National ID cards in the UK: Debates For and Against

“Introducing National ID cards in the United Kingdom.”

The concept of this scheme to introduce National ID card in the UK, is so that any legal citizen of the United Kingdom should be able to confirm their identity simply by producing this card and therefore prove their right to be within the UK without argument. It will do this by holding enough personal data to specifically identify a person as the individual they are claiming to be without question.

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You may wonder why the Government feel this a necessary action and it seems the main aim of this scheme is that the National ID card is ultimately intended to assist with law enforcement predominantly in relation to terrorism and organised crime. One of the main criteria for this scheme therefore, is that the cards should not be easily forged so that anyone wishing to flout the law could do so easily.

These cards are only intended to hold basic data about a person, only enough to prove their identity. However it seems the definition of this ‘basic data’ seems somewhat ambiguous. Primarily, for example, it is intended that the card will only hold information regarding a persons name, address, date of birth and address etc. Scratch the surface however, and it seems that the actual proposal for the ID card embraces much more technologically sophisticated designs because, as previously stated, it aims to avoid being easily forged. Therefore it is intended that it will also hold ‘biometric data,’ that is to say, data that proves a much more physical individuality, such as fingerprint impressions or iris scans. It will do this through implementing the opportunities now made available to us through the ever advancing forms of ICT (Information and Communication Technology).

All this in mind it seems the introduction of National ID cards within the United Kingdom seems to be one of the most politically sensitive topics around at this current moment, with people arguing both in support and opposition of the scheme, regarding whether it will protect or control us.

In the aftermath of September the 11th we had perhaps become more aware than we had been previously, that we were vulnerable to attack from Terrorists who despised the Western Capitalist Culture such as that which exists both within the UK and America where the attack took place. It was a shock to thousands, if not millions of us all over the world, as we were humbled to witness the devastation that this attack, and attacks like it can cause. For those in support of the National ID card, they claim that terrorist attacks would mean that it would be much more problematic for a terrorist trying to initiate a plan via an assumed false identity because of the designs previously outlined. The idea is that the authorities would question them too vigorously once they inevitably failed to produce a valid ID card, and therefore be obstruct their terrorist strategies. Indeed one of the most adamant supporters of this argument is Mr David Blunkett who is quoted as saying;

“The ability to prove one’s identity reliably is an ever-more important aspect of modern life.” (www.publictechnology.net/modules)

Indeed Mr Blunketts perspective on this issue is that it represents the answer to our living in fear of attack, as the cards are proposed to be so technologically advanced they will be impossible to forge. Whether this is a valid claim remains to be seen.

In addition, the scheme is also seen as a solution to serious and organised crime with the UK and also seemingly much more everyday issues such assisting in the efficiency of public services. Bases persuasive techniques on the basis that those with nothing to hide will only benefit.

From this we can see both what the National ID card is intended to be, and why the Government in the main, support this scheme, particularly in light of the ‘War Against Terrorism”. However as previously mentioned, the National ID card scheme is a sensitive current affair and does seem to be becoming an increasing Political Hot Potato with concerns raising particularly in relation to our Human Right to privacy and how these may possibly be infringed upon by advancing forms of ICT. Even though a person may have nothing to hide they may feel that the schemes enforces extra control over them rather than protecting them. Despite assurances from the Government that only very basic data will be held on these cards and that only the Government and ourselves (subject to the Data Protection Act 1998) will have a right to access the information, we are aware that in order to make these cards practically impossible to forge the link has to be made between sophisticated forms of ICT in order to incorporate features such iris scans and fingerprint impressions etc. As a consequence of this, the use of modern technology seems to have caused panic through an idea that we will become a society under the constant supervision of ‘Big Brother’ and that everyone could potentially know our business. In short, there is an opposition to the National ID card as it is suggested it will impact upon our civil rights to privacy, and that rather than the scheme being one to protect us, it would ultimately become one to control us in perhaps what could be identified as a communist trait and therefore undermine the very structure of our current Capitalist society.

Indeed an entire website named say ‘No2ID and the Database State’ is based on the very foundation of this argument. In comparison to the Governments webpage (www.identitycards.gov.uk) of ‘frequently asked questions,’ which only briefly touches on the issue. Notably only one question on this page related to ICT specifically and that didn’t really address the concern of ICT exposing our business, rather it related only to defining biometric data;

“A biometric is a unique identifying physical characteristic. Examples include facial recognition, iris patterns and fingerprints.”( www.identitycards.gov.uk)

Basically it would seem that those in oppostion tend to be in fear because the design of the cards is intended to be so advanced that most of us will not be able to fully understand the extent to which we are monitored by this scheme. In essence there seems to be an almost operantly conditioned response amongst the opposition, based on previous experience that our human rights will be sacrificed against our will and thus demolish the UK’s characteristic liberal approach to civil rights and its Capitalist structure.

For example, as recently as the 27th November 2005 it was revealed by the Mail on Sunday that the database for the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency (DVLA) is actually profiting by selling ‘our’ data to would be wheel clampers. The scenario being that for a small fee, car park attendants and wheel clampers could forward bills to motorists home addresses because they were provided with them by the DVLA. Indeed the DVLA were exposed as even allowing one wheel clamping company to purchase the information (for as little as ?2.50 per transaction) whose two bosses were actually already in prison for crimes of extorting money from the Motorist.

From this we can see that even when respected organisations such as the DVLA are allowed to hold personal data on us we can sometimes be exploited in the pursuit of profit and therefore we can perhaps begin to understand the concerns arising over the National ID card.

All this in mind, it is perhaps now relevant to apply this knowledge in order to assess how the scheme will affect the current structure of society within the UK.

As a quick overview the UK exists as a Capitalist Society, which thrives on a democratic government and allows us our civil human rights such as the right to privacy. This would seem quite a positive description, especially in light of how civil rights have so vehemently been fought for in the past, particularly in relation to the movement to support the rights of black people that took place in America during the 1960’s. Indeed it is important to acknowledge that both those who support and oppose the scheme do so because they are fearful for the survival of that political societal structure, despite the extremities of approach to the topic i.e., 1. by believing the cards will protect us, or 2) that they will to undermine us.

For those in support of the National ID card, it is perhaps a representation of reformism. Meaning that it seems to be an example of a Political Policy ‘whose object is to modify a political practice or aspect of social legislation without changing the fundamental political social structure.’ (Jary D & Jary J, 1999) Yet for those in opposition that is not the case and the National ID would in fact change the fundamental political social structure. If as suggested by those in opposition to the scheme that we will become a ‘database state’ surely we are changing the fundamental political structure of our society as we seem to be relinquishing a great deal of our privacy in order to accommodate such concepts. The concern is that we may perhaps ‘sleep walk’ our way over to a more politically left / socialist standpoint and therefore sacrifice our Capitalist structure which arguably at this point in time defines the UK. If this is the case then we could perhaps argue that the decision to defend ourselves against terrorists would in fact actually result in us allowing the terrorists to win, as the Capitalist structure would in fact wither naturally.

One of the most prevalent characteristics of society within the United Kingdom is surely that of Capitalism, and indeed one of the main reasons we are vulnerable to terrorist attacks by organisations like Al-Qaeda who oppose it. Whilst there are variations to the definitions of Capitalism as it is notoriously difficult to define, it would seem that the rejection of centralised control is one of the most prevalent motivations of a Capitalist structure. If we were to take on board those, for example who adamantly profess to say No2ID, then we would arguably be acting in the interest on maintaining our social structure of a Capitalist state as they are rejecting avenues for an influx of databases that may ultimately result in a society which will exist via centralised control in this case through the medium of databases. What’s next providing babies with barcodes?

What makes this topic so complex henceforth is that those who are on the other of the fence and support scheme such as Mr Blunkett are in fact motivated by this very same desire to preserve and protect our Capitalist state, and so it seems that this is one of the rare political topics that actually where the aim is actually agreed upon by the majority of the nation even if the method is disputed.

As alluded to earlier all sorts of arguments exist in relation to the ID card and specifically the impact ICT. We might feel that we could be blinded by science and exploited. We might also be justified in feeling that our personal privacy would be exploited by corrupt people in power (as is alleged to have happened via the DVLA), however it is also felt a necessary ploy in order to avoid counterfeit duplication. All possibly valid arguments, however, what hasn’t been discussed is the actual practical application of this scheme. If, we were to embrace Mr Blunketts main reasoning for the scheme, then surely Police would be encouraged to stereotype and stop those who they felt could possibly be terrorists. In light of the threat from Al-Qaeda this is surely likely to result in a cultural divide, as they would likely stop Asian people thought to dominate the Islamic religion, rather than white people. In relation to the topic of the Civil Rights movement, mentioned earlier, we would arguably be promoting a shift back towards racism. Since the UK is a place that manages to embrace aspects of Liberalism (a concept which promotes such tolerance of religion and personal and economic freedom) without challenging the Capitalism in society, the introduction of the ID card would arguably be a backlash against such positive traits and be quite disappointing.

Whether in support of the ID card or in extreme opposition, it does seem that it is inevitable as talks persist and plans continue. It would seem that both sides of this argument have a substantial weight to them. However, change and diversity within society is surely inevitable. It’s surely what defines our history and characterises our culture. For the UK, it would seem that the National ID card will be one of those most significant changes to occur in the next few years. Yet surely it is better to evolve than remain in a static culture otherwise we would never advance. Surely a risk is worth taking even if we are not always in agreement or sure of the consequences.

Bibliography

Cushing, S (2001) Information and Communication Technology: London: Letts Educational

Donnellan, C (2004) Protecting Our Privacy: Cambridge: MWL Print Group

Jary, D & Jary, J. (1999) Sociology: Leicester: HarperCollins Publishers

Websites

www.identitycards.gov.uk

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3568468.stm

www.news-from-newspapers.com/en/Wikipedia.org/2005/04/21/Capitalism.html

http://www.no2id.net/

www.publictechnology.net/modules)

http://www.spy.org.uk/spyblog/2005/11/ (Mail on Sunday 27th November 2005)

http://www.timesonline.co.uk

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