Margaret Thatcher, politicians and ID cards

I have written a blogpost for the Manifesto Club, which campaigns for freedom in everyday life, about the politics of ID cards – as promoted by both the Conservative and Labour parties, including that promoter of liberty and preserver of the NHS Margaret Thatcher – including some thoughts about what stage the national identity scheme would have reached:

By now, the link between passport applications and joining the national identity scheme should have been in place; it required a further act of Parliament, but the 2008 target date was 2011/12. So getting a passport would mean providing your fingerprints and a wide variety of personal data. Home secretary Jacqui Smith made the physical card optional in 2008, but left the databases – including the ‘audit trail’ that would track each individual’s usage – intact. The police hoped to be able to identify anyone on the system through their fingerprints (if the biometric technology worked properly, a debateable point). Not your papers please, but your fingers please.

Even those willing to forego foreign travel would be finding the scheme difficult to avoid. Membership would be obligatory for an increasing number of professions; Ms Smith planned to require ID cards for airside workers at City and Manchester airports, although this was made voluntary after opposition from pilots. Young adults, who were encouraged to sign up from 2009, would increasingly have been pushed towards joining as a proof of entitlement to student services and discounts.

As the long debate over internet surveillance and the draft communications bill continues – with more withering criticism reported today from a group of cybersecurity academics (who did similar work on ID cards, Times article, log-in required) and separately from Number 10 adviser Ben Hammersley (Telegraph article) – it’s worth reflecting that similar debates have been going on for a long time.

Looking back also helps spot how politicians vary in their ways. Margaret Thatcher may have been a friend of freedom in eastern Europe, but not for (among others in Britain) football supporters. And David Cameron, who sees her as having saved Britain, was the first prime minister in five (starting with Thatcher) not to support some kind of ID card scheme… although his government is set to introduce greater internet surveillance.

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