UK Liberty

ID cards and foreign nationals 2

Posted in ID Cards, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on January 14, 2008

As described in an earlier post, I was a little confused by Gordon Brown’s suggestion that all foreign nationals were to be issued with identity cards, and I wondered whether it was in fact a cynical appeal to concerns about immigration in order to get more support for this ridiculous project.

The BBC is now (thankfully) making it clear what the real position is today with regard to which foreigners are going to be fingerprinted – and of course, it isn’t  all foreign nationals:

All visitors to Britain requiring a visa are now having their fingerprints taken in a bid to control illegal immigration, the Home Office has said.

Under the new rules, anyone applying for a visa must submit to a digital finger scan – the 21st century equivalent of the old ink fingerprints – and a full-face digital photograph.

A NO2ID press release provides additional clarity and insight:

The Home Office announcement of new targets for its immigration programme today is “security theatre” to give the illusion of control in a programme that is both futile and delayed.

The Home Office says that visitors to the UK from “three quarters of the world” will now be fingerprinted.  But that is a minority of actual visitors, those who have to get a visa.  No-one entering on EU documents, including from the newest members Romania and Bulgaria, can be required to apply for a visa. They will not have their fingerprints checked.  Nor will those coming from South Africa, the US, Mexico or Japan – for example. The vast majority of overseas visitors (well over 100 million per year) do so without ever having to apply for a visa.  …

Of course, Home Office Minister Liam Byrne didn’t make this clear in an interview on the Today programme (25 mins, hat-tip Andrew Watson on the NO2ID forum).  Here is a transcript (made by Doctor Wibble on the aforementioned forum):

James Naughtie: A government scheme is under way to put biometric controls in place for all visa travellers to this country. It seems to have been rolled out three months ahead of schedule. The government says it’s going to be completed by the end of the month. Of course this has implications for the government’s plans for ID cards. Liam Byrne the immigration minister joins us now, good morning.

Liam Byrne: Good morning Jim.

JN: So it’s going to happen – when will all visitors and visas have biometric information recorded about them?

LB: As of this morning, [JN: It’s done. ] It is done, it’s done three months early, and it’s done several million pounds under budget. Today’s announcement is the first of ten key changes that we’ll be making throughout 2008, and later on this morning I’ll be setting out what will be the day by day plan this year for delivering what is the biggest shake-up to Britain’s border and immigration systems for 40 years.

JN: What about the fingerprinting of those coming in on visas?

LB: Well we now check everybody’s fingerprint wherever they apply for a
visa around the world and we have found [that] the technology not only works, it’s actually been much cheaper to deliver than we thought it was going to be. And we’ve already found about 500 cases of people who have chosen not to give us their identity correctly, and we’ve checked them against databases that we hold in the UK, and found out that they’ve been lying to us, obviously that’s allowed us to stop them coming anywhere near Britain.

JN: Now, where are most of these people coming from? We’re not talking, obviously, about people from the EU in this context, are we?

LB: No, we’re not giving a breakdown at the moment, [ie “we are trying to obfuscate” – ukliberty] we’ll be publishing some facts and figures a little bit later on this year, but the key point – as I say – that we are talking about today – is day by day the ten key changes that we will be delivering to border protection, to hold newcomers to account if they break the rules, to prevent illegal immigration, and also to make the system much more compassionate.

R4: Let me ask you about ID cards. Because the PM was asked last week to make his view very clear whether he was in favour, yes or no, and he said [that] it’s the government’s policy to move ahead but subject to a vote of parliament, depending on how the voluntary scheme works. Some people didn’t think that was very clear. Let’s be as clear as we can. Is the government moving forward on ID cards with the enthusiasm that it showed a year ago?

LB: Absolutely. And what we will see this year is the introduction of compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals [see what I mean?] who want to come and stay in Britain, so by Christmas we will be issuing those ID cards to foreign nationals, and of course that is a great contract to the conservatives’ position who said that they would support the issue of compulsory ID cards to foreign nationals when the UK Borders Act was going through the House, and then they cancelled their support in a press release during the Tory party conference. So it’s a bit of a muddle.

Perhaps they didn’t like that you were trying to conflate biometric immigration documents with national identity cards.

JN: So it is your view that if compulsory ID cards are found to work for foreign nationals coming here, that’s the green light for them to work for everyone in this country.

LB: Yes, we want to issue ID cards for British citizens in 2009, but what the PM was reflecting is a simple fact in the ID cards legislation, which is that if you want to make ID cards compulsory for British citizens you need another Act of parliament.

What we will be doing this year is making them for foreign nationals because that means it’s easier to check people’s identity and remove them if they’ve got no right to be here.

JN: And you’ll prepare the legislation for all citizens to be covered.

LB: I don’t think we’ll do that this year because a voluntary scheme will take several years to run in, but the UK Borders Act does now give us the power to introduce ID cards [er… ‘biometric immigration documents‘] on a compulsory basis for foreign nationals [er… only those subject to ‘immigration control’] and obviously that makes it much easier for us to prevent illegal immigration which is one of the big themes of what I’ll be talking about today. 

What he means by voluntary scheme is explained by the BBC:

The voluntary scheme refers to the fact that identity cards will be issued from 2009 to anyone getting, or renewing, a British passport – albeit with an opt-out until 2010.

It’s voluntary to the extent that passports are voluntary (and you can opt-out of having an ID card but you will still be recorded on the National Identity Register), a subject of much debate in Parliament.  As the Home Affairs Committee said, “For most people, to travel abroad and to drive are fundamentals. It cannot be argued that these would be given up voluntarily. To describe the first phase of the Government’s proposals as ‘voluntary’ stretches the English language to breaking point.”

That, of course, is indicative of what is to come – it will not be possible to live a normal life without an identity card. Remembers the words of Andy Burnham:

I take the view that it is part of being a good citizen, proving who you are, day in day out.

That is how the Government plans to ‘solve’ all the problems it claims to be able to solve with this scheme.

(this earlier article may be worth your time: there is more detail about definitions and figures)


3 Responses

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  1. Doctor_Wibble said, on January 17, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Just to say ta for the transcript credit – much appreciated, many wouldn’t bother.

    FWIW if you didn’t see it, yesterday’s opposition debate (on NI numbers being handed out to illegal immigrants) was peppered with similar conflations of biometric visas and ID cards, with the usual assertions that this would fix everything, and of course the familiar and misleading (inadvertently, I’m sure…) “compulsory for foreign nationals” line.

  2. ukliberty said, on May 28, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    As described in an earlier post, I was a little confused by Gordon Brown’s suggestion that all foreign nationals were to be issued with identity cards, and I wondered whether it was in fact a cynical appeal to concerns about immigration in order to get more support for this ridiculous project.

    Rather a running theme.

  3. […] not all foreign nationals (arguably relatively few) would be issued with identity cards under Government proposals.  […]

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