openDemocracyUK

So far, so good – but there is more to come for ID cards

Alex Deane
27 May 2010

Today is a good day. The ID card scheme’s formal demise is one in the eye for the authoritarian busybodies. Nobody wanted them, they were an intrusive waste of money and they would have provided an entirely false sense of security.

They also threatened radically to change our relationship with the state for the worse. I don’t want to live in a country in which the police (or other representatives of the state) can march up to an individual and demand he states his business, or proves his identity, absent reasonable suspicion or just cause.

Precisely that has been happening more and more, as the Manifesto Club has documented. The existence of the card made it all the more likely that one would be expected to carry identification as a matter of course, and regarded as prima facie suspicious if one did not. The Coalition scrapping the card, along with the European Court rightly dismissing this country’s disgraceful s. 44 Terrorism Act random stop and search policy, has done much to ensure an end to the growing culture of ihre papiere bitte officialdom and bureaucratic bullying so anathematic to this country’s traditions.

Just as one should not have perpetually to prove one’s innocence, so should one be free from the obligation to inform and prove one’s identity to the state. It may be a surprising thing to assert in the age of social networking, but anonymity is not a crime. This is a difficult concept for authoritarians to grasp – but, absent actual wrongdoing that requires law enforcement, it should be remembered that the state is responsible to us, rather than vice versa.

But with all that said, we – Big Brother Watch, Privacy International, No2ID, the readers of this site, all people who care about freedom and liberty – must ensure that there is no false sense of euphoria about today’s news, no “oh, that’s the end of that” relief. We must ensure that bureaucrats don’t continue the construction of a database state bit by bit; ID cards were just the tip of the iceberg, the most visible part of a larger surveillance and monitoring programme, much of which is still with us.

Finally, the continued requirement for foreigners means that we are not yet free from identity cards. I believe in immigration controls and policing our borders. But requiring identity cards for foreign nationals is an absurdity. If here legally, then foreigners have passports, which serve perfectly well to identify them. If here illegally – well, how exactly are you going to force them to carry an identity card? They’re hardly volunteering themselves for contact with the state per se.  

The existence of the card for some people means that the apparatus is always there as a precedent, making it easier to roll them out again for the rest of us. We have a great opportunity now to stamp out this authoritarian, illiberal policy altogether – We must not let it go to waste.

Alex Deane is the Director of Big Brother Watch.

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