Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr William Selka

  Firstly, congratulations in identifying this issue as important.

  Privacy and rights (or absence of them) of the individual have long been a differentiating factor between the UK and other countries and I believe are an essential ingredient of "Britishness".

  Personally, I don't mind the state knowing where I am, but I do object to the state having the right to know.

  The ability of the courts to apply common sense and the layers of overlapping laws and precedent gives the UK the best and fairest legal systems in the world. I am a big fan of the idea that you can do anything that isn't illegal, rather than having to have permission for everything.

  My concern about the drift of the state towards surveillance, in particular ID cards, is that it potentially changes the legal definition of an individual from something that the courts assess at the time of the charge to a set of attributes on a computer. I refer to the courts because this is where a disagreement between the individual and the state will end up. ID cards may be cheaper to administer than the current system of identification in court but there are huge opportunities for abuse. A set of attributes on a computer can be sold, modified and duplicated in a way that the individual themselves cannot be. I am not even sure whether the ID card scheme will be cheaper to administer, as the expected costs look horrific.

  If the state redefines the relationship with the individual as a relationship to this computer data, this will significantly undermine for me the attraction of being British, taking a step backwards, becoming more like other countries in the world.

  You may be able to quote existing miscarriages of justice and administrative difficulties as justification for increased state surveillance, but to give up on the principle for practical reasons would be profoundly sad and an indication that the government does not appreciate the jewel that the UK currently has, in the strange way that the relationship between state and individual has developed.

  I have never made a submission to a committee before, so I am not sure whether this is in the correct format, but please do not underestimate the importance of your work and please, please, don't let us sleepwalk into a situation where the identity thieves get more power and individuals less freedom due to the state's administrative laziness and desire to control its subjects.

  As a minimum, if the worst happens, and the government and computer industry is successful in forcing ID cards onto us, I would like to see penalties for civil servants who sell identities to be extremely severe, on a par with treason.

April 2007

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