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The dangers to civil liberties and traditional freedoms are well known and have been well rehearsed today, and they are greater when we have no confidence that what is being proposed will produce a reliable system.
The balance between the civil liberties of the individual and the benefits to the state has been discussed several times. My constituents tell me that they are worried that the Government appear more and
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more authoritarian, and that this proposal is just another facet of that authoritarianism, with the Government wishing to be present at every move that people make and in every service in which they wish to take part.
When I talk to people about large-scale Government computer projects, they laugh. They remind me of the recent chaos at the Child Support Agency because of major failures of its computer systems. I am reminded of the even more recent computer crash at the Department for Work and Pensions, with all the inconvenience and genuine hardship that that caused. The track record of those huge IT projects is disturbingly unreliable. This IT project will be bigger than anything so far, much more complex, and much more liable to error. I do not share the Government's confidence that identity cards cannot be forged, or the systems hacked into, by clever criminals with sufficient resources. What assurances can the Minister give that these systems cannot be tampered with? Unless he can give such assurances, an awful lot of money will be wasted.
When our access is impeded or denied because the computers are down, or because our information has been wrongly entered, how will we feel? When our elderly neighbour or relative cannot get their pension because their details are wrong, how will that affect any enthusiasm that we might have for the idea? How long will it be before our DNA profile is added to the register?
I want the billions proposed for this project to be put into the police, immigration and other security services: for example, more intelligence officers for MI5 and the new Serious Organised Crime Agency. Vast sums are being diverted from forces that desperately need more resources. Only recently, chief police officers complained that they face a £350 million shortfall for fighting crime next year. A sum of £3 billion could pay for 10,000 extra police officers for the next six years.
By this proposal, the Government show clearly that they have the money to spend. Let them spend it on effective means to keep us safe and to prevent fraud. The Conservatives often say that they want to do away with big government. Big government does not get much bigger than this.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I am pleased that we are at last debating this issue, because it seems that we are being asked to accept some kind of illusion of security. We are told that there are problems in society of high levels of crime, illegal immigration, illegal working, benefit fraud and terrorism, all of which may or may not be true. Nobody from the Home Office or anywhere else, however, has managed to explain how any of those problems will be solved by the introduction of compulsory identity cards, voluntary identity cards, or voluntary identity cards that later become compulsory. Let us start to examine the arguments and how the scheme would operate, and let us think it through.
If one wants to come into this country to create terrorist mayhem or commit major fraud, one does not come in through an airport or sea port with "Terrorist" written across one's forehead, or "Criminal" written across one's breast, and say, "I'm here to cause mayhem". What is the first thing that one does? One gets
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some form of credible identitya stack of bank cards and all those bits of information that will get access to societyone dresses the part, and one gets away it. With all the technology available, and the enormous expense of computer programmes for this system, who is to say that the fraudsters will not already be ahead of the game? As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) has pointed out, the fraudulent use of bank cards is already rife. Those who wish to commit fraud on bank cards are well ahead of the game and are well capable of doing it. Who is to say that there is not a possibility in the future either of fiddling forms of iris recognition or hacking into the computer and issuing multiple cards that people can use fraudulently?
Martin Linton: Will not my hon. Friend accept that bank card fraud is so easy precisely because of the lack of biometric identification? With biometrics, and identity anchored firmly to a biometric card, many of the avenues for bank fraud and fraud against public services would be closed.
Jeremy Corbyn: That is a fascinating argument, based on the comfort and love of technology, which solves all problems. If we were to take my hon. Friend's argument at face value, that would mean having a biometric reader in every branch of every bank in this country and, I presume, alongside every cash machine. I presume that somebody will staff the cash machine to check that the person is using the biometric reader. What kind of society are we heading towards if we cannot go anywhere without checking in with a biometric reader to confirm that we are who we say we are? What kind of society will such a scenario create?
I am proud to represent a very multicultural inner-city community. It contains people who have come from all over the world, who have either migrated to this country, migrated from other parts of the United Kingdom, or sought and received asylum here. After a great deal of work over many years, relations between the local communities and the police are pretty good. There is a good working relationship. Who is to say whether, with the development of these ID cards, we will not return to all the past horrors of stop and search, the use of earlier vagrancy legislation, and the profiling of individuals to decide whether they should be stopped and searched?
I suspect that "voluntary" cards will be introduced, and that various agencies will decide to check whether people with certain ethnic attributes have a card. We will end up with racial profiling. In relation to health care and examination, one hopes that emergency services will always deal with emergencies, but are we to assume that hospital staff will ask everyone who wants to make an appointment for a non-emergency service for their identity card, or will it just be those with a west African-sounding name, a Turkish-sounding name, a Somali-sounding name or a south Asian-sounding name? I suspect the latter. I suspect that we will end up with an unpleasant society, biometric readers in certain places, a large degree of stop and search going on as a result, and people living at the margins excluded.
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For example, we are supposed to register every time we change addressbut I know of many people who lead entirely chaotic lives, who would never in a million years get round to registering a change of address, particularly when they change address every three or four weeks, or at least every three or four months. Will they be fined £1,000 every time they do not register? What will we do when they cannot or will not pay the fine, or other penalty? What kind of criminalisation will result from that?
What about Travellers, who lead an itinerant existence? I would have thought that in a modern, democratic, tolerant society we could and should be able to accept different lifestyles. What will we do with people who refuse to, or simply cannot, register? Will we create a group living on the margins, for ever exploited as illegal workers, because their employers can get away with it and it suits society?
The House should think very carefully before passing the Bill, if for no other reason, then for the following two reasons. First, this is not about identity cards; it is about a national identity register. That is what clause 1 says. Secondly, this is enabling legislation, which is being rushed through tonight, and will have to be out of Committee by the end of January. Presumably there will also be pressure to get it out of the House of Lords so that it will appear on the statute book quickly. It will then be law, and although the public as a whole may not understand the concepts of primary and secondary legislation, the fact is that tonight is the major opportunity that MPs will have to vote on this material, except for Report and Third Reading. After that there will be only secondary legislation, which is impossible to amend and difficult to vote againstdifficult, indeed, to influence in any way.
I ask Members to think carefully about the kind of society that we are creating with the Bill, and about what kind of society we want to live in. The Bill will not solve crime, fraud or terrorism; it represents the comfort zone of the high-technology security industry, which will be easily hacked into. A much better form of security is protection of the individual and respect for that individual's liberties, independence and right to justice. That, rather than going down the road of examination, interference and control, will lead to a fairer, more just and more co-operative society.
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