This resource provides information
and arguments around the issue of Identity Cards. By Andrew Bell.
This resource provides detailed information on the issue of ID cards and
the main arguments for and against their implementation in the UK.
Summary of main arguments for and against a national ID cards scheme
For an ID cards scheme
Against an ID cards scheme
The idea has strong public support: opinion polls, consultations and
surveys have consistently shown that a majority of the public favour
an ID card scheme.
Public support is based on a false understanding of ID cards; the public
lack knowledge of how the system would work, particularly the National
Identity Register database that would hold detailed personal data.
Overall, the scheme would result in cost savings by reducing
money spent on illegal immigration, benefit fraud and terrorism and from
having all data needed by different agencies held in one place.
The system would be hugely expensive to set up and administer
and the money would be better spent elsewhere. The cost burden would fall
on tax payers and individuals, particularly those who needed to update
incorporation of biometrics into the new ID cards scheme will increase
document security; the UK government is responding to the general global
drive towards the use of biometrics for identity.
The security of biometrics is questionable. There are doubts
about the accuracy of equipment, the security needed to protect stored
biometrics and the margins of error for validating a person's identity
that ID cards would be discriminatory against the UK's ethnic minority
groups is alarmist; the government's consultation amongst the UK's ethnic
minority groups revealed strong support for an ID card scheme.
Implementation will result in discrimination against minority
ethnic groups, gypsies and travellers and those with complex personal
information or those whose information changes frequently.
and illegal working
Essential in tackling the problems of immigration
and illegal working. ID cards will make it easier for those seeking work
to demonstrate their right to do so and to show that a company employing
illegal labour had done so knowingly.
and illegal working
Would do little to reduce those who work or employ illegally,
or reduce illegal immigrants. Employers are already required to check
identity documents, but employ illegally anyway. Illegal working is a
result of lax government enforcement and relaxed employer attitudes, not
lack of ID.
The scheme will help protect UK citizens against identity
fraud and theft which costs the UK economy £1.3 billion per annum.
The card will provide a single universal document for proof of age.
The possession of a stolen or forged identity card could make
identity fraud easier than is currently the case if biometrics are not
checked. Some individuals could have the protection afforded by false
ID removed, e.g. women fleeing domestic violence or those fleeing persecution.
ID cards will help tackle serious and organised
crime which depends on the use of false identities, in particular terrorism,
drug trafficking and money laundering.
ID card schemes in other European countries have not prevented
terrorism; ID cards in Spain did not prevent the Madrid railway bombings.
Current proposals allow anyone to stay in the UK for up to three months
without an ID card so potential terrorists could use short stay documents
to public services
The scheme will ensure free public services
are accessed easier and only used by those entitled to them.
to public services
The scheme could result in a 'two-tier' society leaving anyone
without an ID card without access to public services; this could especially
impact on vulnerable groups in society.
Civil liberties and rights will be strengthened by safeguarding
people's identity and protecting them from identity theft, terrorism,
serious crime and from those who seek to abuse the immigration rules and
An ID card scheme would fundamentally alter the balance of power
between the state and citizen,
giving a wide range of agencies access to personal data. This data could
grow over time and may not be stored securely or shared appropriately.
The government claims that the idea of a national ID card has won wide scale
public support, based on a consultation process it carried out in 2003 that
demonstrated 79% of the public were in favour. A Mori poll carried out in
2004 backed up this claim with 80% in favour and only 11% against.
Critics however are skeptical about the consultation results, suggesting
that people were unaware of the true implications of the scheme, such as personal
information being held on a National Identity Register database and the many
different agencies that will have access to the information. Indeed, the 2004
Mori poll showed that while 94% of people were aware of the ID card scheme,
two thirds had "little or no knowledge of how it will work".
Critics also point to the fact that independent opinion polls show that over
three million adults are so opposed to ID cards that they say that they would
rather break the law than carry one.
Costs and administration
The government claims that an ID cards scheme could potentially save money
by preventing illegal immigration, benefit fraud and terrorism.
Critics argue however that the huge costs involved in introducing and administering
an ID cards scheme do not justify any potential merits. The Home
Office says that the scheme will cost £3 billion, money that the
Freedom Association and others argue would be better spent elsewhere, for
example on improved police funding.
There are also concerns over the potential cost to the individual. Human
Rights organisation Liberty has expressed concerns about the costs to individuals
who change their information frequently. They highlight the impact of a clause
in the ID cards bill where there is provision for a fee to be paid for any
modification to an entry on the Register.
There is also a proposed system of penalties, with fines up to £1000,
for people failing to comply with the new regulations. These include failure
to notify authorities about a damaged or defective card; failing to attend
an appointment for a biometrics scan or failure to notify the Government of
any change in personal circumstances.
The requirement to register change of address could prove particularly problematic
for many. In London, for example, 40% of people on average change their address
However, The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) argues that if all data
is held in one place, the public would have to inform only one agency of a
change in circumstance, thus massively reducing the need for form-filling.
The CBI also suggests the existence of a single centralised data bank would
help individual businesses by removing their need to hold identity data. They
argue the scheme has the potential to remove the need for some businesses
to maintain costly backup systems. The Financial Services Authority also support
the scheme on financial grounds. They say cards would help the disadvantaged,
who find it hard to prove identity and address, to do basic things like set
up bank accounts.
The technology of biometrics
The security and reliability of biometrics
– a person's fingerprints, iris image or facial dimensions – are
at the heart of the Government's case for ID card proposals. The system proposed
would be breaking new ground as no comparable system of this size has yet
been introduced anywhere else in the world. The government argues, though,
that there is a drive to increase document security with biometrics across
the world, so the UK's plans are not unique.
Critics argue that before the system is given final approval, there should
be exhaustive testing of the reliability and security of the biometrics chosen,
and that the results of those tests should be made available to expert independent
Even the CBI, which is generally supportive of a system of ID cards, has
expressed concerns about the use of biometric technology. They have raised
concerns about the accuracy of equipment used to record the biometric information,
the security needed to protect stored biometrics and the margins of error
for validating a person's identity from biometrics.
However, the government argues that any problems encountered with biometrics
technology will be addressed through its biometric passport trial currently
taking place at four sites in London, Leicester, Newcastle and Glasgow. This
is using a cross selection of the population, including people with disabilities,
to enable an evaluation of the technology to take place.
Opponents have argued that black youngsters are disproportionately more likely
to be stopped and searched by police than their white counterparts and that
an ID card will provide police with another excuse to target black minority
groups, asking to see their ID cards.
The Law Society, for example, has expressed concerns that the introduction
of ID cards could have a disproportionate affect on minority ethnic groups.
They also believe the system would discriminate against those with complex
personal information, and those whose information changes frequently.
Whilst the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has concerns over 'stop
and search', it does not believe that ID cards would be racially discriminatory:
since cards would be issued to all residents in the UK, any requirements to
produce the card as proof of identity would apply equally to all cardholders.
The government maintains that the concerns expressed are not felt amongst
ethnic minority groups themselves. They say that the idea of an ID card has
popular support amongst the UK's ethnic minority groups. The 2004 government
consultation revealed that among four ethnic minority groups surveyed there
was a clear majority in favour of ID cards. Furthermore, the government points
to the fact that support for ID cards among all four groups actually showed
an increase since the 2003 consultation.
However, CRE and others have commented that the requirement to register an
address will have an adverse impact on Gypsies and Travellers, particularly
when a fee may be required to do so and a fine enforced if this duty is not
Immigration and illegal working
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary,
says he believes ID cards are essential to tackle the problems of immigration
and illegal working. The Home Office
Select Committee which scrutinised the government's draft ID cards
bill, largely agreed. They said that ID cards could make it easier for those
seeking work to demonstrate their right to do so, and would make it easier
for the police to show that a company employing illegal labour had done so
However, critics, such as the Law Society, believe the introduction of identity
cards would not significantly reduce those who work or employ illegally, or
reduce illegal immigrants. They point to the fact that industries with high
levels of illegal labour are already required to check identity documents.
Therefore, as long as lax government enforcement and relaxed employers continue,
illegal working will go on. The presence of ID cards, they argue, won't prevent
people 'disappearing' into the system.
Identity fraud and theft
The Police argue that ID cards would make their job a lot easier and would
protect the law-abiding citizen against fraud, theft and the many other crimes
committed by people pretending to be someone they are not.
The CBI also believes that the creation of a single source of identity data
would be the best protection against fraud. Identity fraud is estimated to
cost the UK economy £1.3 billion per annum. It is a problem which impacts
on many other areas. For example, secure verification of identity could help
in tackling benefit fraud and fraudulent applications for student loans or
However, the Home Affairs select
committee, which scrutinized the government's draft bill, believes there
is a danger that in many day-to-day situations the presentation alone of an
identity card will be assumed to prove the identity of the holder without
the card itself or the biometrics being checked. Therefore the possession
of a stolen or forged identity card could actually make identity fraud easier
than is currently the case.
Critics are also concerned about the government's plans to make carrying
false ID a criminal offence. They argue that women fleeing domestic violence
or others fleeing persecution, who might use a new identity to prevent their
attackers from tracking them down, might find themselves facing up to 10 years
in prison for their 'crime'.
Another argument in favour of ID cards, and of making them compulsory for
all over the age of 16, is that it would help solve the problems associated
with age-related purchases. The card would provide a single universal document,
replacing the existing array of documents currently used to prove age.
Crime and terrorism
The Home Office argues that ID cards will help tackle the type of serious
and organised crime which depends on being able to use false identities: in
particular, terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering. They argue that
many people involved in serious organised crime and terrorism use fraudulent
or multiple identities and that to register one secure identity for all residents
would disrupt much of their activity.
Critics though point to the evidence from other European countries that have
an ID cards scheme. For example, ID cards in Spain did not prevent the Madrid
railway bombings, and fraud and illegal working are problems across Europe,
including in countries with an ID cards scheme.
Furthermore, the current proposals mean that anyone in the UK for less than
3 months will not have to have an ID card, so potential terrorists could use
short stay documents instead.
Access to public services
The government argues that ID cards will help people live their everyday
lives more easily, giving them a 'watertight' proof of identity
for use in daily transactions and travel. The Citizens Advice Bureau agrees
that a universal mechanism of identification would be a welcome step forward
in improving access to services.
The government also believes that ID cards could stamp out 'health
tourism'. It argues that currently there is no way of establishing whether
someone arriving at a hospital is eligible for care. The government argues
that a sophisticated ID card system would enable authorities to check on a
The British Medical Association (BMA) believes that doctors may benefit from
an ID cards scheme as it could provide a straightforward, un-bureaucratic
and easier method of assessing eligibility for NHS care. ID cards could therefore
relieve pressure on health care staff the BMA argues.
The Financial Services Authority also supports the scheme claiming that ID
cards would help the disadvantaged, who find it hard to prove identity and
address, do basic things like set up bank accounts.
Critics though, have pointed to the dangers of creating a 'two-tier' society
where anyone without an ID card will be left without access to healthcare.
The BMA is worried
that a negative affect of ID cards could be the marginalisation and exclusion
of vulnerable groups such as the elderly or those with serious mental illness.
Such socially excluded groups are, they argue, among the least likely to access
public services effectively, and the need to register for and hold an ID card
in order to access vital services could operate as an additional disincentive.
Opponents believe that an ID card scheme would fundamentally alter the balance
of power between the state and citizen. They argue that information on individuals
carried on the National Identity Register that would accompany the ID card
scheme would grow over time.
The NO2ID campaign is concerned about the security of such data and whether
it would be shared appropriately or deployed responsibly; there are fears
about hackers being able to break into the system. They and others are also
skeptical about the private companies who would run the scheme and those who
will be responsible for entering our personal data.
There are also fears that the scheme currently being proposed under the ID
cards Bill would allow later additions and changes through secondary
legislation. This requires less parliamentary and public scrutiny than
critics argue that the Bill as it stands leaves the opportunity for fundamental
changes to be made in the future.
For example it could become compulsory to carry an ID card, something that
many supporters are already calling for. The government could later decide
it wanted to hold information on an individual's voting record or religious
beliefs, information that many would consider a threat to civil liberties
and privacy. It could also in future become compulsory to have an identity
card for voting and for access to housing, council tax benefit or social services.
The Law Society believes that the draft Bill provides the Government with
unnecessary and undesirably wide powers to record, retain, and disseminate
personal data. Under the current proposals a range of authorities including
Police, Inland Revenue, Customs & Excise, Security Services, Immigration
Service and Dept for Work Pensions will have the right to access data. The
Law Society has even suggested that the current proposals could breach the
European Convention on Human Rights.
However, the government argues that civil liberties and rights will be strengthened
rather than threatened by an ID card. They argue that people's identity
will be protected from theft, that they will be guaranteed access to the services
to which they are entitled and that communities will be better protected from
terrorists, organised criminals and those who seek to abuse the immigration
rules and public services.
They also claim that there will be strict privacy safeguards, limiting the
disclosure and use of information.
Supporters further suggest that people being able to demonstrate their right
to be in the UK should help to promote community cohesion by reducing suspicion.