The Home Secretary David Blunkett last week announced that he was still hopeful legislation for a national identity card scheme would be in the Queen’s speech this autumn, despite widespread concerns from lawyers, civil libertarians and even from within the cabinet.
The Home Secretary outlined his plans for a compulsory ID card scheme that would prevent those without cards from working or getting access to healthcare, education and other public services.
According to the civil rights group Liberty it was an “insane and suicidal step for this Government”. “The Cabinet needs to rein in the Home Secretary,” commented Liberty campaigns director Mark Littlewood. “The polling evidence makes plain that millions of British citizens would refuse point blank to carry a card. Criminalising and potentially even imprisoning tens of thousands of people is not a smart way of making friends and influencing people. Spending billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a scheme with no proven benefits would be a recipe for disaster.”
Liberty argued that experience from other countries with ID cards showed that the practice was “costly, unwieldy, unhelpful and a real threat to our civil liberties”. Littlewood added: “The Government should take a step back, take a long, deep breath and put these proposals where they belong – in the dustbin of history.”
The Law Society also denounced the scheme as “unnecessary and potentially harmful” without any clear rationale. Blunkett’s calls could even prompt a fallout within the cabinet. Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, was reported to have “grave reservations” about the move. Hewitt, a former general secretary of Liberty (then the Council for Civil Liberties), said the issue raised “enormous” questions of both principle and practicality. “Great big IT projects, databases and the rest of it have a horrible habit of going wrong,” she said. Education Secretary Charles Clarke and Chancellor Gordon Brown are also understood to have concerns.