DAVID GROSSMAN: Faces in a crowd - Britons have
historically guarded their right to anonymity - not for us that strange
continental inconvenience the identity card. But now the government is
looking at introducing a type of ID card - they call it an entitlement
card. Designed to show who's allowed to work, receive state benefits and
NHS treatment. If it happens, they promise we won't have to carry one
all the time and we won't be stopped on the street and asked to produce
If we do end up with
an ID card or entitlement card - what's the big deal. After all many of
the people hurrying around this station are probably carrying whole decks
of plastic cards in their wallets and purses - what's one more to add to
the collection. Well critics of ID cards say they're different, they'll
erode fundamental liberties and increase the power of the state over people's
lives, whilst not actually achieving what supporters of ID cards say they
can - a reduction in crime, illegal working and benefit fraud.
MARK LITTLEWOOD: Identity cards are a solution
looking for a problem. The government has changed its mind continually
about whether this is a way of combating terrorism, combating benefit fraud,
or combating illegal immigration. It's none of those things. It's simply
a very serious threat to British liberty and our concepts of privacy here
in the United Kingdom.
GROSSMAN: Britain had ID cards
for thirteen years during and after the war. But got rid of them in 1952.
GROSSMAN: Now many MPs want to
bring them back, to deal with what they say is another national emergency.
One of the reasons the government says an ID card or entitlement card
could be invaluable is in reducing fraud in the benefits system. At present
the Government estimates that fraud and overpayment in Jobseekers Allowance
and Income Support costs the taxpayer over 1.3 billion pounds a year.
But for what could be the biggest area of fraud - Housing Benefit - the
government has no idea. Nor does the Health Service know how many people
are using NHS treatment to which they're not entitled.
FRANK FIELD MP: How do we know that all
those who are wheeling up for treatment are actually residents of this
country. How many are actually registering the medical needs of families
elsewhere in the world and then actually having the advantages of then
accessing the NHS. And a entitlement card would put a stop to all of that,
so of course it's right to look in the benefit area and of course it's
right as well to look at the fraud that is committed by individuals against
GROSSMAN: But would having an entitlement
card and knowing who everyone is, actually save the taxpayer huge amounts
of money? The government's privacy watchdog - the Information Commissioner
ELIZABETH FRANCE: One of the whole areas of fraud
that would not be addressed, is where I give accurate information as to
my identity, but make up the information in relation to my circumstances.
Whether I'm working or not, whether I've got investment income or not,
those sorts of pieces of information are not going to be dealt with by
the issue of an identity or entitlement card.
LITTLEWOOD: There are a whole plethora
of different identity card and entitlement card schemes in place across
the European Union. Britain's fairly unusual in not having a scheme in
place and the level of fraud that exists there is pretty much the same
as it is here and in some cases in fact, higher than it is here. So the
actual evidence before our eyes, of countries, similar to ours, similar
benefit schemes to ours, with an identity card in place, is that it doesn't
GROSSMAN: Early morning in North
London and groups of men wait in the hope of picking up cash in hand work.
These people are illegal migrants, lured here many believe by the lax labour
laws they're now trying to exploit. The introduction of an entitlement
card showing who can work legally would, say its supporters, help stem
the flow of economic migrants.
CLIVE SOLEY MP: If for example someone
was here unlawfully and let's say they'd come in on the.. hung on to the
underside of a train or whatever, let's say they got themselves established
in a job, again, which they could do very easily at the moment, they wouldn't....that
wouldn't be quite so easy if you had the card,
JOHN REDWOOD MP: When it comes to illegal working,
we have a National Insurance system. Everyone who works in this country
is meant to have a National Insurance number, we know that some people
don't, they break the rules on National Insurance, both employers and employees,
those same people would doubtless break the rules if they had to show an
identity card, how would it solve the problem, because the problem is one
of enforcement, not of a system.
GROSSMAN: The government says that
if we do have an entitlement card it won't be compulsory, but supporters
believe that it will become so useful as to be indispensable.
FIELD: It would be an opting in
system, rather than a compulsory system, but the vast majority of people
will opt in and will want to opt in very, very quickly, and those who somehow
think there's a huge issue of principle here, will have to continue to
claim their entitlements under the existing system, and that anybody who
knows, under the existing system, how long it takes, will I think cure
people of that enthusiasm in a very short space of time.
REDWOOD: Well I think there is
a danger that once they'd established a toe hold with identity cards for
certain purposes they'd want to go on to make them all singing, all dancing
and the presumption might grow up that if you weren't prepared to carry
them or use them on a regular basis, there was something wrong with you.
Well, I resent that implication.
GROSSMAN: But how do you stop any
new card being forged or used by someone else. The answer comes straight
out of science fiction - the electronic scanning of our physical characteristics.
This kind of device is not only now a reality but in daily use in hundreds
of companies. This card holds an electronic record of my fingerprint and
many believe it's this kind of technology, in the jargon biometrics, that
holds the key to making sure that any new national identity or entitlement
card is secure. That the people who carry them, are who they say they are.
Britain already has biometric
cards. Some asylum applicants are now fingerprinted, the information stored
on a card. Many supporters of entitlement cards believe this technology
should now be extended to everyone in the country.
FIELD: As babies are born there
should be a biometric test to establish their unique identity and that
should be the beginnings of their personal number, which at the moment,
first of all becomes a Child Benefit number and is then converted into
a National Insurance number.
GROSSMAN: Biometric technology
doesn't stop at fingerprints. This machine scans the eye, but even some
supporters of ID cards don't like the idea of going down too far down this
SOLEY: You can make cards almost
guaranteed unforgeable, for example if you use the eye retina, DNA or
finger prints whatever. But at that level, you've becoming incredibly intrusive
and I think you would lose a lot of public support, and I would certainly
be a bit worried about that, I think, if you, to access your rights for
example, you had to give a DNA test, that would be pretty scary.
GROSSMAN: The government department
looking into identity cards if the Home Office. The Home Secretary, David
Blunkett, says they're going to publish a consultation document before
Parliament breaks up for the summer recess. But, if they do go ahead with
the idea, the effects could be felt right across government.
Once a smart entitlement
card is introduced there's potentially a huge amount of information that
could be stored on it: tax, benefits, criminal driving and health records
all on one little card. But hang on, there are some very strict rules about
government departments sharing around our personal records, the Data Protection
Act for a start. The woman appointed to police that act, the Information
Commissioner, says the safest way of guaranteeing our privacy is to make
sure that only the bare minimum of information is actually stored on any
entitlement or identity card and certainly not to have a single common
FRANCE: My preference would be
for a card that actually holds very little information, except the information
necessary to say that I am who I say I am. Then the information within
each separate organisation is unlocked by that information, but the information
itself wouldn't necessarily be held in the card.
GROSSMAN: We still don't know exactly
what type of card the government's thinking about - but it's important
when plans are published they contain a clear vision of exactly what a
card will do and how it will do it.
FRANCE: When we take on, if we
do, a card, we must each accept that we are in taking a card, giving up
some of our privacy, some of our right to anonymity, something we pride
ourselves on in a democracy. We're all prepared to do that, if in return
there's some benefit for society, that we can see is worth our making that
trade for. But then we have to have in front of us an honest statement
of what will actually be achieved, rather than a lot of broad statements
about preventing crime, preventing terrorism, preventing truancy which
may or may not be addressed depending on the nature of the card the information
to be held - who will have access to it.
FIELD: Although it's right to emphasise
these ancient liberties which we have, I don't think you ought to over-do
it, that the vast majority of people who would sign up to those statements,
will also quite happily sign up to a card which establishes their identity.
That most of them will carry it with them, most of the time and practically
all of them would expect that you would be made to use them when you're
establishing your identity, to take money away from taxpayers.
GROSSMAN: Would Britain be a different
place with an identity or entitlement card? Well that really depends on
what's proposed and who would really benefit - the citizen or the government?