Shami Chakrabarti: One cheer for Blunkett on ID cards

In fairness to the former Godfather of this folly, old habits die hard

Related Topics

Where were you? How did you feel when you first learned that David Blunkett had changed his mind about ID cards? Did you fear the former Home Secretary had been the victim of some bleeding-heart liberal identity theft? Perhaps you found "more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance"?

Mr B knows a turning tide. Where once he spoke of "widespread support for an ID cards scheme", he now acknowledges that "people do worry" and I say - good for him.

My "worries" lie in the huge threats to privacy, race relations and liberty more generally, posed by this grandiose ambition. Databases are a fact of modern life, but being specific about purpose is vital to protecting privacy. There is no need for GPs to see my tax information, immigration officers to see my shopping habits and so on.

As the "national identity register" had been justified in such fickle ways (immigration control, benefit fraud, terrorism, etc.), the amount of information on it and access to it, would inevitably escalate over time. Despite biometric passports for international travel, the repeated use of an immigration justification for ID cards provided a clear indication that border control would move to our city streets and ethnic minorities in particular, would be hassled for their "papers". Then the small matter of the multi-billion pound cost of the project. In the boom years it seemed extravagant for something that wasn't going to cure cancer or conquer Al-Qua'ida. In the current climate the figures seem positively obscene.

In fairness to the one-time Godfather of this multi-billion pound folly, old instincts die hard. A closer inspection of Blunkett's remarks reveals that, in addition to the uncontroversial suggestion that Government should concentrate on making passports more secure, he would like people to be required to have them, whether jet-setting or not!

So, even under his partial retreat package, at a time when many are worrying about food and fuel bills, Britain would be subject to a new regressive tax and internal passport requirement. As the British Airline Pilots Association said when airside workers were chosen as guinea pigs for the compulsory scheme : "This is nothing but coercion. Promises that ID cards would be voluntary have been broken... This is both unacceptable and demeaning and we will resist."

In recent months and years I have watched the people of an old but still resilient democracy slowly waking up to the importance, not just of their personal privacy but their other fundamental human rights and freedoms as well. When intrusive surveillance is used to police school catchment areas, mild-mannered MPs are raided and peaceful protesters are subjected to arrest or much worse, few now believe that the innocent have "nothing to fear".

Maybe people are just tired of all the preachy politicians who constantly wag an authoritarian fore-finger at the people whilst the other hand rummages around the till.

So let's nail down the coffin of the grand ID folly, tighten up surveillance powers and remove innocents from the DNA database. Let's also remember that there is no privacy protection in Magna Carta or other "ancient" texts. Better to go looking in the much-maligned Human Rights Act.

The writer is director of Liberty

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband addresses an audience in the Brooks Building of Manchester Metropolitan University on April 21, 2015  

If socialism means building homes and getting the rich to pay their taxes, then bring on Red Ed

Kiran Moodley

Prevention is better than cure if we want to save the NHS

Tanni Grey Thompson
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before