A correspondent reminds me I haven’t posted on the latest proposal for an ID card. The only difference to previous occasions is that the proposal is being pushed by Philip Ruddock (reversing his previuos stand). Unlike the usual case with proposals of this kind, we don’t have to ask the question “what would happen if this power fell into the wrong hands” – the power would go straight to the wrong hands.
As far as physical cards are concerned, there are two possibilities. One is that the card would be required only on the kinds of occasions, photo ID is required at present (boarding a plane, for example) in which case there are no great costs in terms of civil liberties, but also no great benefits. The other is that police would be able to demand production of the card at will, which would reduce us to the level of the quasi-dictatorial regimes where people went in fear of losing their “papers”.
It’s also worth noting that non-residents are presumably the group of greatest concern wrt terrorism and they could scarcely be issued with cards, so they would continue to use passports as ID – it does not appear to be hard to get a fake passport from many countries.
The real issue in most debates of this kind is not so much the cards themselves as the associated system of data matching. Most of the time, the assumption of proponents is that the card should be tied to a comprehensive database, accessible by all sorts of government officials. An inevitable consequence is that corrupt officials will, on occasion, make the data available to private parties. Some data-matching is inevitable and desirable, but this should be against a general presumption that information supplied to a government agency or department is confidential to that department, unless a specific case for sharing classes of information can be made.