Scots ID card plan gets green light
SCOTS are to be issued with ID cards in a controversial move to tackle illegal immigration, terrorism, identity fraud and make it easier for citizens
to access public services.
First Minister Jack McConnell is to place the plan at the heart of Labourís Scottish Parliament election campaign, risking the wrath of civil
liberties campaigners and his Liberal Democrat coalition partners who believe it breaches human rights.
According to Labour, the so-called "entitlement cards" would give people access to welfare benefits as well as allowing them to use buses, car
parks, leisure centres and to borrow library books and pay rent. They could also contain medical information - such as blood types and allergies - and
be used as a proof of age to tackle underage drinking.
But human rights campaigners are concerned they could be used by the police and other authorities to carry out identity checks and catch benefit
cheats. The cards would have to be produced at police stations if requested.
ëMinisters must prevent drift towards surveillance societyí
Campaign groups including Liberty and Charter 88 say the entitlement cards would curtail civil liberties. They also doubt ID cards are effective
against crime and terrorism, pointing to the ability of criminals to forge any form of identification.
However, rank and file police are backing the idea. The Scottish Police Federation says civil liberties must come second to national security in the
light of the terrorist atrocities perpetrated on September 11, 2001, and since. In a new policy paper it states: "The world has become a more
dangerous place and we all have a responsibility to do what we can to contribute towards greater public safety. If this means a diminution of personal
privacy then that is something we must weigh against the benefits to society as a whole."
Under McConnellís plans, citizens would not be forced to use the cards, nor carry them at all times. But they could be incorporated into driving
licences which everyone requires to drive inside the country.
Those who do not drive would simply get a plastic card with a microchip embedded in it containing personal information that public service providers
could access, for example to check entitlements before giving out benefits.
McConnell wants the cards to be introduced throughout the UK but ministers in England are deeply divided over the idea, which could lead to the cards
being piloted first in Scotland.
The UK Home Secretary David Blunkett recently hinted that ID cards were likely to be introduced when he described figures showing a record increase in
people seeking asylum in the country as "deeply unsatisfactory".
A senior Scottish Labour source said the cards would help tackle terrorism. He said: "No one is suggesting that anyone who fails to carry a card
would be instantly locked up. Youíre not suddenly going to see police getting lots of extra powers to stop and search and lift you off the street.
This isnít about the nanny state or big brother. But it would be very helpful if police have someone in custody who claims to be someone else and they
can quickly prove what the truth is and what action should then be taken. Itís not a panacea but it is a useful tool."
The source said the cards could also help stamp out benefit fraud by enabling hit squads to conduct spot checks within companies where people in
receipt of benefits may be working.
But the pressure group Liberty denounced the idea as a waste of money "so the government can snoop on innocent British citizens".
The UK information commissioner Richard Thomas has also warned of the danger of "function creep", whereby a card that starts off only carrying basic
details such as the name, address, date of birth and national insurance number of its owner is later widened to include much more personal details
including financial data, work record, race and religion. He is warning ministers to guard against a drift towards "a surveillance society".
A spokesman for Labourís Scottish coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, said the party is firmly opposed to the idea which it too sees as a
breach of human rights. He added: "We donít see any purpose for them and so far there has been no compelling case made for them."
Yesterday the Scottish National Party also vowed to resist the introduction of ID cards.
But the Scottish Police Federation said ID cards would not only assist in the fight against terrorism but also protect law-abiding citizens against
fraud, theft by bogus workmen and other crimes committed by people pretending to be someone they are not.
A spokesman said: "ID cards would make the job of the police easier. They would reduce the time taken in confirming identities and, in turn, reduce
the time spent by individuals in detention waiting for this to be done."
ID OR NOT ID
ID CARDS have not existed in Britain since 1952, when a scheme introduced at the outbreak of the Second World War was withdrawn. It had required
people to produce their ID card on demand by the police. That had its origins in a 1915 initiative when, in a bid to aid military conscription, a
population register for England, Scotland and Wales was set up to cover everyone between the age of 15 and 65.
Three years later, the law was changed to force people to produce their certificate of registration if asked for it by a police officer. Both schemes
were considered inappropriate in peacetime post-war Britain.
Today ID cards are widely used across Europe. They have different uses in different countries - with some needed for foreign travel, others for access
to state benefits.
In Germany and Spain they must be carried at all times and police can check them at any time. In Greece information on the card includes religion and
an image of the holderís right thumbprint. Like the UK, Denmark and Ireland do not currently have an ID card scheme and despite September 11, there
are no plans to adopt such a system in the US. The last Conservative government in Britain tried to resurrect the idea but abandoned its plans in the
mid-1990s in the face of stiff political and public opposition.