UK Liberty

Gordon Brown on ID Cards – clueless, or dishonest?

Posted in ID Cards, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on January 7, 2008

The Observer:

ID cards are seen as a tool for dealing with terrorism but there is a debate about whether they are an encroachment on civil liberties. Are you still committed to pressing ahead with them?

I think this debate has to be one where people can see where there’s agreement as well as where there’s been a debate that’s led to disagreement.

There’s no debate here, there’s a brick wall with “We are going to have identity cards and a ridiculous database” and the rest of us pounding our heads against it.

If someone said to you that I’m going to give you a better

Already framing the debate, isn’t he? Who wouldn’t refuse something ‘better’? Bit dishonest, that. Like selling snake-oil.

form of passport with biometrics

The snake-oil.

and I’m going to include the current passport information in that;

And the rest, Gordon.

if someone said to you … that if someone comes to this country as a foreign national,

Those scary foreigners – yes! Let’s tap into the fear of foreigners stealing our jobs and women.

given the worries about illegal immigration,

Like my particular ‘worry’ that existing rules aren’t enforced? The worry that Gordon’s Government has contributed to, by doing eff all?

they should carry some form of identity, I think most people would agree.

Why should they carry some form of identity? I mean, for what purpose? I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be agreeing with here.

And I think we’ve got to get the debate about, if you like the management, the identity management to a reasonable level.

But people seem confused as to what they are for. Is it specifically to guard against foreign nationals working and living illegally here? Or is it aimed at domestic security?

There are two things.

Only two, Gordon? [That wasn’t fair on Gordon, he actually said something different – see the edited transcript].

One is, when it comes to foreign nationals coming in and the danger of illegal immigration. I think most people would support there being some form of identification that people are asked to produce.

On the other hand, Gordon says that they won’t be compulsory for existing British citizens (but see below). Let’s imagine a scenario:

Security/Employer/Police officer: Hello, I suspect you of being foreign without a licence. Please produce some form of identity.

Suspect: Nein, ich bin ein Englander, je n’ai pas de carte d’identité.

Security: Ah, ok. Have a nice day.

Suspect: Gracias.

I can see a flaw in that system – can you?

If identity cards aren’t compulsory for everyone it follows that the people who want to circumvent the law can simply claim that they belong in that group of people (British citizens, for example) who aren’t required to have an identity card.

Is that the principal reason for ID cards?

As far as the individual is concerned, the danger for me and you in the modern world is that our identity is easily stolen. And people feel worried when information that is personal to them is lost, and rightly so. And I think if we were giving a better means by which people could protect their identity, then in the private as well as the public sector people are looking at biometrics. I mean maybe in a few years’ time on your computer you will need biometrics rather than a password.

Look, biometrics are unique identifiers (assuming the system can verify the biometric came from the person at the time of measurement, and that it matches the biometric in the database) but they are not secrets. A secret is a PIN or password, something you can update or destroy. You can change your secret, your PIN, revoke it, but you can’t revoke your fingerprint.

So they are good for some purposes, awful for others. Gordon doesn’t particularly care about any of that – to him ‘biometrics’ is a magic word, abracadabra, which will make lots of people believe him when he says he can solve the problems of nasty foreigners and identity fraudsters. Really, read what he’s saying: “biometric identity cards will solve illegal immigration”. Quite laughable, really, when you think about it. Won’t somebody think of the children?

Also, these comparisons he draws are absurd. Your computer is not at all comparable to the proposed Identity Card and National Register system, handling Gord-doesn’t-know how many transactions a day.

Furthermore, the biggest growing area of fraud is card- or person- not present transactions, eg online. Biometrics aren’t a practical solution for that problem.

Maybe when you go to a supermarket, as happens in some parts of the States and Europe, you are going to be safer, instead of carrying a credit card which can easily be stolen, to use your biometrics to shop. Maybe in relation to banking to use biometrics or fingerprint biometrics, you might find that you are safer in your banking transaction than if you carried a card and a number.

Well, you may or may not be safer. But so what? You might be more safe if you used biometrics and a PIN. Where is he going with this?

But the very fact that you’ve got biometrics now in a way that you didn’t have two centuries ago gives you opportunities to protect people’s identity and I don’t think we should rule out the use of that. In fact, I don’t actually think most of the general public think that the use of biometrics is in itself wrong, either for private transactions or for passports or whatever.

The use of biometrics isn’t in itself wrong. I don’t believe anyone – not NO2ID, not Privacy International, no-one – is saying the use of biometrics is wrong. This is a red herring, a straw man. If opponents ever talk about biometrics, we talk about their appropriateness or otherwise for a particular system, not that they are Evil, because they’re not Evil, they are just a tool.

So are you committed to ID cards?

We’re committed to the proposals we put forward which are essentially that the information you now use to get your passport,

and the rest, Gordon

linked to the biometrics now available, give you a better form of protection. But I’m happy that this debate continues, because I believe that over the course of it some preconceptions will be dealt with.

So would it be that British citizens and non-British citizens would need them?
Yes, but under our proposals there is no compulsion for existing British citizens.

I refer Gordon to the Identity & Passport Service website:

Will it be compulsory to have an ID card?

Yes, it will eventually be compulsory to have an ID card once further legislation is approved by Parliament, but it will take some time before the scheme reaches this point. Until then the ID card will not be the only way of proving your identity or accessing public services.

Emergency medical treatment or other services needed to deal with a genuine emergency would never depend on your showing an ID card.

It will not be compulsory to carry a card with you.

When will the scheme become compulsory?

No date has yet been set for a decision on a move to compulsion.There are a number of factors which the Government will need to consider before introducing new legislation to make the scheme compulsory. These are explained in the document ‘Identity Cards: The Next Steps’ (2003, Cm 6020). You can use the link below to download this document in a new browser window.

Aside from that, enrollment on the National Register (the database behind the cards) is compulsory when you apply for a new passport or renew one you already have.

It has always been the intention of the Government to make ID cards and enrolment compulsory. You will not be able to live a normal life without enrolling – if you think about it, how would they work otherwise?

So that’s just a plain old lie.

See also Yorkshire Ranter, SpyBlog, Ideal Government, and the NO2ID forum.


Someone on the NO2ID forum posted a link to the edited transcript of the interview. There is a bit more detail in there, but one thing that strikes me is this continual push that the information to be stored is no more than that required by the old passport database. This is a LIE.

Update 2

A dissection, (hat-tip Ideal Gov).

Update 3

I thought I’d look again at Gordon’s claim that “under our proposals there is no compulsion for existing British citizens”, starting with Hansard. I found the following within seconds (my emphasis in bold*):

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the most recent timetable is for introducing compulsory identity cards.

Joan Ryan [Home Office Minister]: We will start issuing biometric immigration documents from 2008 and identity cards to British citizens from 2009. It is the Government’s policy that ID cards should eventually be compulsory for everyone resident in the United Kingdom who is aged 16 or over.

Under the Identity Cards Act 2006 registration on the National Identity Register and the issue of ID cards will be linked to applications for British passports and biometric immigration documents for foreign nationals, subject to approval by Parliament of a designation order under section 4 of the Identity Cards Act. As a result, ID cards will be issued to a large proportion of the resident population as they apply for or renew one of these documents. Passport applicants may opt out of obtaining an ID card before 1 January 2010.

The UK Borders Bill currently before Parliament provides powers to require specified categories of foreign nationals to apply for a biometric immigration document. At some time in the future, further primary legislation will be introduced to provide the powers to require the remainder of the population to obtain an ID card and so to make ID cards compulsory. [Hansard source]

* Maybe I should change the name of this blog to “my emphasis in bold”.


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