After years of debate, hours of a parliamentary time and millions of pounds, I saw minister Damian Green feeding some of the hard drives behind the ID cards system into an industrial shredder in Essex. It was certainly an unusual press trip – see images below.
The immigration minister fed some of the last batch of 500 hard drives, which were used to hold the national identity register, into a giant crushing machine at RDC in Witham, Essex on 10 February.
"This marks the final end of the identity card scheme: dead, buried and crushed," he said. "What we are destroying today is the last elements of the national identity register, which was always the most objectionable part of the scheme."
Green fed the drives into a machine with two metal rollers with inch-wide teeth, which produced sparks when they crushed the hardware. The resulting waste will be burnt. "Politics isn't usually this physical," the minister remarked while doing so.
Green, who in 2004 was one of a handful of Conservative rebels to vote against that year's attempt to pass an identity card bill, said that although the scheme's cancellation will save money, that was not the reason for its scrapping. "We wanted to do this as a matter of principle," he told journalists.
In a statement, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg added: "The ID cards scheme was a direct assault on our liberty, something too precious to be tossed aside, and something which this government is determined to restore. The government is committed to rolling back as much state interference as humanly possible, and the destruction of the register is only the beginning."
When Green was asked by Guardian Government Computing whether the surviving identity card scheme for non-EU citizens, which involves the collection of biometrics and which was procured alongside the national identity scheme, could one day be increased in scope, he answered: "We aren't collecting anything like the information for biometric residency permits that the previous government was going to collect on the national identity register," which included up to 59 fields of data. "They aren't comparable."
He said that residency permits have a benefit to the holder, that of allowing them to seek employment. "That passes my test of having a specific use for the person who owns it."
Green added that the previous government's struggle to justify the scheme should help convince future administrations not to try to resurrect the identity scheme. When asked how long he thought it would take for another government to try this, he replied: "I hope never."
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