Identity Card statement to the House of Parliament by David Blunkett

 by Martin Belam, 11 November 2003

So David Blunkett has announced in parliament today that at a cost of £3 billion we are on a ten year road to a compulsory biometric identity card in Britain. He sold it on the grounds of increasing security, cutting down on fraud, and basically that the technology is there, the American's are doing it, so we had better as well. The cards will come in by stealth as biometrics are gradually added to renewed passports and driving licences.

Blunkett said "It will not be compulsory for anyone to have to carry the card with them". Of course it won't be compulsory, but I can bet you it will pretty much become de rigeur for police to check identity cards on the way into England football matches, or to ask 'stop and search' suspects to produce the card. Or perhaps they will ask people on demonstrations to produce their cards - it wouldn't be the first time this government has allowed so-called anti-terrorist laws to be used against demonstrators

Mr Blunkett also went on to say:

"Privacy and confidentiality would be an essential part of the system. The protection of civil liberties would be ensured in a way which is not the case for a whole range of commercial identifiers and card systems in widespread use at the present moment." if he had never heard of the Data Protection Act which is already supposed to guarantee that with commercially held personal information. Although my favourite quote is

"Focus groups and polling evidence demonstrates around 80% support for identity cards"

....hmmm, right.

David Davies was making his debut in the house as Shadow Home Secretary and I have to grudgingly, and worryingly, concede that his riposte was spot on, singling out four glaring flaws in Blunkett's plan.

1. Employment

Davies pointed out some of the exceptions which mean that the country could never move to a model where you had to produce the card to access employment or services:
EU nationals can stay and work for 3 months without documentations
UK citizens abroad would not require cards but would be entitled to work
Other categories of third party nationals are entitled to work for certain periods of time

And I would add that if David Blunkett thinks the kind of black economy workplaces on building sites and in restaurants and shops that currently employ people under the minimum wage on a cash-in-hand basis are going to install electronic retina readers to ensure that their staff's irises match the central Government record, he's madder than I thought.

2. ID Cards will cut Illegal Immigration

Illegal Immigration and Asylum Seekers are currently the bête noir of the tabloids, so any ID card scheme Blunkett comes up with has to be seen to deal with these hot potato middle England issues. Davies was right in pointing out that if the card is not compulsory to carry, then even if police stop an 'illegal', the most they can do is ask them to report to a police station in a few days time with their papers. Davies argued using Daily Mail language that the "innocent law-abiding citizen" will do so despite the inconvenience, whereas the 'illegal' will simply disappear.

3. ID Cards will thwart Terrorist Threats

Blunkett had stated that the security forces welcomed the proposals, but Davies asked:

The Home Secretary accepts in his proposals that foreign nationals will be able to spend 3 months at a time in the UK without an ID card. Does he seriously think this will much handicap foreign terrorists?

4. ID Cards will cut Benefit Fraud

Davies countered the suggestion that the so-called 'entitlement card' aspect of the scheme would significantly cut into benefit fraud.

The vast majority of social security fraud results from people making false claims....about their health or economic circumstances, not about their identity.

A depressing day, and that's before I even start on the government's track record of successfully introducing large scale information technology schemes...

Coverage: - - (notably this claims "A consultation last year showed that 62 per cent of people are in favour of ID cards" which is lower than the 80% figure Blunkett gave to the House)
BBC News -
The Guardian -,11026,1082633,00.html
The Independent -
Google News - Search for 'David Blunkett ID Cards'

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