Gracie Mae Bradley of Liberty writes that “People often ask why objections to proposed ID systems in the UK have historically been so strident when such schemes are widespread in mainland Europe” (The UK’s online ID plans: expensive, intrusive, unnecessary, 6 September). Alas, she does not answer this question. Countries with stronger civil liberties traditions and constitutional protections of privacy have no problems with ID cards. The UK state has most of us registered on databases via national insurance, NHS numbers or driving licences. We willingly surrender our privacy to private foreign firms when we use mobile phones or the internet.
We will never persuade the British people of the benefits of open borders if we cannot tell them who is in the country. Labour’s 2005 general election manifesto included a promise to introduce ID cards, but after their victory, thanks to Home Office delays, they were not introduced until February 2010. About 15,000 were issued. Had they been on offer in 2007 there would have been millions. Most people would have seen them as useful for passport-free travel, proof of age and prevention of voter fraud.
It is an antediluvian myth that they are a threat to civil liberties. On the continent, open borders and free movement are supported because citizens know their democratic governments issue ID cards, so they know who lives in a country. The Tory-Lib Dem abolition of the nascent ID card system in the summer of 2010 was an important first step towards Brexit.
Former Europe minister, 2002-05
o Empowering digital identity at a national level will strengthen opportunities not just for individuals, but for the economy as a whole. Through access to trustworthy data, education about what the programme entails and clarity around standards for organisations using this data, the government will be able to better provide citizens with safe, secure access to digital services. The biggest challenge facing the government will be one of money. Whether setting up infrastructure or implementing a framework for validation, verification and authentication, Downing Street has its work cut out to ensure that everything runs smoothly – critical to building trust, particularly in light of track-and-trace data privacy concerns.
We need to stop viewing digital identities and the data attached as “good” and “bad”. Instead, the question should centre around how can this be set up to benefit the country as a whole while creating minimal disruption.
o The trials and tribulations of the Windrush generation in attempting to obtain “indefinite leave to remain” status illustrates, yet again, the need for a national identity card. It’s time we fell in line with the continent by having such a system. Needless to say, sorting out the status of EU residents, come our definitive departure from the EU, will prove to be an almighty administrative nightmare.
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset