Civil liberties crucial to Labour revamp

Matthew Ryder, writing on Guardian Comment is Free, says that the Labour government’s policies on ID cards and the DNA database contributed to its downfall:

Those of us who grew up as Labour voters were stunned by the party’s attitude towards civil liberties during their 13 years of government. The individuals who have had to deal with control orders, the more byzantine aspects of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, or have applied to have their DNA removed from the database after being wrongly arrested, know personally the unfairness of those measures. But the wider public also recoiled at what it saw. Such measures are anathema to British culture.

On most other issues – the economy, Europe, public spending – the Tories and Lib Dems failed to persuade the public that Labour was wrong. But on civil liberties, Labour’s proud tradition – and the soul of its core support – was destroyed. It is not just lawyers, or the “airy fairy” who care about those things. It is the very people who voted the government out.

The end of the UK ID card project

Graham Titterington writes on Ovum’s Straight Talk news service:

The project was in reaction to the 9/11 terrorist incident and had confused objectives and incoherent use cases. It was intended to deliver an identity system for every adult in the UK, but “identity” was never defined. The government promoted the vision of a card that would solve most of the world’s problems, including illegal immigration, terrorism, illegal working, and even crime – although it would not be issued to the juvenile age group, which commits many crimes. It would control access to services such as the National Health Service, but whether it would be used just when registering with a service or on every visit was never made clear. The card was to be a “gold standard of identity,” incorporating biometrics such as iris scans and fingerprints, and based on a “clean” database with everyone enrolling in person.

The project suffered an early setback when the three uses of the card were reduced to two. First, the card would receive a simple visible inspection, which would simply replicate existing forms of identification. Second, it would be used to access the national identity register for a full check against the citizen’s record. This would incur a fee and the transaction would leave a permanent record in the database, which worried civil liberties campaigners. The intermediate mode of a check against biometric data held on the card was dropped for spurious “privacy” reasons, devaluing the card.

A major weakness of the project, unlike several other European ID card schemes, was that it did not give any real benefits to the cardholder. In other countries the same card provides access to banking or transport services. The UK card did not even provide access to online government services. A multi-functional card would have been more attractive. To the citizen, the UK card was just another liability and cost.