John Mulholland and Nicholas Watt have interviewed Gordon Brown for the Observer. Here’s the section of the edited transcript where he answers questions about ID cards:
Q: ID cards are seen as a tool for dealing with terrorism but there is a debate about whether they are an encroachment on civil liberties. Are you still committed to pressing ahead with them?
A: I think this debate about ID cards has also got to be one where people can see where there’s agreement as well as where there’s been a debate that’s led to disagreement. If someone said to you that I’m going to give you a better form of passport with biometrics and I’m going to include the current passport information in that if someone said to you that if someone comes to this country as a foreign national, given the worries about illegal immigration, they should carry some form of identity I think most people in the country would agree with that. And I think we’ve got to get the debate about, if you like the management, the identity management to a reasonable level. You know we are not trying to store information about individuals that are not actually, that is not information already in passports. We have to deal with the situation where people come into our country and it’s right I think that they ought to show whether they’re legal or illegal by what we ask of them to produce.
Q: But people seem confused as to what they are for. Is it specifically to guard against foreign nationals working and living illegally here. Or is it aimed at domestic security?
A: I think there are two things. One is, when it comes to foreign nationals coming into the country and the danger that there is illegal immigration into the country, I think most people would support there being some form of identification that people are asked to produce. So I think you know as a general sort of proposition I think people would say that we are right to introduce the cards for foreign nationals.
Q: Is that the principal reason for ID cards?
A: I think as far as the individual citizen is concerned – the danger for me and you in the modern world is that our identity is easily stolen. There are many attempts to do that as we found out. And people feel worried when information about them that is personal to them is lost and rightly so. And I think if we were giving a better means by which people could protect their identity then in the private sector as well as in the public sector people are looking at biometrics. I mean maybe in a few years time to switch on your computer you will need biometrics rather than a password.
Maybe when you go to a supermarket as happens in some parts of the States and Europe you are going to be safer, instead of carrying a credit card which can easily be stolen, in using your biometrics to shop. Maybe in relation to banking to use biometrics one way or another or fingerprint biometrics, whatever, whichever basis you might find that you are safer in your banking transaction than if you carried with you a card and a number. And actually the number of people who lose their PIN number is very high indeed. So I don’t think when people are dealing with their private transactions they’re so worried about the use of biometrics.
As long as it protects their identity and protects their identity being stolen and misused for other purposes. But look this is part of the debate. And I accept, look we are a country that prides ourselves on liberty, in civil liberties. It’s very important that any debate about this starts from what is the problem you are trying to deal with. What would you have done in the seventeenth century, the eighteenth century, the twentieth century and the twenty first century?
But the very fact that you’ve got biometrics now in a way that you didn’t have two centuries ago gives you opportunities to protect people’s identity in a way that you could not have done two centuries ago and I don’t think we should rule out the use of that. In fact I don’t actually think most of the general public think that the use of biometrics is in itself wrong, either for private transactions or for passports or whatever.
Q: So are you committed to ID cards?
A: We’re committed to the proposals that we put forward which are essentially this, that the passport information that you now use to get your passport, linked to the biometrics that are now available give you a better form of protection as an individual. But I’m happy that this debate continues because I believe that over the course of the debate some of the preconceptions about cards and everything will be dealt with.
Q: If you are saying that ID cards are aimed at people coming into this country…
A: No, I said two things. I said one is I think most people would think that if you were a foreign national coming into this country that to distinguish between those who are legally here and not legally here it made some sense to have the identity card. And I think as far as individual British citizens are concerned, I don’t think that people are philosophically against the use of biometrics for their private transactions or for passports, and that is essentially identity management.
Q: So it would be that British citizens and non-British citizens would need them.
A: Yes, but under our proposals there is no compulsion for existing British citizens.