RegulationSecurity

Government Describes ID Card As Another “Plastic Card”

The Home Office is now talking less about counter-terrorism and more about easing travel in Europe

The UK government appears to have changed tactics when it comes to the roll-out of its controversial ID Card with the idea that it will make it easier for Brits to travel in Europe without having to lug about a bulky passport and will simply be another plastic card for people to carry about.

Mock-ups of the card have been made public before, but this week the government announced the final look of the plastic card at events in London and Manchester this week. The card design includes “the Royal Coat of Arms on the front and features a floral pattern representing the four floral emblems of the UK: the shamrock, daffodil, thistle and rose”, the Home Office revealed.

But in a rather downplayed statement on the benefits of the card, Home Secretary Alan Johnson opted to avoid the rhetoric about preventing acts of terrorism which have previously been attributed to the ID Card and instead appeared to argue that citizens already carry around plenty of pieces of plastic already and the ID Card was just another, albeit important, addition.

“Given the growing problem of identity fraud and the inconvenience of having to carry passports, coupled with gas bills or six months worth of bank statements to prove identity, I believe the ID card will be welcomed as an important addition to the many plastic cards that most people already carry,” he said.

The Home Office also countered claims about the expense of the ID Card scheme by arguing that the devices will help combat identity fraud and forgery which cost the UK economy around £1.2bn a year. But despite claims that ID Cards will help improve security and combat terrorism, the scheme has been heavily criticised by privacy campaigners and oppostion parties as a waste of money – even before the current recession took hold.

Following a spate of data breaches over the last 12 months, the Liberal Democrats recently claimed the government is not capable of handling such a complex and sensitive project. “Recent catastrophes involving personal data clearly demonstrate the inability of the Government to handle sensitive information,” said Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne. “The ID card scheme should be scrapped immediately, and the money used to put 10,000 extra police officers on our streets.”

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The Home Office claims that it takes concerns about the security and management of the data associated with the ID Card scheme seriously. “That is why an Identity Commissioner will be appointed before ID cards are introduced to oversee operation of the service and report annually on the uses to which ID cards are put and the confidentiality and integrity of information recorded in the National Identity Register,” the Home Office said in a statement.

Civil liberties organisation Liberty, claims that support for the ID Card is waning amid concerns about how much information the government holds on citizens. The organisation cites the results of a Liberty-YouGov opinion poll released this week which it said reveled that 68 percent of those polled thought that the Government has not presented a strong enough case for the cards or register to justify their costs. As much as 60 percent of those polled said they would probably or definitely not volunteer for an ID card, Liberty said.

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“How many times can you re-design and re-launch this tired old policy? When will the Government realise that there is dwindling public support for a scheme that is as costly to our pockets as to our privacy and race relations. As a northerner myself, I have no idea of why the North West is being singled out for the dubious honour of being ID card guinea pigs. However I am delighted to say that this damning poll shows that northerners are as sceptical of this ID nonsense as the rest of Britain,” said Liberty’s campaigns’ coordinator Sabina Frediani.

As far as touting the travel benefits the card offers, the Home Office claims the scheme will help “kick start joint work to explore opportunities for streamlining airside pass regimes” and “give holders a highly secure and convenient identity document that can be used to prove their identity, and as a credit card sized travel document within the EEA for UK citizens”.

The ID Cards will be available to residents in the North West on a voluntary basis from 2010 and then to the rest of the UK by 2011/12, the Home Office said.