Identity cards

Britain has more police than ever before, more people in prison than at any other time in its history, and its population is under surveillance from CCTV cameras in street after street, and yet crime continues to rise. The government has no clue of how to tackle the causes of crime and is only capable of inventing more methods of repression. There is a serious disease afoot and the government uses only the prescription of repression. It fails every time and yet the government just keeps increasing the dose, no matter how ineffective it is and how serious the side effects are. The latest is the proposed reintroduction of identity cards.

The civil liberty case against identity cards is well known. The codification of the entire population, the obligation to carry a card, on which the information encrypted cannot be checked by the cardholder, and the requirement to produce the card on the demand of a police officer, is a dangerous intrusion into individual privacy.

All states seek to control their citizens and the ones which do not understand that strong, confident and convivial communities are the only means of inhibiting and identifying anti-social behaviour, seek to impose ever more controls. For a government lacking a perception of community, identity cards have got to be compulsory; it will not suffice for the production of a card to be required to obtain state benefits. The government already parades the need to combat terrorism as a reason for identity cards, as it does for every other infringement of civil rights, and to give the semblance of reality to the anti-terrorist rhetoric will require the police to have the power to demand production of the card.

The war time ID cards were abolished in 1951 following the refusal of a Leeds Liberal, Harry Willcock, to produce his card for a police officer when stopped in London. In his judgement on that case, Lord Chief Justice Goddard remarked that "in this country we have always prided ourselves on the good feeling which exists between the police and the public. Random demands to see identity cards, he continued, "tend to make people resentful of the acts of the police and inclines them to obstruct the police instead of assisting them." The identical view was expressed by Marc Cadwallader, spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in 1995: "a compulsory card would potentially alienate many members of the public from the police."

A voluntary card would be worse. The secure and comfortable would acquire cards; the vulnerable and the marginal would not, with all the potential discrimination and hostility against those not able to produce a card to obtain needed assistance and help.

This government has no shame. Not only does it wish to force ineffective identity cards on every citizen, but it wishes to make everyone to pay £40 for this dubious privilege. An earlier government tried a poll tax and failed. This poll tax and this card must also be opposed.

30 November 2003