Memorandum by Martin Twomey, Hackney and
Shoreditch NO2ID Group
When a recent conversation turned to the creeping
surveillance society and identity cards the person I was speaking
to told me about his elderly parents' recollections of WWII identity
cards. They spoke of the British public a few years after the
war ended becoming fed up with growing intrusion and harassment,
with every jobs-worth official from post office clerks to railway
porters, bus inspectors to bobbies on the beat constantly demanding
people's identity cards. They told of people gathering in the
streets to burn their cards in defiance of what had come to symbolise
an overbearing and ever more intrusive state.
And well they might! Wartime identity cards,
when introduced in 1939, had just three administrative functions:
national service, national security and food rationing. Within
11 years this had risen to 39, and showing your identity card
for the most trivial of purposes had become routine.
This began to unravel on 26 June 1951, due to
the defiance of one man: Clarence Willcock. Mr Willcock refused
to produce his ID card when stopped by a police officer. Lord
Goddard, Lord Chief Justice, summing up in the resulting appeal
court case said; "To use Acts of Parliament, passed for particular
purposes during war, in times when the war is pasttends
to turn law-abiding subjects into lawbreakers, which is a most
undesirable state of affairs". As a result, in 1952, as Winston
Churchill abolished the last compulsory ID scheme in Britain.
Throughout the ID Card debate we have been repeatedly
told the cards, and the vast database behind them, the National
Identity Register, will help fight crime, identity theft, illegal
immigration, benefit fraud, and terrorism. The detail of these
claims has been analysed and discussed at length and is beyond
the scope of this submission. But experts and officials in many
fields have argued soundly that they are exaggerated, misleading
or plain wrong. But the spinning of those lies persists, as though
on the Goebbels principal that if you tell a lie big enough and
keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.
The success of these lies however would seem
to be central to the aims of those pushing for the National Identity
Register and a wider surveillance culture. A 2004 YouGov survey
for Privacy International indicated: "millions of people
would take to the streets or break the law to fight the UK Government's
proposed national ID card" and "more than a million
people would go to prison rather than register for a card".1
The tactic to disarm such popular opposition
has been to generate a climate of fear about the issues mentioned
above, and then proffer greater surveillance and ID cards as the
Against this background of fear a sizeable part
of the population seems to have lost or abandoned its capacity
for critical thought. Last November the Information Commissioner
Richard Thomas stated: "Two years ago I warned that we were
in danger of sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Today I
fear that we are in fact waking up to a surveillance society that
is already all around us." But there is no outcry from this
ever more scrutinised societywhy? Two factors would seem
to explain this: "stealth" and "mission creep".
Essential tools for anyone wanting to subdue a population, they
are shrewd alternatives to the jack-boot enforcement of other
times and places, but crucially, they can achieve the same results.
One could be forgiven for feeling that the secret would appear
to be to progress slowly in small increments, introducing "necessary"
and benign legislation, which once passed, provides powers that
can be employed in ways which could not have been foreseen by
the public, press, or Parliament whose job it should be to filter
out such dangerous aims.2
This sounds like conspiracy theory of course.
But take the Terrorism Act (section 44), it allows the police
to detain without the need to demonstrate "reasonable suspicion".
This happened in 2003 no less then 995 times against peace protesters.
(Liberty report "Casualty of War" 2003).3 The Act was
even used to expel the now famous heckler from last year's Labour
party conference. Under The Serious Organised Crime and Police
Act, two people were convicted for "reading"reading
out the names of UK soldiers killed in Iraq at the Cenotaph. (Liberty
press release26 January 2006)4 The Protection From Harassment
Act, passed to protect women from stalkers was used to imprison
a peaceful protester. (indymedia.org; Demonstrator sent To Lewes
Prison17 June 2005)5 These are not isolated cases of abuse,
the list goes on.
If one looks back to 1934 at the hidden agenda
of surveillance built into the WWII ID cards, a far less intrusive
device, one can see the dangers that exist today. Sylvanus Percival
Vivian, Registrar-General responsible for designing the WWII ID
card, identified a strategy referred to as "parasitic vitality":
"if it cannot be given enough real peace value of its own
it must be given a borrowed and artificial peace value... its
use and production and the quoting or recording of the number
upon it must be made obligatory in regard to as many as possible
of the organised activities in close touch with the life of the
people".6 Investigation shows a similar philosophy behind
the façade of the Identity Cards Act 2006. When one looks
at this in the wider context of things like ePassports that log
data about personal travel, centralised medical records without
privacy, fingerprinting and biometrics in schools, the Children
Act "Information Sharing Index", proposals for fingerprinting
in pubs, police roadside fingerprinting, the recording of all
car journeys as a matter of course using ANPR, the proposed addition
of listening devices and facial recognition on public CCTV systems,
it is impossible not to believe that a faction of the state has
developed an unhealthy obsession with possessing all the information
it is possible to possess on all of the population.
What is clear is that the ID card project alone,
if implemented, will in time lead to a population totally dependant
upon it for most of the normal transactions of their daily social
and commercial existence. Another and even more pernicious aspect
of the scheme's "collateral damage" will be its impact
on minority groups. In 2003 criminologist Ben Bowling found that
African-Caribbeans are 27 times more likely than Whites, and Asians
18 times more likely to be stopped under the Criminal Justice
and Public Order Act.7 The current DNA database holds samples
on hundreds of thousands of innocent people, including 24,000
juveniles, who were never cautioned, charged or convicted of any
crime. 38% of all black men are represented on that database,
while just 10% of white men are.8, 2 In other European countries
with less intrusive identity systems we see shocking abuse of
minorities: In France young people North African descent complained
they were asked to produce their papers several times a week following
new laws in the mid 1990s. In Belgium, a citizen who produced
her ID card was disbelieved by police, who decided she must be
an "illegal" carrying a fake document because she was
of African origin. She was detained for three days and almost
deported to a country she had never seen.9
But this Government deny legislation supporting
a surveillance culture will be abused yet we witness a string
of abuse of existing laws. They deny our civil liberties are being
eroded while limiting our freedom to assemble and speak. In the
same vein, they deny that identity cards will be detrimental to
society, yet it is plain to all who examine the detail, that this
Act of Parliament will alter forever the balance of power between
the rulers and those ruled. It is ironic that such a seismic shift
in this delicate balance, and in this direction, has not been
seen in Western Europe since the 1930s.
But what has a Government of any colour to gain
from such surveillance? The creeping surveillance and ID card
project, once embedded in our culture, will by its insidious nature,
create a widespread subconscious fear of "making trouble"
of any kind. Those who are marginalized and most need a voice
will be least able to speak out for fear of the ever-present threats,
which such a system of total centralised surveillance and control
It must therefore be hoped that the current
review will recognise the disastrous direction taken by recent
legislation and thinking, and that a more enlightened group of
people will take the state back from the brink of this Orwellian
abyss, people who value fundamental freedoms, who understand and
will defend the subtleties of the relationship between state and
individual. In the words of Edmund Burke: "The price of liberty
is eternal vigilance."
A public opinion survey commissioned by watchdog group Privacy
2 Henry PorterBlair's Big Brother LegacyJune
30, 2006. http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/archives/2006/06/blairs_big_brot_1.html
3 Liberty report Casualty of War2003.
4 Liberty press release26 January 2006.
5 indymedia.orgAnti-EDO demonstrator sent
To Lewes Prison. 17 June 2005. http://lists.indymedia.org/pipermail/imc-uk-features/2005-June/0616-qz.html
6 Jon Agar, Department of History and Philosophy
of Science, University of Cambridge.Identity cards in Britain:
past experience and policy implications. November 2005. http://www.historyandpolicy.org/archive/policy-paper-33.html
7, 8 Arun Kundnani"Anti-terrorism"
policing leads to arbitrary use of stop and searchIndependent
Race And Refugee News Network20 January 2004.
8, 9 Henry PorterWe don't live in a police
state yet, but we're heading thereThe Observer22
9, 10 Arun KundnaniID cards: implications
for Black, Minority Ethnic, migrant and refugee communitiesThe
Institute of Race Relations 26 May 2005.