Identity card gets blanket rejection by councils

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The Independent Online
Local government has come out in blanket opposition to a national identity card, whether compulsory or voluntary, telling Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, that it is opposed in both principle and practice.

The joint attack from the the three main local authority associations, covering counties, districts and the metropolitan authorities, comes as doubts are growing over Mr Howard's ability to get even the weakest version of a voluntary scheme through the Commons in the face of opposition from backbench Tories. Mr Howard is expected to back a voluntary scheme based on the new photo driving licence at the Conservative Party conference next week.

The stance by the local government associations - all Labour controlled - is, however, decidedly more hostile than that of Labour's front bench, which has admitted a role for voluntary cards in some circumstances.

In their formal response to Mr Howard's Green Paper, the councils say they oppose a scheme, whether compulsory or voluntary, because they believe it "would be detrimental to the rights of individual citizens".

Policing, they say, "relies on public co-operation". "Giving the police powers to stop people and ask them to prove their identity is a major intrusion on the rights of the citizen and is bound to heighten tension between the police and certain sections of the community" - particularly young people and the ethnic minorities, who could find themselves asked to prove their identity more than the average.

If a voluntary scheme were introduced, "there would be substantial social pressure to carry a card. In effect, a voluntary scheme would lead to a de facto compulsory one very quickly."

Smart cards would allow information to be stored which was unavailable to the person carrying it. And that "could enable state agencies to exchange information which is inappropriate, inaccurate and incapable of being checked."

The associations do not oppose a photographic driving licence which would contain "a strictly limited amount of information for a specific purpose". Beyond that, they resist.

It would not be impossible to forge cards, they say. As Mr Howard has conceded, this would not "stop someone committing a burglary or a mugging". They might make the public less co-operative with public services.

Right-wing Conservatives have warned that identity cards have "very serious implications for the traditional liberties of the British people".

Meanwhile, a recent Harris poll among MPs found that 18 per cent of Conservatives - more than enough to halt the legislation if the Opposition voted against - were opposed even to a voluntary scheme based on the new photo driving licence.

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