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Cambridge rallies against ID cards

January 26, 2005 9:53 AM
David Howarth meets Cambridge students after local No2ID meeting

David Howarth (centre) and Mark Gettleson, chair of Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats, meet students at a local meeting of No2ID

The government's arguments for ID cards were torn apart last night at a packed public meeting of No2ID, the campaign group fighting the introduction of a national identity database. Campaigners heard from four speakers, all of whom denounced the scheme. Cambridge MP Anne Campbell, who voted for the ID Card Bill in its second reading in December, turned down her invitation.

Describing the plan as an "unnecessary restriction of our freedom" which "changes the relationship between us and the State", Lib Dem PPC David Howarth dismissed Labour claims that the database will help control immigrants' entitlement to public services:

"The government's plan only works if you are denied every aspect of life without a card. Every hospital, every doctor, every practice would have to have an ID card reader… imagine an NHS where you can't get medical treatment without confirming your identity."

Hopes that the scheme will cut benefit fraud were also ridiculed, with former cabinet minister Peter Lilley MP pointing out that "less than 2% of all benefit fraud involves a false or multiple identity" which, said Howarth, means "the cost of the scheme overwhelms any savings you would make."

Although carrying a card will initially be voluntary, some groups will inevitably face discrimination. Tauhid Pasha, from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, pointed out that "clause 6 of the bill makes it compulsory for certain groups of people to carry a card - specifically foreign nationals resident in the UK." In practice, he said, this means "anyone who looks visibly different will be stopped and asked to produce a card."

Professor Ross Anderson, a leading expert on computer security, added that the use of biometric information was by itself discriminatory: "Some blind people may not be able to undergo iris scans, while manual workers and the elderly may have worn fingerprints." He also said research suggested using biometric data for benefit entitlement would reduce welfare support: "Even people who are entitled to the benefits decide not to claim. Why? Because they feel afraid. Biometrics acts as a deterrent to welfare."

Key facts on ID cards:

  • The scheme will cost at least £200 per taxpayer to implement.
  • From 2008 you will have to register on the database to get a new passport, at a total cost of £85, double current passport charges.
  • Failure to amend personal details like a change of address would result in a £1,000 fine, and a £2,500 fine would be levied for failing to sign up if the cards become compulsory.
  • The government already has 80 staff working on the scheme - including 40 consultants from PA Consulting, the Government's private sector 'partner'.
  • The scheme will be overseen by a commissioner, but he or she will not be able to handle individual complaints, and will present their report not to parliament, but to the Secretary of State, who can then edit it before presenting it to MPs.
  • The government has a poor record on large IT projects.
  • In the second reading on 20th December, just 19 Labour and 10 Tory MPs voted against the Bill. All 55 Lib Dem MPs opposed it.
  • The Lib Dems would use the billions of pounds saved by not introducing the scheme to put 10,000 more police on the streets.
  • We would also match the government's pledge to fund 20,000 extra community support officers.

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