Monday, September 05, 2005

The EU, the Blair government and ID cards

Heads up, people - ID cards propaganda phase two is under way, and it's starting in the gloomy recesses of the EU where no newspaper ever dares send its reporters.

Today the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) will be addressed by two British representatives, Simon Watkin (Chair of the Co-operation in Criminal Matters Working Group - which effectively doesn't exist according to Google - and former Private Secretary to David Blunkett during his time as Home Secretary, where he helped found the Home Office's Hi-Tech Crime Team and worked as head of the Covert Investigations Policy Team) and David Johnson (from the Metropolitan Police's Special Operations department).

Today's meeting will be followed on Wednesday morning by a debate with Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini in the European Parliament on "ways to combat terrorism more effectively without undermining civil liberties".

The aim of both Clarke's Wednesday debate and today's meeting? To convince the EU to legislate to enable law enforcement agencies to access and store pretty much any information they want from "public communications networks" - i.e. phone calls, emails, ISP records, the works - "for the purpose of combatting crime, including terrorism". Basically, phone tapping (and its various internet cousins) would become fine and admissable in court. But lurking behind this is the spectre of ID.

The emphasis in that quote above is mine - it comes from this.pdf of today's Committee agenda, and seems to mark a subtle shift in the government's rhetoric and tactics for all of their planned electronic surveillance of their own population. Remember that whole business with Tony McNulty admitting that the government had "over-sold" ID cards (at a Fabian Society meeting sponsored by, erm, a company specialising in IT and biometrics, according to Private Eye)? That was the first clue that the approach was changing.

In the wake of Charles Clarke's admission that ID cards wouldn't have prevented the London bombings - not to mention the fact that the terrorists all seem deliberately to have carried or left existing forms of ID and that the majority were "clean skins" never flagged as potential threats - any claims that ID cards would help prevent terrorist attacks seem like even more nonsense than they did before. So now it will be crime in general which is the professed target, with the few counter-terrorism benefits they can come up with tagged on the end.

But simply shifting the emphasis to win over the gullible public won't be enough. Opposition to ID has been growing amongst MPs, and with his reduced majority Blair can't be certain of getting an ID card bill through unamended any more. Then there's the added - and more serious as far as Blair's concerned - problem of the Chancellor. Gordon is worried about cost, and the Treasury could end up vetoing any further "progress" towards the database state.

British delegate to today's meeting Simon Watkin has long been aware of the difficulties of getting legal permission for "data retention" as this report of an October 2003 conference demonstrates - he mentions the restrictive "need for primary legislation" twice in the space of a couple of paragraphs. It's just too tricky to get the concept of this kind of ID card through a British parliament - the more they learn about it, the less they're going to like it. It's just not very British, let's face it, and gives the state far more potential power over the individual than it has posessed in centuries. That's enough to make a lot of backbenchers very squeamish indeed.

So, your own Treasury is reluctant and your own parliament can't be trusted to vote the way you want them to? Simple - pop over the Channel and try and get your plans imposed on the country from Brussels (or, in this case, Strasbourg). ID cards - even if not quite such hardcore ones as Blair's lot want to impose - have existed in several EU states for years. Most can't see the problem, and would likely not need to change much should some new EU legislation over ID come into force - in Germany, Italy and France, not to mention several other countries, ID cards are simply a fact of life. So French, German, Italian and God knows how many other MEPs would - the Blair government hopes - simply not understand the fuss, and vote through new legislation, to become binding on Britain, without even thinking about it.

Game, set and match Blair - ID cards get introduced without a vote in parliament, Gordon can't complain about the cost without getting into trouble with Brussels, and any public complaints about the new bits of intrusive plastic can be fobbed off with the old "it's the EU's fault - it's out of our hands" excuses which get trotted out pretty much any time European governments think they can get away with it.

Not good, folks. If you can track down reports of these meetings, or hear of any more, I reckon they'd be grateful of a tad more publicity - after all, the whole point of this scheme is to have more information, surely?

5 Comments:

Anonymous hmmm said...

I understand having limits on police powers (they should not be allowed to arrest anyone without just cause) But ID cards are mostly a convenience thing : to travel around the world, you need a passport. If you stay in Europe, you only need a little bit of plastic, very convenient.

Because, lets face it, if the police arrests me for any reason, they are going to ask me who I am. And make sure I am who I pretend to be. ID cards are again, just a convenience.

This whole debate obscures the more important one, which is of course the actual extent of police powers...

9/05/2005 01:32:00 pm  
Anonymous Colman said...

What is their obsession with ID cards? Why do they have to have them?

9/05/2005 04:15:00 pm  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

I understand having limits on police powers (they should not be allowed to arrest anyone without just cause) But ID cards are mostly a convenience thing : to travel around the world, you need a passport. If you stay in Europe, you only need a little bit of plastic, very convenient.

No, no no! It's not just the damn cards, it's the database behind it. Quite apart from the fact that the government is supposed to work for me, and who are they to tell me who the hell I am, it is that the database - by incorporating "foreign keys" - can, and will, hold your entire life (including your medical records, etc.) and can be scrutinised by any government employee with clearance, i.e. all of them. And this leaves aside the issues of whether it will work, terrorists (e.g. those who beat the head of Huntingdon Life Sciences with baseball bats) knowing where to find their targets (any system is hackable), and a multitude of others. No, damn it, no.

What is their obsession with ID cards? Why do they have to have them?

If knowledge is power, and you know almost everything about everyone in the country, how much power does that equate to? And power corrupts, etc.

Nosemonkey: you're special adviser on my Cabinet; care to contribute?

9/05/2005 05:36:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blair's id card brings the UK into line with plans for a standardised EU id card. Most other member states already have them, so there it's just a question of technical changes such as card and database design.

The UK will have to introduce id cards, something quite new in peacetime, and Blair is not going to risk the wrath of a eurosceptic public by telling them that they must carry and pay for the cards because the EU says so. Instead he resorts to his usual deceit and plays the terrorist card (excuse the pun).

If one believes in a single country called Europe with common citizenship then a common id card makes sense since almost all our fellow Europeans have had them for decades. If you're a club member then the majority makes the rules and you abide by them.

11/09/2005 06:23:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, i come from country, that has ID card more than 4 decades. It is a various format plastic wrapped paper with several protection signs, serving to every official proof of your identity.

To come to the point, it is dangerous to have it lost as the card represents before state half of your identity . Not having it means you do not exist. No official would recognise you except from police at their station.

The question is not if majority accepted and implemented but if it is for mutual benefit. Although advantages are visible and obvious, the negatives is not really wide-known. just have a look at US, where often serious identity theft led Mr. Bush to urge setting up Identity Theft Task Force to help the inflicted ones.

One threat is criminal misuse for self enrichment. Another more serious is organised or deliberate institutionalised confiscation of personal identity. It is to be feared,cos if so confidential info are made for public view even mainly by officials who can betray and make more harm than false close friend?

5/11/2006 08:00:00 pm  

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