Britain cannot afford ID cards

Telegraph | For the first time since 1952, the British government is issuing identity cards. In order to test the system and ease its introduction, there is to be a cynical requirement for foreign nationals resident in the UK to register.

To begin with, this will affect students and the foreign spouses of British citizens. The fact that they already possess an identity document – a passport and/or a visa – does not seem to enter into the Government’s thinking, principally because they are guinea pigs. Over time, residents from outside Europe will be fingerprinted and have to account for their movements. Starting in 2010, so will the rest of us.

We have many objections to this proposal, which is the latest manifestation of an intrusive state that wants to track the movements of its citizens. However, it is not necessary to have civil liberty scruples to oppose it. It is questionable on practical grounds, too.

Every argument given for requiring ID cards – they will prevent crime, stop illegal immigration, deter terrorists or eradicate fraud – has been demolished. Ministers have subsequently sought to turn this into a debate about efficacy, maintaining that the lives of British citizens will be made easier by the possession of an ID card.

But the greatest beneficiary of an ID scheme is not the ordinary individual; it is the state, since its agencies gain access to information they would not otherwise have.

Even if the Government is unwilling to heed any of these arguments, there is one that should put an end to this ill-starred and un-British venture, and that is the cost. This is estimated by the Government at £5.8 billion over 10 years – but that is just for the Home Office.

Some forecasts suggest the total cost to the public sector could be at least three times that sum. Presumably this does not matter to a Government that has plunged the country deeper into the red than any in peacetime and seems not to care about spending even more on wasteful public projects.

Instead of driving us further into penury, the Chancellor should announce he is scrapping the ID scheme because he cannot justify the expense.