A Critical Evaluation of UK’s ID Card schemeA Government’s proposal to monitor its Citizens

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This commissioned report aims to hopefully provide the reader with an up to date analysis of the UK Governments ongoing proposal to introduce a national ID card for all UK citizens, from the perspective an independent management consultant.

The word ‘hopefully’ has been used rather optimistically, due to the ever evolving developments concerning this issue, which are changing and unfolding even as this report is being written.

Therefore, any temporal inaccuracies regarding recent developments either not covered or addressed in this report from the date of its publication, would gratefully be acknowledged as being absent solely for this reason.

The report will look at the ID card bill itself, the proposed data to be included on the card, the technology used to store and read that data, in addition to the costs involved for the country and importantly for the individual.

The controversial issues of human rights and civil liberty violations associated with the introduction of the card will also be addressed, explained and attempted to be presented in an unbiased fashion throughout.

As a concept, the ID card is not a new one for UK citizens, although with all the controversy and differences of opinion regarding the current version’s introduction, one could easily be excused for thinking that this is the first time such a scheme had been considered for implementation.

Anyone who had lived through the Second World War in the UK will probably remember such a scheme having been introduced then. The wartime version however, was quite simply a” two ply blue coloured paper based document detailing the citizen’s most basic of details (Photo, Name, address and National Insurance Number)” [1]

The document would typically have been required to be produced in conjunction with a ration book for obtaining food and other goods and services, and to be displayed upon request to officials for identification verification.

It was additionally used to sadly put names to faces and bodies in the wake of the many thousands of German bombing raid attacks carried out on innocent civilians up and down the country.

The simplistic and unobtrusive nature of this version of an ID card was at the time, viewed by the public as being a necessity, due to the fact that the country was officially at war, and every exertion to maintain a level of national security was considered to be of paramount importance in the war effort.

Former government Minister Tony Benn regresses that “The wartime atmosphere made the public more accepting of the curtailing of civil liberties, during wartime it is a bit like living in a police state” [2]

Times have changed, people have changed, in fact the world has changed since this past gone era, so why is it that the UK government feel we need to readopt such a draconian measure of monitoring and controlling the movements of its citizens.

Currently in its third reading and despite numerous stops starts and setbacks mainly attributed to the recent general election, the Bill is now set to be hastily reinstated into the labour part’s agenda, with some 45 other Bills which were recently unveiled by the queen in her annual speech.

The bill in its currently proposed form will mean that each and every British Citizen will by Law be eventually required to carry (or at least be able to produce the document) upon the request by any authoritative representative. The card will start off on a voluntary basis, but will eventually become compulsory, though no time scale has been set for this transition.

In the run up to the recently fought election the issue of the ID card was not directly at the top of any of the main contending party’s manifestos, though it was indirectly included by its association with such potential vote winning issues as National security (Terrorist threats), illegal Immigration and organised crime.

Ironically the above issues were mainly attributed to the Conservative Party’s aggressively fought campaign. However, now the Conservative party appear to be back-pedalling on the issue, and are currently opposed to the card “The Tories have shifted from Michael Howard’s overt support last December to weak abstention on third reading” [3]

Despite Conservative and Labours clear division on the issue, and with the election now just a distant memory, the labour machine appears to be stepping up a gear (as forecast) to forge ahead with the ID card bill regardless of the shadow cabinet’s opposition to it. “Ministers hope the ID card Bill will be rushed through, possibly before the May 30th Bank Holiday” [4]

It is no secret that for many years now, Mr Blair’s recently re-elected Labour Party has always been in favour of introducing a national ID card. To illustrate the party’s defiance on the issue, The Home Secretary Charles Clarke was recently quoted as saying “We already carry numerous forms of identity. Much better to have one single proof of identity” [4]

The aspiration to adopt such a scheme was almost certainly triggered by the 9/11 tragedy in the USA, but ironically when quizzed on implementing such a scheme for the USA “Even after 9/11, President Bush dismissed the measure as too illiberal for the American people” [3]

Interestingly then, and flying in the face of the publicly conceived conception that the UK Government continue to be the USA’s Lapdog and whipping boy, could possibly suggest that Mr Blair’s motives for continuing to push for the scheme’s go-ahead may be a more domestic affair altogether than previously thought.

In addition to the obvious issue of the ever prevalent al-Qaida terrorist threat, the government are of the opinion that the card would also assist the authorities in determining the authenticity of any individual’s status, thus helping to tackle issues such as benefit fraud, identity theft, crime and illegal immigration, the most important of these will be discussed.

The recent capture, conviction and subsequent incarceration of Kamal Bourgass (the individual who was thought to be plotting a deadly ricin attack) have fanned the flames for supporters to reiterate their support for the scheme. Apparently Mr Bourgass had four different identities “Bourgass used four identities to conceal his operations, He claimed asylum with one, and used his real name when caught shoplifting by the Police” [3]

However it should be mentioned that the terror threat is a very current one, and those opposing the scheme, taking into account its expected date for implementation argue that “A fully working compulsory system is at least five to seven years away, so ID cards are of little immediate value in combating the al-Qaida threat” [4]

The recent trend used by criminals to falsely obtain: birth certificates credit and bank details, in fact ‘entire identities’ of individuals (known as identity theft) is also considered to be an area in which an ID card would assist the authorities. The home secretary explains that “The UK looses more than £1.3 Billion every year through people falling victim to identity fraud” [8]

The subject of illegal immigration is very sensitive one, and one that has been increasing gaining momentum of the last few years, and has never been out of the national press in one form or another. The introduction of a National ID card it thought by the government to be an instrumental asset to stop both the individual and the trafficking of larger numbers of illegal entrants into the UK.

Technological advancements are such that the ID card will be able to incorporate a system whereby a human’s identity can be verified by the biological scanning of the iris in the eye or the fingerprint. These advances are highly efficient and effective. “Biometrics can provide a greater degree of security than traditional authentication methods”. [11]

It has been learned that a small handheld device used by Police officers will be used to perform these verification tests, crosschecking the biological identity via the National Identity database. However some quarters claim that the level of sophistication the proposed version of this system is not 100% reliable, the European Union points out that “All 10 fingers and thumbs are needed to ensure reliable identification, and reduce the number of false positives”.[8]

However it is unlikely that this state of the art version will be used in the UK due its high cost, and consequently a system which will only hold fingerprints will be used instead.

This most contentious of bills, has continued to divide the public, the politicians and a number of pressure groups alike “In response to a parliamentary question from MP Anne McIntosh, Home Office minister Beverley Hughes has confirmed that over 5,000 of the 7,000 responses to a public consultation on the issue were against the scheme.” [5]

Of the many groups that oppose the introduction of the card for a number of reasons, the Civil Liberties Group ‘Liberty’ appear to have the had loudest voice in highlighting the negative aspects of the card’s introduction to the British people via the media.

Shami Chakrabarti (Liberty’s Director) states that “No positive vision of society was ever built upon compulsory identity cards” [9] and goes on to suggest that the disadvantages associated with the card, by far outweigh the benefits.

Many of the opposing views are firmly centred around the suggestion that an ID card would be a violation of human rights, concerning an individual’s fundamental right to walk freely, proudly and unchallenged within the UK, to have to carry and/or produce such a document in order to justify their status regardless of whether or not they have breeched UK law or not.

Additional areas of concern regarding the card, is the shift towards a police state “They’ll provide another pretext for stop-and-search, often directed at ethnic minorities” [5]

In addition to the principal of the card itself, concerns have also been raised as to what type of information will actually be on the card. Previously confidential medical information between Doctor and patient for instance, if included on the card for instance, would surely guarantee to concern individuals, anxious about such sensitive information falling into the wrong hands, and its potential misuse and abuse.

The cost of introducing the National Id card should be seen as being a two fold issue, as In addition to the actual cost for the government to research, develop, produce and issue the cards and the machinery and reading devices that accompany it. This figure is currently estimated as being around £5.5 billion, which is considered being “A heavy price to pay for something that will not deliver the desired benefits” [5]

There will also be a cost to the general public to pay for the privilege of having it, which is not optional, as everybody will by law be required to have one eventually. This issue of compulsion over the card, is yet another in a never ending list of areas of concern to civil liberty groups. The initially forecast cost of the card was £73 but this figure has risen, and currently stands at £87. “Surprisingly, 83% of the 1000 British adults surveyed by MORI stated that they are happy to carry the card with them at all times but nearly half (48%) said they are not prepared to pay anything towards them” [10]

To conclude then, generally it has been felt that the majority of people have no problem with the actual principle of carrying an ID card of some description. The main objection however, appear to be the vast amount of shielded personal data that is held on the card which is obscured from the individual that is actually carrying in his / her wallet.

The UK is a highly diverse and multicultural country and the vast percentage of its population from whatever race or religion do not want to live in a climate of fear of being subjected to a terrorist attack of to be the victim of crime. It’s just that given the feedback extracted from the findings of this report, the suggestion is that the public remain relatively unconvinced that the introduction of an ID card in its proposed format would solve all the problems we are being told it will.

This notion then, of the card’s fitness for purpose, coupled with the fact that there still exists a level of distrust in the government’s ability to keep its promises in light of recent political events and scandals, does not bode well for a move of this magnitude at this time.

It is therefore, and on these grounds, that the author’s recommendation is that now is neither the right time politically, socially or economically to introduce such a scheme with as much sensitive information as proposed by the present UK Government.

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