ID scheme: the truths, half-truths and deceptions

By Geraint Bevan | THE organisation NO2ID will not be represented officially inside the Home Office’s secretive ID consultation at the Barcelo Carlton Hotel in Edinburgh today. Despite repeated requests, officials have decided that my fellow campaigners and I are not “stakeholders” in the delivery of the glorious post-ID future. Shame.

To those people who have been invited to praise the ID scheme to high heaven and develop strategies for coercion, the Home Office has distributed information packs. These contain a mixture of truths, half-truths and outright deceptions.

Critics perpetuate myths, it is claimed, by suggesting that issuing each ID card will cost more than the pollster-approved sum of £30. The Home Office’s own estimate for the cost of the scheme over 10 years (the renewal period for an ID card) is £4.4bn. Divided by 40 million UK adults, that equates to a cost per card of more than £100 – but to say so is scaremongering, apparently. Never mind that the London School of Economics estimates the costs to the taxpayer may be five times higher still. Perhaps ministers are hoping that we won’t notice if the costs are taken from our taxes and increased bank charges (verification fees), instead of all being demanded as up-front payment when applying for passports.

The ID database will hold only core identity information, the Home Office pack says, and nothing that might be deemed sensitive. Never mind that victims fleeing domestic abuse, witnesses fleeing violent criminals or medical researchers working with animals might consider their addresses to be sensitive data. No mention is made of the audit trail that will record details of every visit to a clinic, every application for credit, every occasion on which government-mandated regulations require verification of identity.

No-one will go to prison for failure to register for an ID card, the Home Office says. This is true. Instead, civil penalties will be applied. Refuseniks will be denied access to non-emergency health care, credit or travel authorisation. Meanwhile, people who fail to adhere to the new reporting requirements will be driven to bankruptcy by civil penalties, with no chance of a day in court. Ministers have said in parliament that the government will not allow the creation of “ID martyrs”. The government did learn something from the poll tax.

Attendees are told that there is no widespread opposition to the scheme. An old poll is cited (from long before HMRC lost the child benefit database) which found a majority of people were willing to trade civil liberties to prevent terrorism. No mention of later polls that show a large majority of the population opposed to the government collecting more personal data.

The information pack assures participants that ID cards will not be compulsory to carry. Entirely true. That will, of course, disappoint those few supporters of the scheme who hoped that police might find it easier to identify criminals or immigrants free at large on the streets. But ID cards haven’t prevented immigration, crime or terrorism in other countries anyway.

The government assures readers that the ID database will be secure and that hackers won’t be able to access the data. Four damning reports released last week about the loss of half the population’s data on the child benefit database and the personal and banking details of over half a million recruits to the armed forces might lead fair-minded people to consider otherwise. The only way to keep personal information secure is to ensure that the government does not collect it in the first place.

A blanket assurance is given that ID cards will not breach human rights. No mention of the right to privacy. No mention of the intrusive nature of this large surveillance database. Unfortunately, Home Office minister Meg Hillier has declined an invitation to attend a more public meeting to debate these issues in front of a general audience while she is in Scotland. She has more important matters which must be attended to in London, although a private meeting was offered. Why might the minister not wish to meet the public? Why was this roadshow’s visit to Scotland not advertised widely in advance? One might think that the Home Office has something to hide.

Our offer stands. NO2ID will arrange a public meeting in Glasgow or Edinburgh whenever the minister feels ready to venture north again.