Identity Cards Bill: Second Reading on Tuesday

Dear Mike Gapes,

I’m sure you’re aware that the Identity Cards Bill goes before the House for its Second Reading this week.

I’m sure you’re also aware that ID cards are beginning to generate no little controversy around the country now. Just about every Sunday paper today has had a story about ID cards and the problems the scheme faces.

Not only is there no evidence that ID cards will have any effect on terrorism but, indeed, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary and David Blunkett himself said, on July 3, 2002, in response to a question from Chris Mullin, “it is important that we do not pretend that an entitlement card would be an overwhelming factor in combating international terrorism.”

Equally, there will be minimal impact on immigration and illegal working. When trafficked persons currently have their passports held by their minders, it is shameless to see the Home Secretary suggest, in the Times on December 20, 2004, that smuggled persons might even benefit from an ID card when, by holding their ID card, traffickers could prevent such a person from even obtaining basic medical care.

Furthermore, if the government is serious about tackling illegal immigration with an ID card programme, an NAO report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General on June 17, 2004, suggests that the reinstatement of visa control at the point of entry would cost merely £27m: no small amount, of course, but less than a half of one percent of even the Home Office’s cost estimates for the ID cards scheme. Furthermore, this could be a cost borne by visa recipients, rather than the British taxpayer.

Using ID cards to tackle benefits fraud is similarly nonsensical. Whilst even the DWP have no actual figures for the scale of this problem, their estimates are that fraudulent claims relying on lying about one’s identity make up around £50m out of the total £2m lost to fraud from the DWP. It is implausible that the cost of policing the benefits system through the National Identity Register will not be many times the amount of any savings, even before the requirement for developing and staffing identity systems within benefit offices is taken into account.

Many studies have already shown that ID cards will *increase* the risk of identity fraud to the public. It is already widely recognised that the prevalence and ubiquity of US Social Security Numbers are the key cause of identity fraud in the US. Creating a one-stop shop for fraudsters to target is self-evidently a bad idea.

Whilst I know that the ID cards proposals include the use of biometric identifiers, the government seems to be insistent on ignoring that the technology is simply not ready for such widespread use. Fingerprinting and iris-scanning are both easily forged and, far from making a system more secure, the use of multiple biometrics actually *increases* error rates, see Professor John Daugman’s paper “Combining multiple biometrics” at http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/users/jgd1000/combine/combine.html , for example.

In addition to failing to meet any of the purported purposes of the scheme, the introduction of compulsory ID cards (and let’s not pretend that these proposals are anything else; even the Home Secretary doesn’t pretend otherwise) will introduce brand new problems. It is implausible to claim that there will not be discriminatory use of a security tool, one of whose aims is supposedly to prevent terrorism. When half the Western world is worrying about Islamic terrorism and your own constituents are harassed by the police for no other reason than the colour of their skin, it would require an extremely optimistic mind to think that the problems we have seen with stop and search powers and prevention of terrorism powers would not also lead to the victimisation of our ethnic minorities. As Guy Mansfield, QC, President of the Bar Council wrote in The Times on December 13, 2004, “is there not a great risk that those who feel at the margins of society — the somewhat disaffected — will be driven into the arms of extremists?”

The National Identity Register also *creates* specific new threats to individuals. The requirement that everyone notify all changes in their personal details means it risks creating the means of tracking and persecution through improper use of the database. Plenty of people have good reason to conceal their identity and whereabouts, for example:

• those fleeing domestic abuse;
• victims of “honour” crimes;
• witnesses in criminal cases;
• those at risk of kidnapping;
• undercover investigators;
• refugees from oppressive régimes overseas;
• those pursued by the press;
• those who may be terrorist targets, such as intelligence agents.

Nothing in the Bill would allow for any of these kind of individuals to mask their identity from the National Identity Register at all, meaning that any leak from the Register (and such leaks are bound to occur from time to time) could instantly put their life in danger.

I am involved, at the highest level, in NO2ID, the national campaign against these unsound and unsafe plans; I believe we are publishing a briefing pack for MPs tomorrow and I would like to suggest that you read both that document and the report from the LSE, which is also released tomorrow morning. There are plenty of details in both documents — particularly the LSE Report, which has been compiled by a wide range of independent and well-respected acadamics — all of which, I hope, will provide you with salient questions to raise to the Home Secretary, even if you support the scheme in principle.

I know that you are loyal to your party and to the Government, but I must implore you not to vote for this flawed, dangerous bill. If you don’t feel able to vote against it, please, at the very least, abstain or walk through both lobbies.

I look forward to reading your response, though I know that it would be unreasonable to expect to read from you before the vote.

Yours sincerely,

Owen Blacker
Technical Manager, NO2ID
http://www.no2id.net/

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