Civil Liberties: Resistance is on the Cards

Issue section: 

The centrepiece of home secretary David Blunkett's attacks on civil liberties, the ID card and national identity register, will be a far more difficult policy to introduce than Labour imagines.

Repeating the figure of 80 percent support for ID cards in opinion polls seems to bring Blunkett and company comfort, but as facts about the scheme become more apparent, support falls.

The Mori poll referred to was conducted way before the debate over ID hit the mainstream - the poll itself admits that at the time two thirds of people had 'little or no knowledge of the government's national ID card proposals'. Even then the majority of people favoured the idea of being asked to produce a card at a police station within seven days (much like a driving licence currently) rather than supporting the idea of having to carry one at all times. Blunkett clearly prefers the idea of compulsion. He told the BBC, 'People will not be arrested for not having the card with them. They'll find it much easier if they do have the card.'

The Question Time audience on 25 November showed 80 percent opposition. Put that alongside the reported 3 million people willing to refuse to carry a card and this scheme doesn't look such a certainty after all. Opposition also seems to be growing in many circles concerned with Blunkett's blunderbuss approach to civil liberties.

Bearing the brunt of ID cards will be black and Asian people. Stop and search for Asian men has soared since the war on terror was declared. The police continue to attack any advances determined by the Macpherson report. As police confidence fuelled by unquestioning support from the Home Office grows, ID cards become an ever more threatening prospect to black and Asian people. Police support officers are now to be given more powers, including carrying truncheons and pepper spray - another step towards the police state of your nightmares.

New Labour seems happy to appeal to the racism and ignorance around asylum seekers to win the day for ID. Creating a bogeyman of a foreigner gaining healthcare or education they're not entitled to and probably plotting a terrorist outrage en route is the game Blunkett is playing.

How the idea of an ID card will deter someone from making a perilous journey to these shores has yet to be explained. People travelling to Italy don't seem particularly taken by discussions over documentation, despite a high-tech ID card being introduced there. In Madrid ID is compulsory for everyone over 14 - but it did not stop March's train bombings.

The planned card and database will be the most intrusive in Europe. The information accessible by a whole number of agencies includes all the addresses you've ever lived at, National Insurance and national health numbers (linked to a central national number), and medical and criminal histories. The database will have the capacity to expand both amounts and types of information available with no guarantees on who will have access.

All of this makes the formation of the No2ID campaign extremely timely. We intend to make the defence of our civil liberties a vibrant grassroots campaign - and one that can scare New Labour.

Did You Know...

  • In November the National Audit Office reported that less than a quarter of government IT projects were going smoothly, and a quarter were in serious trouble.
  • The government has almost doubled its estimate for the cost of introducing ID cards to £5.5 billion.
  • The proposals threaten people who do not register for the ID database with fines of £2,500.
  • People who fail to renew their cards or forget to update their details when they move home could be fined up to £1,000.
  • The government plans to charge £85 ('at 2004 prices and excluding contingencies') for the first combined ID cards/passports in 2008. Adult passports currently cost £42.