UK Liberty

Compulsory or not compulsory, that is the question

Posted in ID Cards, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on January 9, 2008

The BBC:

Identity cards might not become compulsory for all Britons, Gordon Brown has appeared to suggest [at his monthly press conference].

Anyone getting a passport from 2010 will have to get a card, and ministers had said they would be compulsory for all if Labour won the next election.

But, in an apparent softening of that line, Mr Brown described compulsion only as an “option” which is “open”.

The press conference:

Question:

Do you think that in the medium to long term, to be effective, ID cards will need to be compulsory for British citizens?

Prime Minister:

That is the option that we have left ourselves open to but we haven’t legislated for it. [yet!]

I think over the course of the next few months people will see that there is some wisdom in the argument that we have put forward for identity cards themselves. If you look at the information that we are asking people to give for their identity card it is not much more than is actually required for a passport, but the advantage people have from an identity card is that that information cannot be used without biometric identification. So that is why we are starting with the foreign nationals and that is why we will move further, linking if you like passport information to biometrics over the course of the next few years, but we leave open a parliamentary vote on the decision about compulsion.

Well, there are all sorts of lies/mistakes in that response, such as the information to be stored* (or see BBC), and not answering the question, but let’s consider the issue of compulsion because this seems to be the hot potato at the moment.

Take care not to get drawn into whether or not ID cards will themselves become compulsory, because I think that as well as a ‘softening of the tone’ as Phil Booth of NO2ID put it (indeed, perhaps Gordon is softening us up), we are being enticed on a wild goose chase – they don’t want us to consider or argue about what we should be concerned about.

And this is the National Register, the privacy demolishing database behind the cards (based on something that doesn’t function 100% at present).

(Not only because of the argument below, and that it is overkill, infringes on civil liberties, and probably won’t work, but also because here opponents to ID cards can find some common ground with supporters of the principle of ID cards but not this particular proposal.)

Once you are enrolled on the National Register, you are the card, in a sense – in other words, on accessing a service, you could just use a fingerprint or PIN. The card is surplus to requirements, really, unless it’s useful in circumstances to be able to simply show one (the lowest level of security envisaged by the Government’s proposals).

That said, it seems to me at least that Labour’s plan has always been to make ID cards compulsory: the IPS website is unequivocal (“Yes, it will eventually be compulsory”); Home Secretaries are unequivocal (“When we announced the decision, in principle, in November 2003 to introduce ID cards, it was made clear then that there would be a two-stage scheme. It was stated that the second stage would be compulsory—that it would apply to every UK resident”); Home Office Ministers too (“It is the Government’s policy that ID cards should eventually be compulsory”).

In short, it has been a fairly consistent public position of Labour’s.

I say fairly consistent… well, try Googling for “id cards compulsory”, taken together the first two results are amusing: the first article says, “Compulsory ID cards ruled out”; the second, “Move towards compulsory ID cards”; the two stories being just four months apart.

But if you read a lot of articles about ID cards, you’ll see these changes over time, and I think you’ll come to the same conclusion as me: that the intention is to make sure we are all enrolled on the National Register.

And we will be enrolled when we renew or apply for ‘designated documents‘. A designated document might be a passport – it could also be a driving licence, any ‘document’ the Home Secretary designates (after being approved by Parliament).

The Explanatory Notes to the Act say,

If a document is designated, anyone applying for one will simultaneously need to apply to be entered in the Register, unless he is already so registered (see section 5(2)). He would also need to apply for an ID Card unless he already has one. There is, however, an exception to the requirement to apply for an ID Card where the designated document being applied for is a British passport and the application is made before 1st January 2010 (see subsection 6(7)). …

Under subsection (7) an application for a designated document must include an application for an ID card in the manner prescribed unless the application is being made before 1st January 2010, is for a British passport and the application contains a declaration that the individual does not wish to be issued with an ID Card. Individuals applying for British passport can therefore choose to ‘opt out’ of being issued with an ID Card but only up until 1st January 2010. The ‘opt out’ does not apply to the Register. All individuals who apply for a passport will be required to be entered onto the Register once the passport becomes a designated document.

In short, once passports become ‘designated documents’, you can opt out of being issued with an ID card until 2010, but you will nevertheless be compelled to enrol on the National Register.

Update

Question Time (BBC):

  • Mr Cameron asked if it was still government policy that ID cards would be compulsory for all. He read out a quote from Chancellor Alistair Darling, who said: “I do not want my whole life to be reduced to a magnetic strip on a plastic card.”The Tory leader added: “Compared with being Chancellor in his government being a magnetic strip on a plastic card is probably a welcome relief.”
  • If it was the policy of the government to press for compulsion, why did the PM say in an interview with The Observer that they would not be compulsory for existing British citizens, Mr Cameron asked the prime minister.
  • Mr Brown said he had made those comments because there had to be a vote in Parliament before they became compulsory. He asked if Mr Cameron supported identity cards for foreign nationals, which are being introduced this year.
  • Mr Cameron said he was against compulsory ID cards and asked why Mr Brown could not give a straight answer to the question.
  • “It is the government’s policy to move ahead with this,” said Mr Brown, depending on a vote in Parliament and how the voluntary scheme works.
  • Gordon does want compulsory ID cards and National Register enrolment for British citizens. It is that simple.

    He told the Observer that, “under our proposals there is no compulsion for existing British citizens”. As you can see, that is not the truth.

    (see also Guardian and Telegraph)


    * note however that this has gone from being “no more” or “the same as” with passports, or simply and merely “core identity information”, to “not much more” than “actually” required for a passport, honest guv.

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