This month Parliament has listened to yet another Home Office Minister explain the virtues of ID cards and that the Government is close to “getting it right”.
From my earliest days in Parliament in 2001 I have been against the introduction of identity cards into this nation on the grounds of their enormous cost, likely implementation failure as well as the basic belief that such a system would be used to impose control over we British folk. I accept that we will have to grow accustomed to a wider surveillance of certain groups of people within our country with the increased threat of terrorism but this does not justify a wholesale erosion of our liberties.
Listening this month to the government’s squirming and uncertain enthusiasm for the project made me think that the final implementation is less likely than it was five years ago when much excitement was engendered for an ID card scheme following the terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September 2001.
My constituency, the Cities of London and Westminster, has probably the least to lose from the implementation of a rigorously enforced compulsory identity scheme, if only because so many of its landmarks are seen as high profile targets for a terrorist attack in the UK. For that reason I recently asked a substantial number of my constituents, chosen at random, to send me their views on the subject of ID cards. This was not a simple survey with questions to be answered by ticking a box but rather I asked for and, very gratefully received, large numbers of considered and well written views on the subject.
The results were illuminating with two thirds of those responding being firmly against ID cards voluntary or compulsory. Of the 33% of those in favour, a third had further reservations.
One interesting anecdote thrown up by the survey was that most of the people who had been accustomed to living in another country with ID cards were in favour of their implementation here. Almost all respondents were concerned at the cost of implementation but only a tiny minority thought that the scheme would be of value in preventing terrorism.
The overall impression from the survey was that my constituents feel that a proper case had not been made for the implementation of such cards. If a system was to be developed there were many who wanted to see NHS and other entitlements incorporated in the cards.
During this month’s debate in Parliament the costs associated with the project continue to have no ceiling put on them. The overall concern shown by my constituents was that the huge financial implications should be clarified before any final decision is made.
For me the severe problems over the development and implementation of ID cards, means that such a system is not viable and we would all be better off if the idea was buried. Like many of government’s prime policies the rhetoric has been stronger than the proper thinking needed about the serious practical considerations of putting such a scheme into operation.
Few experts, like my constituents, believe that ID cards are likely to be effective in preventing terrorism. However expensive the technology used, an increasingly sophisticated network of international terrorists will find it possible to forge, or simply steal, an identity.
Next we are faced with employing a vast army of public officials who will be needed in order to administer and police this entire scheme. Short of there being virtual continuous surveillance, those citizens ? including, presumably any would-be terrorists ? not wishing to co-operate in the scheme will be able to go to ground with relative ease
If this month’s progress report in Parliament is anything to go by, the government is looking for ways to cut and run from its plans on ID cards ? a lamentable waste of time, effort and finances for this nation.