Don’t all rush at once

idcards2So, it’s happening. ID cards are on their way and the first lucky recipients will be the population of my home city. Mancunians will be able to apply for a card from the autumn at a cost of just £30. The scheme will then be rolled out nationwide and will be compulsory for foreign nationals, who can wear them on the chest for convenience’s sake.

This is the rationale for a Manchester pilot, as explained by Identity and Passport Service CEO James Hall:

We wanted a sizeable metropolitan area with a good diversity of population and a large number of young people. Manchester fitted the bill, particularly with its universities and colleges.

We believe young people will be among the first to take up the idea of having ID cards. Moving to adulthood is a time when you consistently have to assert and confirm your identity for all kinds of reasons, including taking out a loan, or renting a flat.

They don’t have the same ID footprint that older people have and the new ID card, which is simple and convenient, will hopefully prove ideal.

Many people currently use their passport for such purposes but it is not a terribly convenient method, and 300,000 of them are either lost or stolen every year.

Unlike the biometric ID card, which is physically unloseable and impossible to steal.

I’m not sure why the government are going ahead with this. You could be forgiven for thinking that there are better ways to spend five billion of public money, particularly since all evidence suggests that the scheme will not achieve what we are told it will achieve. ID cards have not prevented terrorism in countries that have them. They don’t significantly impact on benefit fraud because benefit fraudsters lie about their circumstances, not their identities. Another problem that often gets overlooked is that ID cards can put low earners at greater risk of fraud – because ‘their cards could be their only form of ID, unlike holders of credit cards.’

And then there is the civil liberties angle. I’m not against the database state in all its forms. There is an argument that a national DNA database could help overturn wrongful convictions. But you don’t have to be Henry Porter to be worried about this massive executive accumulation of personal data, to doubt the competence of government to not leave this data on a train or in a bar, or to wonder about the potential for clerical mistakes to doom honest citizens to a bureacratic limbo.

Okay, the cards are being introduced on a voluntary basis – unless you’re a pilot, in which case you can apparently be fired for not carrying one. I don’t want to resort to moral equivalence here, but the phrase ‘voluntary ID scheme’ reminds me of the BNP policy of ‘voluntary repatriation’. If it’s voluntary, why the need to state it? People can leave the country whenever they like. I’m sure I could find an IT firm that would knock me up a biometric card, for a reasonable fee. Make no mistake – both policies mean compulsion by stealth.

To its credit the PLP seems to be aware that this could potentially be Labour’s poll tax. No more easy headlines and macho get-tough posturing can be milked from the policy. The MEN quotes one backbencher: ‘There is now a consensus in the Commons in favour of scrapping this altogether. It is a cost issue.’ I can only imagine that the government is ploughing ahead because, like Macbeth, it is so steeped in blood that ‘should I wade no more/Returning were as tedious as go o’er.’

I can’t speculate on why Manchester has been chosen for the pilot. I’ll guess that the reasoning will be something like: ‘The north west would elect a drunken monkey if it were a Labour candidate, so if ID will work anywhere, it is there.’

But even the normally supine MEN, which has supported ID cards, was lukewarm about the announcement. Its editorial (not online) said that while ‘Greater Manchester can, of course, be proud that it has been singled out as capable of serving as a testing ground for ID cards… there seems to be little point in their ultimate mass introduction at this time.’

Bottom line: people won’t pay to be spied on. I wonder what the take-up rate’ll be like, or even if it will be made public. I hope it’s not too late to put this insane, shambling monster of an idea out of its misery. Jacqui, please, and with all due respect: get out of my town.

(Image from No Borders North East)

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