have no clear reason to ask you.

If ID cards are introduced as a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to counter-terrorism, and even if the police do all they can to use the scheme for this purpose, it could be used for less benign purposes in the future.

One of the things that make this country such a good place to live is the tradition of freedom we have. If we curtail and limit these freedoms for no good reason, that would be a real victory for those who carried out and supported the terrorist attacks in the USA on the 11th September".

Reproduced from Liberty UK website
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option Observer: Liberty Watch special
option A dumb idea and dangerous idea (Observer 30.June 2002)
Blunkett's identity crisis (Observer 30.June 2002)
option ID Cards: Drudge Report
option Concern At ID Card Database Plan (Guardian)
option UK ID Card Proposals Return (
option Blunkett puts the case for identity cards (FT)

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