The truth about Charles Clarke’s ID card claims

Will Stewart and Elizabeth Sanderson write in the Daily Mail about Charles Clarke’s claims that ID cards could protect civil liberties:

According to Indrek Tarand, an Estonian museum director featured in Mr Clarke’s documentary, life under Soviet dictatorship consisted of a whole series of abuses of state power. With a regulated ID card system, however, such abuses became more difficult because information was properly collected and securely stored.

This may seem like a reasonable argument – even one that might justify Mr Clarke’s rather personal revelations. Unfortunately, however, it does not stand up to closer scrutiny, as The Mail on Sunday discovered when we went to Estonia last week to test Mr Clarke’s theories.

What Mr Clarke fails to mention is that, unlike Britain, Estonia has a long history of identity documents – yet they have repeatedly failed to protect citizens against totalitarian persecution.

They point out that Estonia does not have compulsory ID cards:

[MEP Tunne Kelam] emphasises: “It is not obligatory in Estonia to have the ID card. If you want it, you have it. If you don’t want it, you don’t need to have it.”

Figures suggest that about 25 per cent of Estonians do not hold ID cards, a right that Britons would not have under Mr Clarke’s proposals.

One of these refuseniks, respected Estonian journalist Alexander Ikonnikov, said: “I don’t have the card because I don’t trust the state with my personal information. How secure is it? No one knows. I am far from alone in holding this view.”

Another is cost, which is fairly small in Estonia – around £6.50 compared with up to £93 in the UK. Even so, Ikonnikov insisted: “I don’t trust it. If criminals want to break into it, they can. In Britain, they may have more incentive to do so.”