Filed under: Civil Liberties
One the options being discussed in a number of places is the possibility of civil disobedience should the Identity Cards Bill makes its way into law, the simplest form of which being a refusal to register for a card - after all, at this stage, they’re not compulsory… are they?
Trouble is - as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now - its not quite as simple as that thanks to the business of ‘designated documents’.
In my earlier piece on ‘Unlocking the Register’ I pointed out that more or less any official document which has a serial number which is unique to an individual and is issued under the authority of the Government by Act of Parliament or Statutory Instrument could be recorded, by its serial number, in the National Identity Register and thus become a ‘foreign key’ to unlock personal data held elsewhere.
I should clarify one thing here. Its NOT true that such keys can be added at will by the Home Secretary - the Bill requires the passing of secondary legislation, at least, to extend the register with such keys. However, as experienced Parliamentary watchers will know, secondary legislation means things like statutory instruments and regulations, things which aren’t generally subject to the degree of scrutiny and debate which goes with passing a full blown Act of Parliament.
Most of the work on secondary legislation tends to go in committees and when it does reach the floor of the House itself it tends to be in one of those debates your sometimes see on TV where there’s only just about enough MP’s present for the session to be quorate - the quorum for a division (vote) in the Commons is a mere 40 MPs, a little over 6% of its total membership. It’d all very much the kind of routine stuff which goes on well under the radar of the media, and therefore the public as well.
To complicate matters further, because extending the register, for the most part, requires secondary legislation it doesn’t necessarily follow that such extensions will be made in statutory instruments which relate directly to the Identity Card Bill, or rather Act as it will be if we get to this stage. In fact its far more likely that such extensions will be embedded in secondary legislation which otherwise relates to an entirely different Act of Parliament - it is perfectly possible to include the provisions for extending the Register to add a key to your entry on the Electoral Register within new regulations for postal voting which apply primarily to the Representation of the People Act. In fact the Identity Cards Bill contains, itself, a good example of just this kind of legislative complexity in that right at the end, in Schedule 2, it amends both the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act of 1981 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act of 2004.
So even while its not true that the Home Secretary can extend the register without recourse to Parliament, the manner in which such extensions are likely to be made is so complex as to obfuscate the process to extent that most extensions would pass almost unnoticed by the Public until it was too late and they were entered in to law.
Anyway, getting back to the question of designated documents, what they are and what the implications of them may, in fact almost certainly will be…
A designated document is a document issued under Governmental authority where the Home Secretary has decided that in order to obtain that document you must either have an ID card or, if not, you must obtain an ID card at the same time as you obtain the document.
The one example of a designated document included in the Bill at present is your passport - one this Bill becomes law, you will only be able to obtain a passport if you have an ID card and - and here’s the sneaky part - any application for a passport will be treated as an application for an ID card such that the application will include all the information required to create your entry on the National Identity Register.
This is not actual compulsion, in the strict sense of the word, as you still have the option of not having a passport - and therefore not being able to leave the UK - but then you have remember that there’s more to this than the prospect of foregoing a foreign holiday if you choose the civil disobedience route of refusing to register. What if you’re in the kind of job which involves travelling overseas? Are you really going to refuse to register and put your job at risk?
This then begs the question of what other documents might also be ‘designated’ in future. Well already from the existing bill it can be seen that the National Identity Register will also include a reference to your Driver’s Licence, National Insurance Number and any immigration documents that may apply to you if you’re not currently a UK citizen - oh, and lets not forget that if you’re a EU citizen from a country which already issues ID Cards, such a France or Germany, and you’re living and working in the UK, then the register can capture an serial numbers associated with the identity papers issued to you in your homeland.
So, just from that, its looks likely that if you drive and need to renew your driver’s licence or you lose your documents and require replacements then - oh dear - you’ll have to get an ID card at the same time. And as with passports, if your job requires you to drive then a refusal to obtain an ID card would place your employment at risk.
The same could also, hypothetically, apply with your National Insurance Number. What if claim forms for welfare benefits were to be designated, or basic tax documents like the P45 or P46 you need to obtain on starting a new job?
You’re still free to refuse to get an ID card, of course, but only if your career plans include sleeping in cardboard box and drinking meths…
…and even then you may not be entirely safe as even homeless people, in some circumstances, are entitled to benefits if they attend a DSS office in person.
Hypothetically, you could even in certain situations be forced into registering for ID card when trying to obtain documents which don’t actually relate to you.
What about the simple matter of registering births, deaths and marriages?
I think it fairly obvious that marriage licence and certificate will be ‘designated’ at some point and probably fairly early on, on the pretext that ID cards will tackle ‘marriage fraud’ where immigrants enter into a marriage of convenience in order to obtain legal residency.
But what about registering the birth of child or the death of a family member? What if birth and death certificates were also designated so that in order to obtain the documents you had to get an ID card - even though the document you want does not relate directly to you?
Well in the first instance it is, if I remember correctly, a criminal offence not to register a birth so a refusal to register on the grounds that you don’t want an ID card could land you in court and, in any case, if you don’t register the birth then your child effectively becomes a non-person with no legal existence - so how are you going to get your child benefit, child trust fund and tax credits (if eligible)? What happens if they’re taken ill? Will you be able to register them with a GP and obtain treatment? And even later on, how will you get then into school?
Death certificates raise a different but not less difficult set of issues? Without a death certificate, would you even be able to arrange a funeral? What about claiming on life insurance policies and the whole issue of your deceased relatives estate?
Again, there’s no actual compulsion but it would be impossible to deal with even basic matters which are essential to your ability to function in society if you refuse to obtain an ID card.
I’ve already highlighted two scenarios in which people’s very jobs could depend on them obtaining designated documents and, therefore, force them into obtaining ID cards even with statutory compulsion - and to them you can also add anyone else who’s job might, quite literally, depend on them obtaining a document which could be designated.
This should be obvious but if you’re in the kind of job which requires you to provide a criminal record certificate to your employer or to a statutory regulator - for example, registered childminders have to provide such certificates to Ofsted - then you’re faced with as simple a situation as is possible if, or rather, when these certificates become designated documents. No ID card = no criminal record certificate = no job.
Hey it won’t do much the general economy, but cardboard box manufacturers must be licking their lips in anticipation… and still, there is no statutory compulsion.
As should be obvious by now, simply designating a small number of key documents will place millions of people in a situation where they have no real choice but to get an ID card, whether they really want one or not - and all without any explicit statutory compulsion.
You see, you really do have a choice here. You don’t have to get an ID card… not unless the next time the census comes around you fancy filling in you occupation as ‘Hobo’.
Ah, to quote the great social commentator, Jimmy Cricket, ‘but there’s more’.
You see not only does the bill allow the Home Secretary to designate certain documents as automatically requiring an ID, it also allows him to designate certain classes of individual as well.
Now, so far, and entirely in keeping with the carefully stage managed sales pitch for the Bill, the only class of designated individual included explicitly to date is - yes you guessed it - immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
But will it stop there - of course not.
For one thing it should be patently obvious where the whole business of designating particular classes of individuals as having to have ID cards will go next. If the general public will swallow this kind of compulsion when it comes to immigration it will also quite happily accept the same for anyone convicted of a criminal offence or placed under an Anti-Social Behaviour Order.
“Norman Stanley Fletcher -I sentence you to five years in prison… and an ID card”
But then there are also millions of public servants, people who work the Government and who, because of their work are either issued routinely with official identification documents or, in some cases, are subject to professional registration and background checks either to verify their qualifications or because, like teachers, social workers, doctors and nurses, their work involves them interacting with vulnerable people - anyone applying for a teaching job, for example, is already subject to a criminal record check plus checks against the sex offenders register and two other similar specialist registers, before being allowed to work in the profession.
Does anyone seriously expect that any of these will not routinely be issued with ID cards alongside their other official ID? That this will not be a, in fact, a condition of employment for say, Police Officers or members of the Armed Forces? That any of these people with have any choice whatsoever in the matter, other than the choice of giving up their career?
You would have though, even expected, that the Public and Commercial Services Union - the largest of the Civil Service unions - would be leading the charge against this pernicious piece of legislation, but head along to their campaigns section and you find not a single mention of ID cards, just the usual stuff about job cuts, pay and pensions plus the obligatory and rather ironic link to their ‘Unite Against Fascism‘ campaign. The same goes for Amicus and Unison - no mention of ID cards on either union’s website despite both being unions whose members will undoubtedly find themselves forced into registering for ID cards in order to keep their jobs. So far, according to No2ID, only the T&G amongst the big unions has come out against ID cards and even noticed their existence - even the TUC is silent on the matter of ID cards, so far, preferring instead to welcome the provisions for corporate manslaughter and new rights for working parents in their response to the Queen’s Speech.
ID cards are, according to the Government, not going to be compulsory as yet, although they have indicated that they’d like to be compulsory by 2010.
Well if that is true, then how come so many millions of people look likely to have no choice whatsover when it comes to registering for ID cards? If there is no compulsion, why does the bill contain an open-ended provisions for compulsion via the backdoor? You don’t have to register but if you don’t we can make it almost impossible to function in society.
Civil disobedience, in form of a refusal to register, may still be possible but compared to other situations in which it has proved effective in the past, not least the Poll Tax, this time around it going to much, much more difficult to put it into practice in the kind of sustained way which could bring down this legislation.
Its seem that the Government has learned a trick or two from the Tories along the way and especially from the Miner’s strike of the early 1980’s - its bloody hard to engage in civil disobedience when the result is to reduce you and your family to abject poverty.
Still - you might think - there’s always the chance of a little revenge at the ballot box come the next general election…
… well don’t you bet on it.
For one thing, once the register is in place, no government of whatever political persuasion is going to dismantle it - not even the Liberal Democrats.
Why? Because by then there will be too many vested interests involved, too many institutions, agencies and even private sector businesses with an interest not only in keeping the system but extending its use as far as possible. No government can afford to take on the combined weight of the Police, Intelligence Services plus those sections of the Civil Service for whom the Identity Register is the ultimate ‘wet dream’ plus all the Banks and Financial Institutions who’re going to love having a national identity verification system.
And lets also not forget our ‘friends’ over the big pond, the good ol’ US of A, who’re already sniffing around access to UK ID cards under the guise of ‘technological compatibility’ - in fact its worth noting for all the concerns in the US over their own moves to a national ID scheme, at least their consitution gives them some civil liberties protection, which is more than we’ve got.
But ultimately, its not the vested interest which will preclude a little well-deserved electoral vengeance by whatever refuseniks might hold out until the next election…
… after all, what are they going to do if, or more likely when, their application for an entry on the electoral register or for a postal vote become yet another designated document requiring an ID card?
There is no escape.