The price of ID infamy

Rob Merrick

SHOULD I go to jail rather than carry a hated identity card – and will I be able to get myself locked up, even if I try?

Those questions have been following me around ever since the Datagate’ scandal broke here in the North-East, with the loss of two CDs bearing our child benefits records. Until this extraordinary blunder, we were all sleepwalking into the looming disaster of ID cards and the scary database that will accompany them.

The potential exposure of half the nation to fraudsters made everyone sit up and realise the far greater risk of piling far more detailed information onto the National Identity Register (NIR).

Well, I say everyone. Everyone, that is, except the Government, which insisted the answer to the crisis sparked by Datagate was, er, biometric ID cards.

This, of course, is complete nonsense. We now know, for certain, that any database is only as secure as the people who guard it. Or, as at HMRC, fail to.

Experts agree that organised criminals are licking their lips at the prospect of breaching the NIR, with its 49 separate pieces of information on all of us. Already, there is evidence that the microchips that will contain our biometrics – face, fingerprints and iris – can be read by illegal scanners at 30 paces.

In trials, the technology did not even work properly, failing to identify many people who are disabled, elderly, or from ethnic minorities.

It leaves in tatters the Government’s insistence that it will be impossible to steal someone’s fingerprints in the way, for example, a national insurance number can be nicked. And how exactly do ministers propose to issue me with new fingerprints, or eyes, once my identity has been stolen?

All this criticism ignores the mindblowing cost of ID cards – £5.3bn according to the Government, up to £20bn say independent studies.

Yet, from 2009, if you want a passport, you will be entered on to this ID card register. The only other option will be never to leave these shores.

Further legislation, to make ID cards compulsory for the remaining minority will follow as surely as cock-up follows Gordon Brown.

Recently, would-be Liberal Democrat leaders Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne have vowed to disobey this insane law, so should I join them?

But this is where it gets tricky, because the Home Office has cunningly made it all but impossible to take such a protest all the way to the prison gates.

Failing to register will not mean a jail term.

Instead, there will be a £1,000 civil penalty for failing to reveal changes of circumstances, such as a new address or marriage. Presumably, I could – eventually — go to jail for non-payment of fines? But being an ID card martyr could prove a very expensive business.

THE award for the most shameless attempt to jump on this week’s Led Zeppelin bandwagon must go to Newcastle MP Nick Brown, our Minister for the North-East’.

Winding up a debate on whether to bring Olympic skateboarding to Middlesbrough, Mr Brown – clearly a youthful prog-rocker – declared: “Let me conclude with a quote from the pop group Led Zeppelin: “Many dreams come true and some have silver linings. I live for my dream and a pocketful of gold.” I trust skateboarders were enlightened.