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5 July 2002

Making Criminals Out Of Us All

HOME SECRETARY David Blunkett hopes to introduce Identity (ID) Cards which we would have to carry to gain access to public services such as health, benefits and education.

By John Reid

The card-carrying may be 'voluntary' but if you're on benefits or unemployed it will in effect be compulsory. Refusal to carry the card or even losing it may carry fines.

ID cards were abandoned in 1951 due to huge opposition including civil disobedience. Now the card is being put forward as a cure-all solution to crime, terrorism and 'illegal' asylum.

But even Peter Lilley - a former Tory minister - says that the police "almost never had problems identifying suspects, only in catching and convicting them.

"The security services explained that terrorists rarely conceal their identity". Organised criminals and terrorist organisations could anyway quite easily obtain forged documents.

All so-called 'illegal' immigrants, most of whom quite legitimately claim asylum, nonetheless have their fingerprints taken, which are stored on a central computer. They are given an identity document without which they cannot legally obtain a job or benefits.

People may say carrying a credit card identifies you, is carrying just one more bit of plastic a problem? But if you forget your credit card it's not a criminal offence. If you were stopped and didn't have your identity card it would be.

If you fail to report that you've lost it, you would commit a criminal offence; likewise if you don't notify a change of address. It would potentially criminalise thousands of law-abiding citizens, without helping catch one criminal or terrorist.

Even right-wing President Bush does not consider IDs worth introducing in the USA. So the scheme, estimated to cost 1 billion, would have little effect on reducing crime or terrorism or even so-called 'illegal' immigration, it would just alienate and criminalise large sections of the population.

ID cards would also increase the police's stop and search policies. Blacks, Asians, indeed anybody who looked 'foreign' could be stopped and searched. This would cause even more tension between the police and the population, particularly the Black and Asian communities.

If a poll was carried out now most people might favour bringing in ID cards. When an attempt was made to introduce a similar ID scheme to Australia, initially the polls showed support for the scheme, but as opposition groups explained its implications, opposition grew to 90% in the polls and the plans were abandoned.

A similar campaign needs to be waged in Britain to get the scheme ditched here. I was involved in the campaign against ID cards in 1989, when Thatcher attempted to introduce them for football fans. I am certain a successful mass campaign can be built and won.