Britain’s new Home Secretary may have a cockney cheeky chappy ‘thing’ going on, but don’t be fooled – he’s just as authoritarian as his mad predecessor:
The introduction of identity cards is a simple means of helping you, and I, protect our unique identity from fraudsters. Identity fraud costs the UK economy £1.2bn on average each year and causes misery for tens of thousands who fall victim. At a cost of just £30, the identity card is a cheap way of helping fight back. So, despite the headlines that would have readers think otherwise, I’m not scrapping identity cards – I’m committed to delivering them more quickly to the people who will benefit most.
I know that some of you have real concerns about the government’s motives for introducing the card. When I announced this week that I would make identity cards wholly voluntary it was because I believe that there are real benefits that will make the card an attractive proposition for many people. I think the case for identity cards has been made, but understand that getting a card will be a big decision for some people. Easy or hard, I think it should be a voluntary decision, one that people choose to take, because they agree and welcome the benefits an identity card will provide.
He thinks the case for ID cards has been made, showing a now typical New Labour disdain for an electorate which thoroughly rejects them. He’s rebranded them a means of protecting oneself from ID fraud, yet doesn’t explain why a governmental National Identity Register is needed to do so, nor how prosecuting those on the register for not updating their details could ever be a helpful move. But of course Alan Johnson is lying when he says they’re wholly voluntary. If you’re a teenager just try to get a student loan (which they’re already poised to devalue) without one. When you renew your passport just watch the administrator’s face crease if you refuse them permission to add you to the ID register – card, or no card (and the card itself was never the issue per se). Henry Porter gets it right when he says:
The ID card is primarily a scheme that enables government to identify you, and that is made clear in a dubious little paper called Safeguarding Identity, produced by the Home Office last week, which describes how the ID card and the transformational government scheme mesh together in one glorious structure where data about the individual passes between departments. That is the prize and why they will use any argument and spend any amount to achieve it. Every case mounted in favour of ID cards has been convincingly knocked down. It will not protect us from terrorism, as Johnson concedes, and it won’t do anything to stop crime. Its effect on benefit fraud is limited.
There is something terribly Foucaultian about this. A government which desperately wants people to think it’s learned its lessons is creating a system of punishment, merely to permit you to be who you are. It’s one of the most authoritarian proposals I’ve ever heard of in the history of the United Kingdom. So because people are stupid and leave their credit card statements in the bin instead of shredding them, I should have my very identity controlled and determined by a state eager to use my data without my specific consent, throughout its framework? That should terrify and appall everyone. A government’s promise of more efficient data protection, but whose track record of data handling and database development is so incompetent, should also ring alarm bells everywhere. Johnson’s little document cited above is an insidious, bureaucracy-driven attempt to redefine the very meaning of identity in the twenty-first century (page 28), and he’s clearly bought into it. If so there is no way he’ll let ID cards remain ‘voluntary’, and we must all resist ‘Safeguarding Identity’ at all costs. Observe why:
3.32. The vision for the NIS [National Identity Service] is that it will become an essential part of everyday life; underpinning interactions and transactions between individuals, public services and businesses and supporting people to protect their identity. The NIS will do this primarily through further ‘identity services’: the processes and tools with which people can prove or check identity.
New Labour’s proscription for the future: all normal human interaction is to be moderated by the government. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I understand a government is supposed to be for. This strategy is a target-driven nightmare, the consequences of which appear not to have been considered by a Home Office completely out of step with the real world.