Monday, January 23, 2006

Why ID cards should be compulsory

Toby Stevens has had the strange experience finding himself agreeing with the Lord Chancellor:

"This is surprising enough, since in my opinion he has overseen the dismantling of some of the pillars of democracy in the UK. What worries me more, is that his statement about the National Identity scheme sounded reasonable. The BBC quotes him as follows:

"The question is should you require - and I think ultimately, unless there is compulsion, you won't get the benefits of an ID card system - is it right to compel those that don't have a passport also to get an ID card...

Now, if we go back to basic principles, I think he's right. I've long worried that any National ID scheme is essentially useless unless it is compulsory; otherwise what's the point? After all, without compulsion we have a scenario of the state interacting with the citizen as follows:


[Scene One: a pea-souper in Old London Town. A British Bobby proceeds out of the mist to encounter a swarthy looking character in a stripy top and mask, with a bag marked 'Swag' on his shoulder]

[Bobby] "'Ello, 'ello, 'ello, what's all this then? You look like a wrong 'un sir, and no mistake. Would you care to show me your ID card please?"

[Wrong 'un] "Leave it aht officer, I ain't got none."

[Bobby] "Oh, very well sir. Just you make sure you drop in at your local station some time in the next week with your card, there's a good gentleman. On your way, and goood day to you."

Not a very compelling argument for claiming that a National ID Card would support national security, unless we make it compulsory. But is that compulsion within the government's powers?

The big hole in Lord Falconer's argument is that without some pretty intensive policy laundering in Brussels, the government will (quite rightly) never achieve compulsion: EU visitors may enter the UK on a passport for up to 3 months, and the government has no powers to force a citizen to accept a particular document...

[The scene: a high street bank. Happy customers stand in an orderly queue awaiting the attention of the single cashier on duty. A customer arrives at the front of the queue]

[Customer] "Excuse me, miss."

[Cashier] "Eh?"

[Customer] "I'm sorry, I have a cold. I wish to open a bank account."

[Cashier] "Of course you may, sir. Please could I see a form of identification?"

[Customer] "I 'ave 'ere a National Identification Card."

[Cashier] "Ah, I'm sorry sir, but we'll require some additional form of identification. Do you have a gas bill or credit card statement...

If the government were to guarantee the card up to, say, £2,500, then retailers and banks would know to what extent they could trust it. That same guarantee has to be offered to citizens in case (dare I say it?) their identities are stolen. After all, the Home Secretary has promised 100% security from the scheme, so what's the problem with putting a cash value to that security, when the government will never have to pay out? (Answers on a postcard please)"


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