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back to article Identity cards: How Labour lost power in a case of mistaken ID

Today, we publish the next extract from SA Mathieson's book on ID cards in Britain, following on from a disastrous trial of the technology in Manchester in 2009. The general election of 6 May 2010 saw significant losses for the Labour party. But by time of the 7 May’s new dawn, it was clear that the Conservatives were short of …

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I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

I am *not* opposed to an 'ID' card which must be presented to show entitlement to a social service - whether it be 'I am old enough to walk into this cinema' or 'I am a paid up member of the national health service' or things in between (though there are certainly cases where the 'ID' part of that need - and I believe should - not be displayed, nor the data logged).

What I am, and I suspect many others are, is a requirement to *carry* an ID, so that any official can demand it of me.

They serve me. I do not serve them.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

The thing is, in this country, there is no official form of ID needed for anything. If you want to leave the country, ok, you need a passport. If you want to drive, or do any number of other activities that require centralised training and authorisation, you need a license. If you need to prove who you are, you can use these documents if you have them, but if you don't, you can use other things - references, bills etc. If you need simply to access state services (eg benefits, voting, police services etc) there isn't currently any need for a universal source of ID, and nor should there be. I am a citizen of this country because I was born here, not because the government supplied me with a piece of paper. That's a fundamental difference.

By insisting on a national, universally issued, and required ID card for everyone in the country, the government would permanently and entirely change the relationship between state and citizen.

That is the objection to ID cards. The requirement to carry them at all times was the totalitarian nail in the coffin.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

That's the point, I think, Andy.

I don't have to prove who I am. The state has to prove that I'm not.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

"If you want to leave the country, ok, you need a passport."

I think that's not the case; you can leave whenever you like without permission. It may well be the case that the country you arrive at won't let you in without one, but that's up to them, or that the company you pay to transport you might not even let you onto their transportation here if you don't have a passport, for example at the airport, but again that's up to them. You don't need a passport to leave.

I also know British citizens who've come back in without one as well. They told the chap at the desk who they were and after a few questions supporting their claim to be Mr F. Bloggs of 1 The High Street, Anytown, UK, were on their way.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

Having watch some of the 'Police camera crash boom' Tv recently, I noted that what I thought was the 'Produce documentation at your local station within 14days' seems to be 'at the officers discretion'.

There was a lad pulled over, have you got insurance? Yes. Proove it? Err not right now. In that case I dont believe you, I'm seizing your car. Can't I have 14 days to proove it? Nope.

Am sure it's cut to make good telly, but isn't that a danger of the ID card slippery slope?

My name is Bob. Can you prove it? Not right now. In that case I believe you're giving me a false name, obstructing the police, you're nicked.

I realise 'looking at the police in a funny way' was always reason to get nicked, but they seem to keep moving the goal posts to suit themselves. So I expect one inch at a time, it'll just become "useful" to have your ID with you at all times. If youre innocent you've nothing to fear. Ahem Ahem Ahem.

Sign of the times

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Big Brother

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

There was no requirement to carry ID cards at all times. I don't recall it ever being seriously suggested. It was just the Home Office's wet dream. Certainly Labour were clear that it wasn't a requirement.

Of course, once you have ID cards, it's a pretty short step to then making carrying them mandatory. So it's still a valid reason to object to them. Also I can imagine this being done more subtly by making face-to-face credit card transactions require ID (to prevent fraud and lower prices), and all interactions with government agencies and financial services. At which point not carrying one virtually becomes 'suspicious' anyway.

I think my main objection to ID Cards was cost. Civil Liberties second. Which pretty much mirrors my attitude to the whole New Labour government, come to think of it...

I wonder how long we'll hold out though? There may be no new multi-billion pound card scheme, but when government eventually manages to have a universal database of everything (maybe in about 300 years if Crapita are in charge), with so much services and data online there'll be a pretty effective national register anyway. It's then but a short step to having it on a card, or in the NFC chip on a smartphone or as a section of our 'comms & credit nano-tattoo', or whatever we end up using in the future.

Place your bets now! Which will come first? Flying car or UK ID Card?

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

And not only that the central storage of personnel information which is irrelevant to primary purpose of the system.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

"to *carry* an ID" all the time!. That can't be true. But if it was I wound be very much against it.

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Big Brother

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

I am not opposed to the idea of ID cards

I am not even particularly opposed with a legal requirement to have one.

I am opposed to the database behind the card and my use of it (the card) being tracked by the Government. This was the core of Labour's ID scheme and why it was a major infringement of civil liberties.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

" It was just the Home Office's wet dream"

Some politician made the comment that the then Home Secretary David Blunkett - "wants everyone who isn't David Blunkett put in prison".

One of his own statements was to the effect that random police searches of anyone's PC would be a good thing - "no one who is innocent has anything to fear". Another was "anyone buying a child an ice cream should be investigated by the police".

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Unhappy

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

@ Alfred

"If you want to leave the country, ok, you need a passport. I think that's not the case; you can leave whenever you like without permission."

That may be true legally, but in practice it is very difficult. Try boarding any form of transport to another country without a passport and you will be turned away (even if you have other forms of ID). The only way I can think of that may not entail showing your passport on exit is by getting in a boat and sailying/paddling overseas,

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Flying car or UK ID Card?

A slight acronym tweak and people would vote for UKID in their droves ... they almost already do :-)

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@I ain't Spartacus

Blunkett tried to make the argument for mandatory ID card carrying in the early days. There was some serious pushing in that direction, but in the end there was so much opposition.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

I'm fairly sure that if I use a private boat to get to France or Ireland, the EC rules don't allow for me to be refused entry just because I've left my UK passport at home. (That's assuming someone actually notices that I've arrived). They can probably fine me for not carrying an acceptable ID document if their laws say that I should be doing so, and of course the hassle and wasted time would be a pain.

The easiest way to get out of the UK without a passport would be to take the ferry to Northern Ireland and then walk across the border into Eire. When Scotland leaves the UK it'll be even easier ;-)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

A key mistake was to start the whole scheme as a Home Office scheme. In some countries they specifically make them an entitlement card - backed by an obligation on state services to accept as sufficient entitlement and banned the data from use by investigative authorities. Its also a good solution, Belgium I think, where the transaction can be recorded but not used for future communication - ie the data release is in the owners control.

Keeping it with the Home Office meant they were incentivised to use it for police purposes first and to extract data from both the individual and other services meaning they were not interested in 'thin' solutions which only allowed relevant data for a given purpose to be available only for a given transaction.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

Yup. Single point of failure. It even fails on the utilitarian argument.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

Dumb simplistic view which misses the point.

An ID card would serve no purpose other than to make every day life a bit more painful for everyone and provide the government with vast amounts of data. Cards can and would be forged. Biometric data on the card could and would be forged although for every day use biometric data on the card would never be checked against biometric data of the holder beyond glancing at a photograph.

So in order to prevent people getting things they are not entitled to everyone has to have, pay for and carry an ID card which will be required to be presented constantly for things as mundane as getting on a bus or borrowing a library book. Yet for the most part it won't prevent people getting things they are not entitled to because for the most part a forgery (and even better stolen ID) will do.

To be secure you need to check the biometrics of the person against a central database which can't (easily) be forged. For that you don't need a card at all. It would just be a key to indicate what database record the person is claiming to match, a number scribbled on a bit of paper would be adequate.

So I think we have established ID cards are expensive, painful, pointless and a huge invasion of privacy, what more do you need to be opposed to them?

The huge joined up database pointlessly using the card as a key is a whole 'nother ball game' which I'm not getting into here.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

"The only way I can think of that may not entail showing your passport on exit is by getting in a boat and sailying/paddling overseas,"

You can also simply drive over the border with the Republic of Ireland. The point is that you don't need the gubbermint's permission to leave. They exist for my benefit; not the other way around.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

But thousands come in to the UK from France without showing ID at the French end every year

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

Ah, no. If you want to *re-enter* this country you need a passport. You can freely leave this country at any time without any documentation whatsoever. Whether any other country will let you enter them is another point, but you do not need any for of ID to *leave* the UK.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

Well, holding at least a passport or a driving licence has become almost required (not by law, but de facto). If you hold neither your life will be way, way more difficult, from banal things like buying alcohol to more important stuff, like proving to a new employer that you are British and therefore entitled to work here.

About that, how would someone who was born British (not naturalised nor registered British) prove his citizenship, and therefore his right to work, to a new employer if he doesn't have a passport? Birth certificates do not report citizenship.

Oh, finally, those who are British are so because they meet the requirements of the British Nationality Act; being born in the country is not, by itself, sufficient: one of your parents must be British or legally settled (in summary; the details are on the UK Border Agency website). So the child of a foreigner who has been in the country for less than 5 years, for example, is not born British.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

So would you be OK with the German system where, if I understand correctly, ID cards are issued but there is no centralised database which stores all the details?

My point is that most, if not all, the information on ID cards is already held by other governmental bodies (tax authorities, DVLA etc), and for good reasons: the DVLA must know where you live if you are involved in an accident, HMRC must know how much your employer paid you to work out if you have paid enough tax, etc.

How would the information on ID cards be any different?

Also, what exactly do you mean by the Government tracking the use of the ID card?

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

The State has to prove that you're not? I beg to differ.

Do you think it would be better and fairer if benefit claimants (just to name one) didn't have to prove they are who they say they are?

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

Yes, ID cards can be forged, Anything can be forged and nothing is 100% secure. It's not about 100% security, it's about a reasonable balance between cost and security.

Modern ID cards can be forged, but they are much much much harder to forge than the infamous proofs of address which are so relied upon in the UK but not in the Continental European countries which use ID cards. Yes, terrorists and fraudsters could probably forge ID cards, but a 5-year old with a PC can extremely easily forge a bank or utility statement! That's a huge difference!

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Stop

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

> And not only that the central storage of personnel information which is irrelevant to primary purpose of the system.

Erm, the central storage of "personnel" (I assume you mean "personal", it's not just a huge HR department) is very relevant to the primary purpose of the system, which is the monetisation and sale of said information.

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Unhappy

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

"Of course, once you have ID cards, it's a pretty short step to then making carrying them mandatory."

Historical note.

I believe it was it was then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith who said it would take a 1 paragraph bill to change that.

Quite right.

Not just a theoretical reason to oppose it.

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Meh

@LondonRegger

"Also, what exactly do you mean by the Government tracking the use of the ID card?"

Look up the term "National Identity Register" or NIR and come back to us when you have.

It's been mentioned often enough but it seems you've missed it.

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Unhappy

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

All well and good, except the plod concerned knew full well that said spotty herbet did not have car insurance, cos the DVLA would have told him so.

As it stands, I believe, if you cannot satisfactorily demonstrate to the plod who you are, then they can hold you until you can establish your identity.

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FAIL

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

"If you want to leave the country, ok, you need a passport." -- Oh no you don't.

I think you will find that you can get out of the UK any time you like with no identity documents whatsoever, so long as you choose your means of transport appropriately. For example you can get into France without a passport, 99 times out of 100, from a ferry or a Eurotunnel shuttle and from there you can travel to almost any country in mainland Europe (within the Schengen area) entirely unimpeded: you just sail through the borders without needing to present any identity documents.

The one time you will certainly need your passport is when you want to get *back* into the UK.

This reveals the fundamental broken-ness of the UK Border Agency, or whatever they are calling it today. They count everyone in, but they count no-one out.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

"The easiest way to get out of the UK without a passport would be to take the ferry to Northern Ireland and then walk across the border into Eire. When Scotland leaves the UK it'll be even easier ;-)"

Or just fly here. Or take the ferry here.

There is absolutely no requirement for a passport to go between Ireland and the UK on any mode of transport. The second largest airline serving routes between the two requires one, but the first and third downwards don't, just photo ID of any description. Work door passes are enough.

UKBA don't check on the way out, GNIB do really prefer photo ID but will take your boarding pass on the way in. When you're going back, assuming you fly to an airport with sufficient segregation (e.g. Birmingham) you won't show a thing on the way in; if its not segregated the boarding pass will do (Gatwick).

On the ferry there's no checks of any description at all for car drivers, not done foot in an extremely long time to confirm that.

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Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

I am a private pilot. I cannot remember the last time anyone asked to see my passport when flying between here and France.

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zb

Re: I wonder how much of the opposition matches mine?

I think I could accept the idea of an identity card that did not have a number, just name, address, dob, photo.

In several countries I have lived in there was a requirement to carry an ID card at all times. Because of this every time you want to do even a trivial transaction they want to record your number: golf club, doctor, hotel, season ticket, bank, phone, electricity, white goods shops and a long list of etcs They do it for no other reason than they can and they have a computer to store the numbers.

The idea that I can be tracked through almost every aspect of my life just by searching for a number is what terrifies me. Every government and police force has abused every power it has ever had. Numbered ID cards would be a step too far.

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Facepalm

The real problem

While it's true that we are citizens by virtue of being born here, not of having a piece of paper, there is always the problem that anyone -- including people who weren't born here -- can make that claim. The piece of paper is not supposed to be the entitlement to live here, merely to document it.

Once you have a system of ID cards people tend to trust that system and not question what they see on the cards. Your identity becomes the identity on the card you carry -- no matter who you claimed to be when you applied for it or from whom you may have stolen it. The process of card issuance becomes very difficult because there is nothing authoritative to establish an individual's identity apart from the ID card he does not yet have.

The real problem, then, is that the sort of ID card scheme that was being mooted under the last Labour government would have been very expensive to implement and maintain, and would not have afforded any benefit -- either to the individual or to the state -- commensurate with that cost.

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Re: The real problem

+10 for the correct use of 'moot'. People rarely use it correctly anymore.

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Headmaster

Re: The real problem

Your statement that we are citizens by virtue of being born here needs a bit of qualification:

"Even if you were born in the United Kingdom, you will not be a British citizen if neither of your parents was a British citizen or legally settled here at the time of your birth. This means you are not a British citizen if, at the time of your birth, your parents were in the country temporarily, had stayed on without permission, or had entered the country illegally and had not been given permission to stay here indefinitely."

http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/britishcitizenship/othernationality/Britishcitizenship/borninukorqualifyingterritory/

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Re: The real problem

@dajames

I have a document that shows I was born here. I think you have one, too. It's called a Birth Certificate and it matches to a registry of births, deaths and marriages. So while someone can claim to be born here, without that certificate they can't prove it.

But otherwise, yup: I agree :p

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@PatientOne

my kids have exactly same looking certificates (issued here in Britain), look and speak like any English person you have seen or talked to, and yet they are not British.

Not that I disagree, just to prove the point that JetSetJim made.

Another thing - as a comer from another country, I find it rather ridiculous that bills issued by utility companies can be used to do things like open bank account in one's name.

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Re: @PatientOne

"Another thing - as a comer from another country, I find it rather ridiculous that bills issued by utility companies can be used to do things like open bank account in one's name."

I'm not sure what coming from another country has to do with it. Plenty of UK-born folks don't understand this point either, but ... the bank doesn't care who you are or whether that is your real name. What it cares about is being able to identify you when you come back the next day to withdraw some cash. Utility bills indicate that other organisations facing the same problem have found these particular credentials and address details to be sufficient. The systems works, costs next to nothing, and annoys the control freaks at the Home Office. What's not to like?

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Re: @PatientOne

"What it cares about is being able to identify you when you come back the next day to withdraw some cash"

They are required to establish the identity of their customers to the satisfaction of the government. The government have access to every transaction with every financial institution in the country and demand they can associated each with an individual identity with some level of confidence. The banks care about loosing money and some have been fined substantial amounts by the FSA for failing to adequately identify their customers. This is all justified rather like the attempts to justify ID cards on bullshit grounds like fighting money laundering, terrorist funding, and tax evasion. But the banks do their dirty work and take the blame.

I went through no end of shit trying to adequately identify my GF to the satisfaction of the government via their bank proxy just to make her a secondary credit card holder (for which I as the primary holder would be completely responsible). She doesn't pay bills, she doesn't work or pay taxes, she doesn't claim benefits, she doesn't have or need a full bank account. She has a passport and driving license but that isn't enough.

As far as the government is concerned she isn't identifiable enough to be allowed to make financial transactions such as buying something with a credit card. The problem isn't lack of identity the problem is the chicken shit government requiring identity to support their surveillance of us all. The same with ID cards, and internet snooping.

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Anonymous Coward

Pots and kettles

Several times before the last General Election I complained to my Labour MP about their paty's attacks on civil liberties. As the election approached I went further. I said I was considering breaking a lifetime's leaning by gritting my teeth to vote Tory - as they were promising to roll back such State surveillance.

The response was "you can't trust the Tories to keep a promise". A promise that might be broken is still better than one that espouses an opposite policy.

In the end it was a Lib-Dem vote in the hope that a coalition of either flavour would find it hard to push through attacks on civil liberties.

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Re: Pots and kettles

Ditto - I voted Tory solely on the issue of civil liberties. No idea how much things have changed though...

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FAIL

If all they wanted was a usable ID card,

They could have gone the way of the USA and just allowed people to have 'non-drivers' drivers licenses. Would have cost very little to implement.

The big cost was the database behind it, which was to record and have access to every piece of data about you that they could think of. The big cost and the big danger.

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Black Helicopters

Re: If all they wanted was a usable ID card,

The thing is, these already exist, they are called provisional licences, and to get one you can use your "Government Gateway ID" to get one, which is the first step to a national ID card by the back door....

...just don't tell anyone that's what they are doing

SSSSSsssshhhhhhhhh.....

Nothing to see here...

Move on....

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Big Brother

Re: If all they wanted was a usable ID card,

And so, you can infer they didn't want a usable ID card.

So what *did* they want ?

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Re: If all they wanted was a usable ID card,

Provisional licences are not quite the same thing as an ID card. You cannot, or at least shouldn't be able to, get one if you don't meet the requirements for driving (e.g. if you have some kind of medical condition preventing you from driving).

In the USA, instead, the equivalents of our DVLA issues a kind of ID card to people who don't have a driving licence; of course you can get one of these kind-of-ID-cards even if you have a condition which prevents you from driving.

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Gimp

Re: If all they wanted was a usable ID card,

"So what *did* they want ?"

What.

Cradle-to-grave physical tracking of where you were, are and go.

Why.

Because they do. That's what being a data fetishist is.

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Could someone please explain me this British anti-ID obsession?

I honestly do not understand the British anti-ID obsession.

The need to prove your identity does arise in countless occasions, from registering with a GP, to opening a bank account, to starting a new job, to buying alcohol or cigarettes, etc…

In fact, in most cases some sort of photographic ID is required; most people tend to use passports or driving licences, but it is not compulsory to hold either. So what do you do if you hold neither a passport nor a driving licence? Mine is not a rhetoric question: I would genuinely like to know. In most situations I have faced I would not have been able to open a bank account, get a mortgage, or start a new job without either; I could have probably made a huge fuss about the fact that holding them isn’t compulsory, but most bureaucracy procedures are such that passports or driving licences are de facto compulsory in the UK, to the extent that holding at least one of the two makes your life indubitably easier. Just to name one, try buying alcohol in a UK supermarket without a passport or a driving licence if you don’t look at least 30!

ID cards would have been a convenient and secure way to prove identity, available to those who don’t want to/can’t drive, and cheaper than a passport for those who don’t need one as they don’t travel overseas.

ID cards are available in most Western countries, but they haven’t resulted in Big Brother police states. In fact, the information held on ID cards is, for the most part, already held across governmental bodies and agencies: the tax authorities, the DVLA (for non-Brits, that’s the entity issuing driving licences), the registrar offices etc.

Those who are worried about Big Brother implications should be more concerned about things like mobile apps tracking all our activities on smartphones, or the pervasive (way more so in the UK than in most Continental European countries with ID cards) nature of credit reference agencies, i.e. of private companies which have extremely detailed information on our finances, the kind of information and the kind of detail which would be every dictator’s dream.

Additionally, relying more on ID cards and less on proofs of address would increase security and decrease frauds: a 5-year old with a PC could fake a banking statement and print it on A4 paper, whereas faking a modern ID card is much harder (not impossible, nothing is impossible, but much harder yes).

Finally, ID cards would be extremely convenient when travelling to other EU countries: those who don’t need to travel outside of the EU wouldn’t need to get a passport, which is much more expensive; additionally, ID cards are easier to carry (and harder to lose, as they fit in a wallet) in all those situations, especially abroad, when British citizens are supposedly required to carry a passport: from proving your identity when paying with a credit card in Spain to driving in most of Continental Europe. In fact, in these cases driving licences alone are not accepted, and in many European countries a British tourist driving without carrying his British passport with him could be fined.

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Re: Could someone please explain me this British anti-ID obsession?

I think the short answer is grumpiness, general distrust of government, cost, the fact that it's not a pressing need. Other European countries having ID cards is not necessarily a selling point either. In general we tend to concentrate on being different to the rest of the EU...

To address one point, as the UK aren't members of the Schengen agreement, our ID cards would not be acceptable for travel around Europe. In practise they probably would be. Also, as I recall the rules from when I lived in Belgium, you could cross the borders with a Belgian ID card, but with the foreigner ID cards issued to non-citizens you still technically required your passport. Also in Belgium they have something called administrative arrest. This gives the police up to 48 hours to detain you, while they prove who you are - if you don't produce an ID card or passport on request. I remember the Belgian police once used this to lock up most of a train of football fans, who'd left their passports in their hotel safes on the way to an international match. Kept them just long enough to miss the match, then sent them back to their hotels.

The government put rules in place in the past to stop them from merging the various government databases into one big, all-knowing, super database. Although partly this was probably agreed to because it wasn't yet practical. The ID card database would have eroded those distinctions quite a lot, and I guess people are already worried enough about the government telling them what to do. We've had a few quite authoritarian governments recently, in the Thatcher (economically liberal but not socially) and Blair administrations.

However, I'm not sure how unpopular ID cards really are. Labour had become unpopular, and the policy was incredibly expensive. But for the first few years, the polls were in favour, and by large numbers as I recall. There's still quite a majority for being 'tough on crime', and it wouldn't surprise me if a majority were still in favour of capital punishment. The policy was going to cost at least £10 billion, and the government is still running £100 bn plus deficits. If money wasn't so tight, I wonder if Labour might have pushed it through. Say they'd started in 97, and been ready to go in around 2005 when they could still get over 40% in the polls.

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FAIL

Re: Could someone please explain me this British anti-ID obsession?

I had not realized you had only just joined El Reg.

Hello Titus.

Welcome back.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Could someone please explain me this British anti-ID obsession?

"Just to name one, try buying alcohol in a UK supermarket without a passport or a driving licence if you don’t look at least 30!"

My UK bank won't cash my cheque for £200 over the counter with my current passport for proof of identity. It has to be accompanied by a household bill. They will apparently accept two household bills. Offering a passport seems to be thought unusual - even though it is my only identifying document with a recent picture. My driving licence is an old style one that doesn't get renewed until I'm 70.

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