The first generation of biometric passwords is due to be issued from 2006. The government is planning to start issuing ID cards in 2008.
The ID cards database, if it becomes a reality, will be the largest biometric database in the world, storing iris patterns and fingerprints in addition to other details, such as photograph, name, date of birth, nationality, address, immigration status, previous addresses, signature, national insurance number, driving licence number and numerous other items.
The scheme is set to cost an astronomic £19 billion to implement.
The Home Office have so far stated that they would, within a few years, want to make it compulsory for all citizens to own a properly up-to-date ID card, although they plan for the cards to voluntary at first. They claim that “it will not be compulsory to carry a card at all times and there are no police powers to require a person to produce a card.” However, the fact is that, once the identity card system is in place, it will only take a single Act to make carrying an ID card at all times compulsory. It’s almost certain that this would be invoked as soon as the state felt that it needed it. In any event there are likely to be extra-legal pressures to have the card, such as inability to pay by credit card, open a bank account or secure a parking permit, etc., unless such is produced.
The ostensible reasoning behind the scheme
The government’s argument for ID cards is based on the Home Office’s claims that:
“An ID cards scheme will help the UK counter:
– Identity theft – by giving people a secure means of protecting their identity – a growing crime which costs the economy at least £1.3bn pa
– Illegal immigration and working – by helping to strengthen immigration controls and combat illegal working
– Misuse of public services – by helping ensure public services are used by those entitled to use them and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery
– Organised crime and terrorism – by disrupting the activities of organised criminals and terrorists by making the UK the most difficult place in the world for them to use false identities.” (http://www.homeoffice. gov.uk/docs4/Id_Cards_Briefing.pdf)
These reasons do not stand up to scrutiny.
Taking advantage of the anti-immigrant hysteria that they have created, the government are pushing the line that ID cards will vastly reduce numbers of illegal immigrants travelling to Britain. However, they have failed to mention how the cards will have this effect! The ID cards system is unlikely to have any discernible effect on illegal immigration into Britain, and, if it did, the government would be in considerable trouble with the business interests it represents, many of whose profits are reliant upon a steady source of obscenely cheap labour. Those people who are desperately seeking a means of getting into the country and cannot do so by ‘legitimate’ means already have to resort to methods which bypass having to show any kind of ID. Furthermore, no doubt compulsory there will soon be a thriving trade in black market cards. Although the cards won’t stop illegal immigrants getting into the country, they may well have the effect of putting them once they are here, increasingly at the mercy of their employers and making it impossible for them openly to seek medical help and altogether denying them other social services that they may urgently need.
Another popular media hobby horse is benefit fraud, especially the alleged proclivity for it displayed by immigrants. However, despite the massive hysteria surrounding this issue, the government has admitted that 90% of ‘overpayments’ are due not to identity fraud but to people earning more than they expected (and consequently receiving an excess of tax credits) or people (predominantly non-immigrants) working cash in hand whilst claiming benefit. ID cards will not affect this one jot. Needless to say, the areas of benefit fraud and ‘services scrounging’ are ones where ID cards will come into daily use. Of course, it would be impractical for public sector staff to thoroughly check the identity of everyone who comes in the door. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it is predominantly immigrants and black people who will be subjected to this humiliation on a daily basis. The effect will be increased alienation of immigrants and ethnic minorities, and increased prejudice against them.
The Home Office says that ID cards will effectively tackle the problem of identity theft. However, Liberty point out: “Most identity crimes involve VAT fraud or money laundering using fake foreign identities. Most identity theft involves someone using your credit card details online or over the telephone.” (‘ID Cards and the National Database: Why you should take your privacy personally, www.liberty.org.uk) Consequently, ID cards would have little or no effect in this regard.
It is claimed that ID cards will be an effective weapon for the state to use against anyone planning ‘terrorist’ attacks on Britain. Perhaps the Home Office think that the September 11 hijackers would have thought twice if they had not been in possession of a valid ID card? Hardly. You don’t need a fake identity to plant a bomb. The only thing the British state can do to reduce the possibility of attacks against it is to immediately pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, end its support for Israel, and generally end its meddling in the Middle East. However, there is no point asking imperialists not to be imperialistic! They are driven by an economic force which is far more powerful than their individual wills.
A farce in the making
Liberty point out that the technology at the heart of the identity cards system is far from proven. Early tests revealed, for example, that one in 25 people could not be correctly identified from any of the biometric data stored (iris scan plus fingerprints). The Cabinet Office trials found that iris scans were particularly unreliable for black people (perhaps giving zealous immigration officers further excuse to harass black people travelling into the country) and that facial scans were able to identify less than half of disabled people. Hence there is a very real risk that people are going to be persistently refused access to public services owing to faulty technology.
Apart from all else, the whole scheme will, more than likely, turn out to be a disastrous waste of money, reliant as it is upon technology which is incomplete and unproven: “The government has failed to successfully implement almost every large IT system it has ever undertaken, resulting in the loss to the public of more than a billion pounds between 1997 and 2000. David Blunkett told Parliament: ‘I agree that it is important to recognise the past failures of Government technology systems’
Billions of pounds of public money are wasted each year on such failures. The Child Support Agency, Passport Agency, Inland Revenue, the Court Service, National Air Traffic Services, the Criminal Records Bureau, local authorities, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, the Prison Service. The list goes on and on. Each expensive project promises to deliver better and cheaper services to the public. Each inevitably fails to do so.” (‘What stage has been reached with the ID card proposal?’ http://www.no2id.net/IDSchemes/faq.php)
Of course, the cost burden of the scheme will fall on Joe Public. In addition to making people spend an estimated £300 per ID card, plus charges every time you want to change your details, the government – keen as it is never to miss an opportunity to install a new stealth tax – is planning to charge fines of £2,500 for not having an ID card, and fines of £1,000 simply for failing to update your personal details in what the government considers to be adequate time.
The bigger picture
Britain has already had an identity cards scheme, during World War II, its primary purpose to help guard against Nazi spies. In 1952, the scheme was scrapped, it being felt that they were not needed in times of peace. (BBC News online, 25 May 2005). The fact that the British state is again pushing an identity cards scheme clearly demonstrates that they are not expecting the coming years to be ‘peaceful’.
Since 1945, the standard of living for the working class in most imperialist countries has been unusually high. The welfare state, set up precisely as a sop to workers in the light of the stunning gains of the workers of the Soviet Union, has meant that no worker need actually starve to death, and most are able to have shelter, food, clothes, education and health care (a veritably luxurious existence when compared to the that of the masses of the third world, or even of 1930’s Britain). The years 1945-1991 were characterised by a certain amount of mitigation of the contradictions of imperialism, and a forced limit to the imperialist wars of conquest (ie. the existence of a large, strong socialist bloc). Such was the enormous relative strength of the United States in the aftermath of World War II that all the imperialist countries were left with very little choice but to line up behind it in the war of attrition against the reds.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, all the contradictions of imperialism are starting to re-assert themselves with renewed energy. The new territories which have availed themselves of capitalist production relations are the source of tremendous competition between different blocs of imperialists. Meanwhile, the level of domination of the third world by the imperialist countries is increasing, unchecked by the counterbalance of the Soviet Union (hence the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, none of which would have been possible 20 years ago).
As the depth of imperialist contradictions increases, so does the desperation of the imperialists. They vastly overestimated their chances of success in Afghanistan and Iraq, and are now caught up in two extremely expensive, exhausting wars, which they had hoped would be the panacea for the crisis of overproduction which besets them. Meanwhile, there is no escaping that crisis. Increased competition, dwindling mineral resources, an increasingly small percentage of the population of the world with regular income (which might be spent on commodities) – the rate of profit of the imperialists is on the decline, and, along with it, the superprofits which are used to bribe the domestic working class.
The bourgeoisie recognises that, with a fall in the standard of the working class at home, the levels of militancy of that working class will almost certain see a corresponding increase. In order to keep this militancy in check, in order that the development of a revolutionary movement might be prevented, the state is setting in place a number of measures that may in be used for the active repression of the working class. This is the real reasoning behind the identity cards scheme and the huge wave of new legislation limiting the rights of the citizen and increasing the power of the state in relation to the individual (in the guise of ‘anti-terror’ laws). Marx and Engels long ago pointed out that there were two forms of bourgeois rule: the democratic republic, and naked, violent dictatorship. Whilst the democratic republic is “the best possible political shell for capitalism” (Lenin, State and Revolution), the bourgeoisie may, in times of crisis, need to resort to harsher, more repressive means, ie. fascism. Whilst the British state could not yet be described as fascist, it is certainly true that it is introducing slowly but surely measures which could be used for fascist-style repression when it needs them. For the moment, social peace remains largely undisturbed; however, that is unlikely to last for long, and when the British working class rises up, you can be sure that the ‘anti-terror’ legislation and the identity cards will be used to suppress it.
Regardless of whether you have committed a crime, the state will have permanent access to a vast amount of personal details. The ID cards scheme allows for extensive information-sharing between the various branches of the state. “Details could also be given without consent to police, intelligence agencies, customs and tax authorities and certain government departments for preventing and detecting serious crime, ensuring national security, investigating benefits fraud and protecting Britain’s ‘economic well-being'” (BBC News online, 25 May 2005).
As described above, the ID cards scheme is part of the wider measures being put in place for the repression of the British working class. As such, we are duty bound to oppose it.