Leading article: Suspicious circumstances

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The Independent Online

It is to be hoped that they are right. The rationale behind ID cards has never been adequately explained. First we were told by ministers that they were to help prevent terrorism; then they became an anti-fraud initiative; next they were heralded as a convenient replacement for passports and driving licences. Now they are, apparently, a mixture of all three. The very fact that a single Bill is touted as a cure for such a wide range of ills gives us cause for suspicion.

The Government's guarantees are shifting, too. The most recent Labour election manifesto promised that the cards would not initially be compulsory. But now it emerges that the Bill requires people to put their biometric details on a national database in order to renew their passports or driving licences. This is surely de facto compulsion.

But by far the most important reason for opposing this Bill is that it would fundamentally alter the relationship between the state and the individual - and not for the better. Every time someone uses the card - whether taking money out of the bank or visiting the doctor - it will be recorded, giving the authorities unprecedented powers to track law-abiding citizens. It is hard to find fault with the judgement of the MP Bob Marshall-Andrews that it is "the most illiberal piece of legislation we have been asked to pass in this House for half a century".

The Government's assurances cannot be relied upon. According to Andy Burnham, the Home Office Minister, "It has never been our intention to create an elaborate database that will hold detailed personal profiles." This may be true, but what is to stop future governments doing so? The machinery would be there.

It is unfortunate that we must now rely on the unelected House of Lords to reject this Bill. But it is imperative that it does. And if the Government insists on reintroducing this dangerous piece of legislation to the Commons, MPs must take the opportunity to kill it off for good.