UK: Government wants to introduce compulsory ID cards

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Today (3 July) the government put out a consultation paper on "Entitlement cards" (ID cards to everyone else).

It is apparent from the Home Secretary's statement in the House of Commons and in interviews on television that the "consultation" exercise is simply to see how far the government can go. The government wants compulsory registration, with criminal sanctions for those who do not register. The card would, in effect, be compulsory because without it basic rights would be denied, eg: access to doctor or hospital, driving licence or passport, bank account or credit card, unemployment or housing benefit etc.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, commented:

"This is yet another casualty of the "war on terrorism". The government unashamedly refers to the need to exclude refugees and asylum-seekers who are fleeing poverty and persecution - who are equated in their eyes with potential terrorists or criminals - to justify ID cards.

Others in Europe should beware because the UK ID card will be the most technologically advanced in the continent (containing biometric and other personal data) and will set a standard in the EU which others will, in time, be expected to match."

The text of the consultation paper is on: ID cards (it is an unnecessarily large, 3.5MB pdf file), see: Home Office press release below.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposes: ID plan

Reactions from civil society

1. Liberty
2. Privacy International

1. Liberty

"Universal entitlement cards are compulsory IDs: the Government does not trust its citizens"
Liberty 3rd July 2002

John Wadham, director of Liberty:

"The government is taking euphemism to extremes. The proposed universal entitlement card is a compulsory identity card by any other name, and they must be open about that if we are to have the honest debate they have called for. Everyone will be required to register and to produce the card to prove their entitlement to services and employment. If you need the card to get your pension, to see a doctor, or to be allowed to get a job, then it is a compulsory card.

"This plan exposes the fact the government doesn't trust its citizens. It wants 60 million of us to register our identity so it can check up on us, monitor our movements and decide whether we are entitled to the services we have already paid our taxes for. ID cards make us suspects not citizens: that's why all innocent citizens should oppose them.

"The irony is that a Government which trusts us so little gives us so many reasons not to trust it on this issue. The Home Secretary says this is not an identity card although it exists only to establish your identity; it's not compulsory but you have to have it.

The card will lead to the Government to establish a national database on all 60 million of us - which the consultation document already envisages linking too the Government databases. Like the proposals to allow thousands of bureaucrats to see your email and telephone communications data, it's about making all our information available to all government departments - with huge consequent dangers of misuse.

In recent months, the Government has claimed that a card will tackle any number of high-profile problems. The reality is that this vastly-expensive scheme will tackle none of them, but will have a serious impact on every innocent hard-working individual in the country.

"Finally, what I can't understand is why my 89 year old mother should be forced to register, maybe have her fingerprints taken and have other personal details stored on her card when she has committed no crime."

Specifics: illegal working and benefit fraud

"The Home Office wants to issue 60 million cards to 'target' a few thousand people working illegally in this country - the majority of whom have been lost to the system because of incompetence. It has also been said the cards will stop benefit fraud. In fact only a tiny proportion of fraud (less than the costs of the ID card system) relates to identity. The impact on these problems will be minimal: the impact on the rest of us could be far greater.

Why should 60 million of us be force to carry cards as a result of the failures and incompetence by the Home Office and Benefits Agency?

Secure identity:

these cards will be sold and forged (witness the French experience); and yet they may even create greater complacency amongst those trying to protect us. Thousands of cards will be lost or accidentally destroyed each year and every person without a card will lose their entitlement to services and become a suspect. The vulnerable and the inadequate will find that the loss of the card and the bureaucracy involved in getting a new one will add substantially to their social exclusion.

We also know that it is those people from ethnic minorities or who are black who will be the ones most likely and most often asked to prove their identity.

Foreign experience:

Experience elsewhere shows all too clearly the shortcomings of ID card systems. European countries still suffer from the same problems we do - but in many cases with the added serious social division and discontent that springs from misuse of police powers relating to ID cards. In Australia, initial 70% popular support for an identity card evaporated within months as the real impact of the card on ordinary people became evident. The scheme was buried.

Liberty, 21 Tabard Street, London SE1 4LA Tel: 020 7378 3656
Liberty news and comment:
Legal advice and information:

2. Privacy International



Privacy watchdog warns that plans to introduce cards will be exploited by criminal syndicates

3rd July 2002

For immediate release

The Government's plan to introduce a national ID card, the consultation for which is scheduled for Parliamentary announcement today (3rd July) will compound problems of illegal immigration, fraud and identity theft.

Privacy International, a global privacy and technology watchdog, has for the past twelve years studied the implications of ID cards worldwide. It today issued a warning to the UK government that any national ID card - whether voluntary or mandatory - will create new opportunities for criminal syndicates and corrupt officials to increase by several magnitudes the problem of false ID in the United Kingdom.

Privacy International's research into the implications of national identity cards has established that these initiatives have no effect on the reduction of crime or fraud, but introduce additional problems of discrimination, criminal false identity and administrative chaos.

Privacy International's Director, Simon Davies, warned:

"The technology gap between governments and organised crime has now narrowed to such an extent that even the most highly secure cards are available as blanks weeks after their introduction. Criminals and terrorists can in reality move more freely and more safely with several fake "official" identities than they ever could in a country using multiple forms of "low-value" ID such as a birth certificate."

Criminal use of fake identity documents does not necessarily involve the use of counterfeiting techniques. In 1999, a former accountant was charged with obtaining up to 500 UK passports under false identities. The scam was merely a manipulation of the primary documentation procedure. This situation, warns Privacy International, will extend to ID cards.

Mr Davies added:

"the ramifications of an ID card conform to the dynamics of the black market economy. Whenever governments attempt to introduce an ID card, it is always based on the aim of eliminating false identity. The higher the stated "integrity" (infallibility) of a card, the greater is its value to criminals and illegal immigrants. A high-value card attracts substantially larger investment in corruption and counterfeit activity. The equation is simple: higher value ID equals greater criminal activity."

The government says a national ID card will combat the growing problem of identity theft, in which a person's identity is fraudulently acquired for criminal purposes. It is a huge problem in the US, made all the worse because of the ubiquitous Social Security Number. Critics of national ID proposals in the US have warned that any central ID number massively increases the incidence of identity theft. Privacy International supports this view, and predicts that any national ID system will increase identity theft in the UK to US proportions.

Privacy International believes that the proposal for a national identity card has little to do with the government's stated objectives of reducing the threat of crime, terrorism and illegal immigration. Rather, the plan is part of a broader objective outlined in the Cabinet Office report "Privacy & Data Sharing" to create a new administrative basis for the linkage of government databases and information systems.


- Privacy International (PI) is a human rights group formed in 1990 as a watchdog on surveillance by governments and corporations. PI is based in London, and has an office in Washington, D.C. Together with members in 40 countries, PI has conducted campaigns throughout the world on issues ranging from wiretapping and national security activities, to ID cards, video surveillance, data matching, police information systems, and medical privacy, and works with a wide range of parliamentary and inter-governmental organisations such as the European Parliament, the House of Lords and UNESCO.

- PI's website is It contains an extensive resource in the "issues" page on identity cards.

- Simon Davies can be reached at and on 07958 466 552

3. Home Office press release


Reference: 187/2002 - Date: 3 Jul 2002 15:38

A consultation paper to assess whether the public would find an entitlement card useful to access services and effective in tackling illegal immigration was published today by the Home Office.

The paper sets out practical options for an entitlement card. These include using existing photocard driving licences and UK passports to avoid duplication of existing documents. Such a scheme would not involve setting up a new organisation and systems from scratch, meaning instead that people who already held a passport or a driving licence would not need to have an extra form of identification. For those who hold neither, a new card would be available issued to the same standard of identity checks.

The Government has rejected the option of a card which would be compulsory to carry and any changes to police powers.

Proposals in the consultation paper include:

a universal scheme where everyone would have to register and have a card but there would be no requirement to carry it;

a voluntary scheme which people could opt-into;

a scheme which could be targeted at particular groups, rather than the population as a whole;

how a scheme might be enacted in legislation;

whether there should be a unique personal number associated with each holder of an entitlement card and whether this should be a new or existing number (such as the National Insurance Number).

The consultation paper looks at the pros and cons of each of these proposals and different types of entitlement card scheme.

It seeks views on potential uses which include: more effective ways to access services; combating illegal immigration and illegal working more effectively; a convenient travel card in Europe; a proof of age card; a way of tackling identity fraud; a card to promote new ways of voting and a way of fostering citizenship.

Views will also be sought on important issues such as cost, privacy and duplication of existing documents.

A study on identity fraud carried out by the Cabinet Office was also published today. It assesses the scale and nature of the problem, which is estimated to cost the economy more than £1.3 billion a year. It concludes that a combination of measures is needed to tackle the problem effectively; more secure processes for issuing documents used as evidence of ID; stronger checks of ID at point of use; and a more co-ordinated approach to detection and prosecution of ID fraud.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said:

"I have made it clear that the introduction of an entitlement card would be a major step and that we will not proceed without consulting widely and considering all the views expressed very carefully. I want to see a far-reaching and meaningful public debate on the issue of entitlement cards, and a vigorous response from all parts of the community.

"Following the events of September 11th there was a call to introduce a type of  "identity card" system. We said we would not be giving a knee-jerk reaction in the wake of this terrorism and we have stuck to that.

"We want to hear first and foremost from the public on whether they feel an entitlement card would be useful to them and to which services they would want it to give access.

"The Government's position is neutral and what direction we take in policy terms will be informed by the extensive consultation process we will be undertaking over the next six months.

"I am not going to disguise my own enthusiasm for an entitlement card system, but it is for the public to decide whether or not this is something they would see as useful and making their lives easier.

"Identity fraud currently costs the taxpayer over £1.3 billion every year and there is no doubt that a secure universal card could play a part in reducing that bill. Equally, entitlement cards could be an important tool in cracking down on illegal immigration and illegal working, reducing the pull-factor to the UK to people trafficking gangs.

"As criminals become increasingly sophisticated at stealing or forging identities we have to position ourselves to respond, using biometrics and cutting edge technology as one way to defeat them.

"The Government's final proposal will of course depend on the views of the people of the United Kingdom received during the course of this consultation."

The entitlement card consultation paper seeks views on a range of issues including:

Would an entitlement card assist in preventing clandestine presence in Britain, illegal working and avoiding the development of an underclass who are paid less than the minimum wage, have no access to rights and decent conditions at work and are therefore open to exploitation and pay no tax and National Insurance?

Whether the existing checks before issuing passports and driving licences are sufficiently secure to combat the increasing sophistication of fraudsters?

Whether biometric information such as fingerprints or iris images should be recorded - to prevent people establishing multiple false identities to defraud public services or to advance their involvement in major organised crime?

Would an entitlement card system help to prevent identity fraud?

Would service providers including local authorities find it useful to allow access to their services through a card system?


1. The consultation paper on entitlement cards has a six month consultation period. Responses to the document should be sent to the Home Office by 10 January 2003.
2. The document and the Cabinet Office report on identity fraud is available on the website at

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