Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has had a very bad week, by most measures. She probably didn’t expect that the media, Liberty and NO2ID would find the loophole she has available to her in legislation outlined in the Queen’s Speech this week, which she can use to make ID cards compulsory after all:
Clauses in the draft Immigration and Citizenship Bill give state officials the power to make anyone who has ever entered the country, at any time, prove who they are without needing any suspicion of a potential crime.
Civil liberty groups warned that the catch-all clauses would effectively cover any British citizen who has ever left the UK, even for a holiday, because they will have “entered” the UK on their return.
Refusing to hand over the necessary documents would be a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of almost a year in prison and/or a hefty fine.
Officers will also be able to hold someone until they meet the requirements and can even demand a medical examination, although that will be more targeted at foreign nationals arriving from countries with high health risks of contagious diseases.
The clauses in the Bill, contained in the Queen’s Speech, were unearthed by civil rights group Liberty and centre on a power to examine those who “arrive in, enter or seek to enter the UK”.
A sub-clause refers to anyone who “has entered the UK” and can therefore mean anyone who has entered either recently or in the past.
It means police or immigration officers would have the power to stop anyone, either at a port of entry or inside the country, and demand their identity purely on the basis they may have entered the UK at some point.
Jacqui Smith insists that we’re not in a police state; this evidence suggests that she’s still working at perfecting the infrastructure. She’s actually proposing legislation which the police could use (and the Damian Green affair has proven conclusively that if they have powers they can abuse they will ) to jail you for not proving to them who you are. Supporters of ID cards will no doubt cry ‘what’s the problem’? After all the cards will be small and easily carried (not many people forget their bank cards or driving licences), so hardly an imposition. Yet that isn’t the point – the point is that the state will be empowered to determine who you are (through the National ID Register), and then demand you justify your existence back to them on their terms. This is by definition a police state – the state is supposed to be answerable to you, not the other way around. Civil rights group Liberty says:
Powers to examine identity documents, previously thought to apply only in UK ports of entry, will be extended through hidden clauses in the bill to criminalize anyone in Britain who has ever left the country and fails to produce identity papers upon demand.
Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti said:
“Sneaking in compulsory identity cards via the back door of immigration law is a cynical escalation of this expensive and intrusive scheme.”
said there were no plans for “in country” ID checks in the Citizenship, Immigration and Borders Bill.
“The intention is only to enable ID checks at the border,” she told MPs in a debate on the Queen’s Speech.
It really shouldn’t matter whether there are currently ‘any plans’. Giving government agencies powers which they aren’t due always results in them using them. Function creep is inevitable – just look at how the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) is currently being used if you don’t believe me.