Leading article: This expensive and illiberal intrusion into our lives


The Government chose the last day before the parliamentary recess to publish its promised "action plan" for the introduction of identity cards. And it came with one agreeable surprise. Plans for a huge national database have been shelved. The Home Office will make do with three databases they already have. This marks a welcome retreat from the technological gigantism that has marked so much government computerisation.

In other respects, however, the "action plan" confirms most of what we knew and feared. A national ID card is to be introduced from 2009 and become compulsory the following year. It will contain basic personal details, along with biometric data embedded in a microchip. In a tacit recognition that some people could still fall through its net, the Home Office simultaneously announced that it wanted foreigners already living in Britain also to register their biometric details.

The effect of these twin announcements was to bring compulsory ID cards in Britain one step stage closer - at a time when MPs were about to disperse and most other people were focusing on seasonal festivities. That there was no great outcry yesterday, however, does not make the arguments against ID cards less compelling. They will be expensive; they will produce a bureaucratic monster; above all, they will enhance the power of the state at the expense of our envied civil liberties.

The Government offers two non-sequiturs and a fog of populist rhetoric in its defence. It argues that the pledge on ID cards was in Labour's election manifesto, implying that this provides an automatic electoral mandate. The mandate, though, depends on Parliament, which was deeply split on the issue. The Conservatives are committed to repealing the legislation, should they win the next election.

Ministers also argue that a majority supports ID cards, as though a majority view necessarily confers moral acceptability. But it is not even certain that there is a majority. Survey questions tend to be posed in the context of the supposed threat from terrorism or illegal immigration, and so are calculated to solicit an answer in the affirmative. They are almost never posed in the context of civil liberties and the British way of life. Nor is it proved that either terrorism or illegal immigration - the two evils ministers insist they are designed to tackle - would be curbed, let alone prevented, by ID cards. The US, from where our own government has taken so many policy ideas, has no national ID card and no plans to introduce one, despite the security panic precipitated by the terrorist attacks of 2001. The US, it seems, recognises that forgery, multiple identities and the like are endemic in the underworld of terrorism and illegal migration, and an ID card would do little to change this.

Britons are already among the most closely observed people in the developed world. We have more CCTV cameras per head than any other country in Europe or North America. Our DNA database contains 3.5 million samples, of which more than one million belong to individuals without a criminal conviction. The proposed road tolls would require satellite tracking devices that would monitor the movements of every motorist. Details of the NHS database were released this week.

We believe ID cards will be an illiberal intrusion into our lives and create more problems than they will solve. We also note that when the Home Secretary said yesterday he was abandoning the idea of a national database, he set out his reasons as follows: "We have decided it is lower risk, more efficient and faster to take the infrastructure that already exists." This is hardly a reassuring comment on the original plan. Perhaps the whole project can now be reassessed in a similarly common-sense light.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower