It's been a while since I posted anything at all, and I still don't really have time to write anything worth reading. Luckily for me, an old and politically aware friend left me something interesting in my inbox (mbox, by the way - none of this maildir or outlook stuff).
He's given me permission to copy it here, with a bit of editing to ease the change of medium - which I've neglected to do.
My usual disclaimer applies: anyone afraid of politics should press delete now. For everyone else, read on! As some of you may be aware, the Identity Cards Act became law earlier this year, despite fierce and justified resistance from all main opposition parties, the House of Lords, campaign groups, academics, and hundreds of thousands of members of the public.
This means, sadly, that the government can start to create the machinery for forcing us all to have identity cards, and to store our information on a centralised identity database. The government have decided to issue ID cards with new passport applications, as they know that if they had required us all to attend compulsory registration centres from the outset, they'd have a protest on their hands the size of the Poll Tax riots.
Briefly, this is what will happen. From 1 October 2006, people wishing to obtain a passport (or wanting to renew one) will have to attend an Identity Authentication Interview at a passport office. They will be asked a series of questions to see if they should be allowed to have a passport. At some point after October 2006 - no-one knows exactly when - citizens obtaining a passport will also have to agree to be fingerprinted and have their faces and irises scanned electronically, and for a wide range of personal data to be gathered on them, and for all these things to be stored on the National Identity Register database. People who refuse on principle will not be allowed to travel abroad.
For some of us, this is just plain wrong. We object to being tagged like cattle, fingerprinted like criminals, and filed by number. Governments, as we keep reminding them, exist by invitation of the electorate, not the other way around. And yet a reversal is now happening: it is now the default position of this government to install new surveillance systems to keep an eye on a populace, especially given the civil unrest caused by the ongoing occupation of Iraq, support for the US regime, complicity with torture, and detention without trial (amongst many other things).This is the important bit:
Anti-card campaigners NO2ID point out that you are allowed to renew your passport early, and that if you do, you will get up to ten years without needing to register for an identity card (unless, of course, they change the law in this regard - we believe this is unlikely before the 2009/2010 general election). This campaign is called "Renew For Freedom" and recommends renewing this month (May) in order to send a message to the government that we strongly object to their authoritarian scheme.
Doing this will also avoid the hassle of interviews with faceless bureaucrats who will have to assume we are all crooks. What's more, the cost of a new passport will rise from £51 to at least £93, so early renewers stand to save themselves some cash too (when this price rise will occur is unknown - maybe in October 2006, or maybe when the new database system is built and the interviewing facilities are ready with fingerprint, face and iris scanners).
Read more about the campaign here: www.renewforfreedom.org
If you are concerned about being fingerprinted and charged for an expensive card you didn't ask for, go and dust down your passport and consider renewing it! I am doing mine this week and I hope that some of you will do yours too. And to save your eyes, you can stop reading now if you wish (though the rest of the message may throw some more light onto this subject).
Thanks for reading my email. These days I admit that I hesitate to send out political messages such as this, since politics has never been as unfashionable as it is now, or Westminister as out-of-touch. However, in this particular case, I have been encouraged by speaking to a number of you, and finding that the majority are frustrated at this latest example of state authoritarianism and wholesale citizen control. Some of the folks I've chatted to are committed to active (non-violent) resistance if, or when, identity cards are made fully compulsory.
For anyone still reading (thank you :o), here is some information about the identity card scheme in the UK, and some of these points provide excellent reasons why so many people, including myself, are massively opposed to it.
- The government held two public consultations that were so badly advertised they were virtually a secret. The proposals were defeated twice, by significantly more people writing to the home office in opposition than in support. And the government ignored the results and went ahead anyway. That's democracy for you.
- The London School of Economics (LSE) brought together sixty of their academic staff and a dozen professors, and wrote several lengthy reports about the project. They concluded that the ID card proposals are 'too complex, technically unsafe ... and lack a foundation of public trust and confidence'. The government has responded with vitriolic statements intended to discredit the authors of this thorough and thoughtful research.
- The LSE staff suggested that the costs could go up to £19bn over ten years - this is over three times the government estimate. Citizens can expect that if costs are not fully covered by the card purchase value, the remainder will have to come out of substantially increased taxes.
- Surely we can think of better ways to spend up to £19,000,000,000 over ten years? Hospitals are in a critical financial state, education can always do with a boost, there are many disadvantaged areas that desperately need a cash injection, the public would prefer to see more bobbies on the beat - and this government instead wants to go ahead with an extortionately priced project regardless of whether anyone agrees with them.
- Much of the detail of the costs of the project are hidden behind "commercial confidentiality" clauses - making it impossible to see exactly how this government intends to spend our money. Public sector technology projects have a disastrous record of successful implementation within budget.
- At some point after the next general election (2009 or 2010), identity cards may well become a compulsory document (unless the project is defeated first). This means that anyone who still doesn't have one will be legally compelled to get one, or they will face a fine of £2,500. People will be legally compelled to change their address details every time they move house, and should they not do so, they could face a fine of £1,000 for not "notifying the authorities".
- The government has made a lot of noise about how ID cards will "combat terrorism", but quietly admitted several times that they would not have stopped the July bombings last year. Home Office officials are still using strong anti-terror rhetoric in the hope that this scares people into accepting identity cards.
- The government were so confident they could bully the legislation onto the statue books, they spent £32,000,000 on the project before the Act came into law. I suggest that this is remarkably dishonest.
- The proposals have been criticised by civil liberty groups, human rights organisations, unions, immigrant representatives, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and many of the Lords. The Information Commissioner (who oversees the use of personal data processing in the UK) has expressed public concerns about our "sleep-walking towards a surveillance society". A security professional for Microsoft UK warns that the scheme could trigger "massive identity fraud on a scale beyond anything we have seen before".
- Although there is technically an "opt-out" for people renewing their passports before January 2010, in fact this offer is worthless. Even if an individual opts out, they will still pay full whack (£93+) and will still go on the invasive National Identity Register. They will still have their face/fingerprints/iris scans taken and recorded. They just don't get the little bit of plastic at the end (and they'll get one anyway when the scheme is made compulsory).
Thanks for reading this far. If you are interested in this campaign, or would like to get more involved, then get in touch. I shall be only too pleased to introduce you to NO2ID (who are doing some essential campaigning) or, if you wish, to help you get involved in anti-authoritarian and pro-democracy campaigns like this.