Join the mailing list

Click here to read our privacy policy


Subscribe to emel's RSS Feed Subscribe to emel's RSS Feed


A Threat to Civil Liberties?

A Threat to Civil Liberties?

Issue 6 Jun / Jul 2004

First Published on July/August 2004

To access the issue page, click here 


The recent much vaunted debate around ID cards has resurfaced after the Home Secretary had initially decided to shelve the idea in 2001 after the British public (as well as Cabinet ministers) reacted negatively to his tentative proposals. However, the Home Secretary ‘was not forturning’ and re-introduced the idea of compulsory Identity cards in the last 6 months on the basis that it would be a useful tool against terrorism. In fact, the suggestion that it would bea useful tool against terrorism was re-iterated by Government ministers after the recent train bombing in Spain.

The kind of information that ID cards will carry will include name, address/previous addresses, nationality, DOB, a digital version of an iris scan and a fingerprint. The card will also carry a photograph of the bearer. The Government has in the process of formatting the new ID cards, introduced a new word intoour vocabularies – biometrics.

Biometrics was firstly introduced and tested out in a scheme to ‘weed out’ travellers from Sri Lanka whom the Government suggested changed their identities when they arrived in the UK. Many had their fingerprints and retinal scans taken as a means of testing the technology and in the vain attempt that it would dissuade those who wanted to settle in the UK from coming. In fact, many genuine travellers to the UK from Sri Lanka were treated as if theyhad committed a crime. Biometrics in non-spin language, is therefore the New Labour term for fingerprinting.

David Blunkett has been the most active supporter and proposer of compulsory ID cardsand the Government has suggested that the introduction of an ID card system will take placeover a nine-year period (2013 and beyond). The Home Secretary is in favour of a compulsory ID card whilst the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said that no decision for compulsion will be taken for at least another nine years. Allof this talk about the process of introducing ID cards has been further couched in the notion that a compulsory system may only come about if the ID card is linked to the provision of public services. More recently, in a blatant misuse of language the Home Secretary renamed it the ‘Entitlement card.’ The art of spin was alive and well in the heart of Government.

It was proposed that without an ‘Entitlement card’ people would not be able to get access to public services. The Home Secretary in February 2002 went on to say that “ an ID card which would allow people to prove their identity more easily and provide a simple way to access public services would be beneficial.” He added that such a scheme could “help to combat illegal working and it could also reduce fraud against individuals, public services and the private sector''.

Statements made by the Home Secretary indicate that a card system will be used – at the very least – to establish the right to gain employment, open a bank account, receive government benefits and services, have access to education and even possibly to gain access to the NHS. The card may also be directly linked to the issuing of passports and driving licences and eligibility to vote.


Big Brother could be watching YOU


The introduction of ID cards could impact upon the lives of every individual in the UK. The government is keen to play down fears that this could mean a scenario where Big Brother watches and collates our every move and action emel asks individuals how they feel about carrying a card and whether they have any fears about an invasion into their privacy or are actually reassured by the initiative.


Human rights organisations like Liberty have questioned one of the alleged motivating factors for the introduction of ID cards - whether an ID card can really prevent terrorism. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, explains why she is concerned that the threat of terrorism obscures the potential curb on civil liberties posed by the ID card. “Like most people I carry around with me at least three forms of identification. Why then do I need yet another in the form of an ID card? According to the Home Secretary an ID card will help curb illegal immigration, combat terrorism and reduce benefit fraud.

Tragically the compulsory ID card in Spain did nothing to prevent the Madrid bombings. People who are smuggled illegally into this country have no valid papers. They work in badly paid casual jobs for unscrupulous employers not worried about exploiting their workers or cheating on the tax man. The police constantly arrest such illegal immigrants; the absence of a NI number is immediate proof of illegality.

Government figures show that more than 90% of benefit fraud has nothing to do with false identity. Claimants receive benefit whilst working on the sly or convince a doctor they are too ill to work when they are fit. An ID card will not stop someone playing up their dodgy back or working cash in hand for a local pub.

The cards will cost about £70 each and the set up costs will be in excess of £3bn - money that could be spent much more effectively on schools, extra hospitals or added resources for the police and intelligence services. It should be called an identity tax, not an identity card.

Worst of all I’m convinced it will lead to a situation in which Muslim men and women will be constantly stopped by the police demanding they produce their ID. This is exactly what happens to North Africans in France and to Turks in Germany. The major pretext for the card is ‘terrorism’ and we all know who the authorities believe to be ‘terrorists’. Likewise with the hysteria being whipped up by sections of the media over ‘bogus’ asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are not often blue-eyed and fair skinned and it would be minority groups who would be constantly forced to ‘prove’ their identity.”


Fiyaz Mughal, Chair of Ethnic Monirity Liberal Democrats, Oxford


Whilst I would not have a problem with the security agencies of this country holding my details gleaned off an ID card, I would certainly have a problem if that information was shared with other intelligence agencies globally without my consent. As a British subject I understand that information may potentially be kept on all subjects in the UK however that does not mean that sensitive information should end up in Australia or the United States. Additionally, will people of certain religious groups be singled out and classified as potential risks to this nation because of the data that is  collected from the process of implementing ID cards?

It is fairly obvious that our personal data will be shared without our consent. Everyone will be given a unique number to identify them which will be encoded on the card. Other databases (for example store loyalty cards or medical records) will start to identify people using their unique number. Knowing the number could therefore allow someone to retrieve sensitive information about the individual from any number of other sources. The potential for cross-referencing databases will be of great value to private companies in profiling consumers.

At a time when the Muslim community is feeling particularly vulnerable in the UK, the introduction of ID cards will enhance the feeling that Muslims are ‘being watched’ more so than any other group within this diverse country. No clear guarantees have been given to minority communities by this so-called Socialist government as to the safeguards in place around

information sharing (if any). Nor has the Home Secretary assured minority communities that stringent safeguards are in place to ensure that such communities are not particularly targeted by security agencies on the back of the introduction of the ID card system. Let’s hope the Home Secretary realises that many people are apprehensive of ‘Big Brother’, especially when he seems to be getting bigger and stronger at the expense of all of our civil liberties.


Rosina Chaudhry, Alternative Therapy Student, London

Interview by Safeena Chaudhry


ID cards are just an excuse for the government to monitor everyone, especially ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees. There is a climate of fear and paranoia in some parts of the country, where every Hijabi knows a terrorist and every man with a beard may be carrying a bomb. On one hand, I understand that ID cards are a valid form of identification, but so are Driving Licences and passports. Do we really need another form of ID, especially one that has such sensitive data such as our DNA? Unless I am being investigated for a crime or need to gain access to a building at work or need to apply for an account, I should be free to go where I please without being asked who I am and what my business is. As far as crime is concerned, ID cards may stop theft but the big issue here is the war on terror. Although the government claim that the ID cards are to stop

terrorism, it looks to me as more of an excuse to target and blame ‘obvious’ Muslims as terrorists. With the new system, the intentions may well be noble, but the application will certainly be abused. There will be more stop-searches and those not carrying their cards are likely to be questioned and suspected of possible fraud or crime until they are able to produce their ID. If people are stopped more than once, surely, this too will be recorded and such people will become targets for further inquiry. Sometimes it is important to prove your address or age, but not to record your history. Just as this country values individuality, it should also let us value our anonymity until such circumstances call for otherwise. I think the government should spend their money on repairing inter-community relationships, not asking people to prove that they are who they say they are.


Karim Tshibang Head of The Legal Department of EACH Rights Legal Services

Interview by Safeena Chaudhry


To some extent, ID cards are necessary if they are implemented for the right reasons. The way the Home Secretary wants to implement ID cards is mainly, as he says, to combat terrorism, fraud and crime. I don’t think that this will stop terrorism or fraud. Perhaps, it might help crime.

These ID cards require biometrics. Who will have custody of this data? Although the government try to convince us that it is going to be secure and you will need authorisation even insurance companies will have access. They can predict what disease you may have in the future so your premiums will rise. They say that they can put in some safety mechanism but the technology used will be widely available in five-ten years time. If criminals want to imitate it then they will imitate it.

Wherever you go, eventually you will have to carry it. That is really an infringement of civil liberties. I really value my civil liberty. I value the fact that I can go anywhere I want, any time I want without somebody watching me - The big brother effect. That ID card will be a powerful tool for them. Every time you go to the supermarket they can track you because the same biometrics are linked to your credit card as it is supposed to prevent fraud. When you’re in hospital, they will know not only that you are in hospital, but why you are in hospital. Perhaps it may stop a few terrorists. However, how many terrorists, who come from so called Rogue States will apply for these ID cards? If we’ve got home grown terrorists that are British, they will have valid ID cards, probably with no history of offence. Knowing the identity doesn’t always allow you to predict the crime. This may lead to a blanket ban on suspected ethnic groups, only making matters worse. I think ID cards give too much power to the government and I’m really against it. 


Why is the government introducing ID cards?


26th April 2004 saw the introduction of legislation to establish a secure national ID card scheme in the UK. The government sees this step as a means of equipping the UK and its citizens for the challenges of the 21st Century. Using unique biometric identifiers linked to a national database, the intention is that serious and organised crimes relying on the use of false identities will be combated. These would include: terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud through ID theft, and illegal working and immigration. In addition, it is hoped that the cards will help people live their everyday lives more easily, giving them a watertight proof of identity for use in daily transactions and travel – thus bringing the UK up to speed with similar schemes that are being increasingly adopted by the worlds most industrially advanced nations.

The Government considers this to be the logical move to make if the UK is to maintain ease of communication, cooperation, not to mention competition with other leading nations. While the scheme would eventually make it compulsory for everyone in the UK to carry an ID card, Home Secretary David Blunkett has stressed although we should value the importance of freedom and trust in our society, “recent events have brought home how the need for trust and confidence actually require us to move beyond this. We must take the opportunity offered by new biometric technology which allows for a completely new level of verifying identity”. Given the growing complexity of such threats, Blunkett feels that the scheme has public backing: “There has been a growing recognition that, rather than threatening our vital freedoms, ID cards would actually help preserve them”.

The scheme itself is planned to be implemented gradually. The Home Office Affairs Select Committee is currently undertaking an enquiry on all aspects of ID cards, seeking comments from organisations and individuals on the April 2004 Draft Bill. Once this stage has been completed, steps will then be taken to introduce substantive legislation making ID cards compulsory. This would necessitate the publication of a government report that would have to go through parliament. The scheme would allow for personal information to be disclosed without consent to Security and Intelligence Agencies to ensure that it helps in the fight against terrorism. The Police, Customs, Inland Revenue and Department for Work and Pensions may also be disclosed the types of personal identity information described in the Bill as the ‘registrable facts’, while more sophisticated disclosure (such as information on card usage) would only happen on the occurrence of serious crimes.


For further information visit: 

Bookmark this

Add to DIGG
Add to
Stumble this
Share on Facebook

Share this

Send to a Friend
Link to this

Printer Friendly

Print in plain text




Leave a comment


Sign in or Register to leave a comment