We can defeat I.D. Cards
– by Joe Rinaldi Johnson
From 25th November 2008, any student or foreigner requiring a grant of leave to remain in the UK has been required to attend a government centre (the nearest to Cambridge being Croydon) to be fingerprinted and photographed as part of their visa application. This is Phase One of the Labour government’s ID Card and National Identity Register scheme.
Choosing ‘foreigners’ as guinea pigs is not accidental – the Labour government is invoking, and encouraging, fears and stereotypes in order to gain public support. Contrary to the narrative of the popular press, very few migrants to this country are ‘illegal’ and those that are would have no incentive to register for an ID Card anyway. At Cambridge we recognise the immensely valuable cultural, intellectual and economic contributions throughout history that foreign nationals have made to our country. We should not be treating them as criminals or as pawns in political games. The world’s best and brightest can easily choose, to our detriment, to go elsewhere.
The government’s other potential first targets have vocally rejected their plans. They are worried that this scheme gives the government too much power to intrude in their daily lives. The National Identity Register will amount to a huge government database linking up and cross-referencing all pieces of government data (medical, educational, tax, etc.) to a single source – providing them with an easily-accessible total life fact-file. This will amount to constant central government surveillance from the cradle to the grave. Once you are on the register you will not be able to get off it. Soon you will not even have a choice as to whether you register – you will be forced to do so. And when you are, if you so much as forget to keep their database updated – such as when you move address – you will be liable for a £1,000 fine. The Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats, and I, believe that this is an attack on our supposedly liberal democracy.
Some people say that they have nothing to hide. They would give up their right to privacy in order to gain security. But these people will not get what they pay for. As the government cannot stop issuing thousands of genuine passports each year to false applicants today, they will not be able to stop criminals and terrorists obtaining ID Cards tomorrow. And as the government is able to lose millions of people’s personal data today, they will not be able to keep our data safe from criminals and the eyes of nosy government officials tomorrow. Even in the unlikely scenario that they did manage to protect us from these failings, they ignore the fact that tackling criminals and terrorists has never been a problem of failing to identify people. The 7/7 and 9/11 bombers all had valid forms of government identification and would not have been stopped by this scheme. Registering for an ID Card will not reveal any criminal motivations. The problem we should be trying to solve is catching them in the first place. To do that, we need police officers, not plastic. This scheme will give us neither liberty nor security and will cost us a colossal amount in the process.
In the midst of a potentially lengthy recession, now is not the time to force people to pay between £93 and £300 to obtain a worthless ID Card. This is not the time to drive away the foreign nationals that so enrich our nation. The Labour party are intimately complicit in this scheme and the Conservatives have only recently pulled on a cloak of principled opposition – they wanted ID cards long before Labour did. The two main parties have lurched about so violently on this and many other issues it is no wonder they both suffer from ideological motion-sickness. Consider this quote from Tony Blair in 1995: “Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands of extra police officers on the beat in our local communities.” We totally agree. We should scrap this scheme and spend the savings to bolster our police force. ID Cards and the National Identity Register are expensive, intrusive, ineffective, and risk alienating those foreign nationals upon whom our society depends. A liberal activist (and dry cleaner) brought down the last British ID card scheme in 1952 by refusing to produce his card, announcing “I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing.” If you join CSLD in refusing to register for an ID Card today, we can do it again.