UK Politics

Identity crisis

Those libertarian chaps from Samizdata have launched a new weblog entitled White Rose – a protest site about the supposed erosion of privacy and personal freedom.

The main thrust so far appears to be opposition to identity cards. This is natural territory for the libertarians as they oppose almost anything which would help the authorities be more effective in doing their job because they oppose the very idea of an effective management of society.

I know there are a lot of people on the left who also oppose ID cards and I am aware of the doubts about their effectiveness. But I really don’t buy the argument that ID cards are a serious infringement of personal liberty.

I have spent time in countries where it is compulsory to carry ID at all times. The cards fitted in my wallet and I soon got used to carrying ID. I never once felt my liberty was being infringed, even on the very rare occassions when I was asked to produce the card to a police officer – after all I am not a criminal or a terrorist so I have nothing to hide.

If we live in a democratic society, as we do, what is there to worry about? After all our personal information is already stored in many diverse public and private offices. The modern information society needs to have clear limits to how much information people are allowed to gather and maintain but I don’t see much in the idea of an ID card that isn’t already out there.

Closed circuit cameras in city centres were lampooned as being ‘Big Brother’ when they were first introduced. Now communities are crying out for more of them. Yes, in theory, like ID cards they could be abused, they contain the potential for all manner of sinister surveillance but in reality they are used to help catch criminals and reduce crime. The results seem pretty good as well.

If you are going to oppose ID cards you might as well call for the abolition of driving licences, credit cards and supermarket loyalty cards. All could be abused but in practice all are harmless and are pretty useful in making our lives easier.

To my mind the debate over ID cards is simply whether they really will be effective in helping catch criminals and terrorists and whether the cost is worth it. I’m not going to lose sleep over some imaginary big brother.