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(en) Britain, Organise* #64 - National id on the cards +

Date Mon, 04 Jul 2005 07:18:59 +0300

The threat of introduction of a National Identity Card
Scheme is still an ongoing UK government hot potato
and almost an obsession for New Labour. But why?
"Anarchism ... stands for direct action, the
open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws
and restrictions, economic, social and
moral." - Emma Goldman.
This article tries to wade through the mud of
post-Sept 11th paranoia and to counter the
fear-mongering coming not only through the
electioneering twaddle of the political
parties but even from anti-ID card
campaigns like Liberty's. What we find is an
ongoing and consistent commitment to
enforced citizenship, which appears to be
the real meaning behind the rhetoric.
In the private sector, especially in retail,
market research technology has provided
the means to help companies `understand
their customers better' thanks to huge
databases created from transactions using
debit and credit cards and from store loyalty
cards, enabling them to target their
marketing campaigns and in-store product
lines. Soon we'll have widespread use of
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags
that will help them track goods and clothes
we are wearing inside and outside of the
store with much more sophistication than is
currently possible with bar-codes, and even
photograph us when we pick up products.
For consumer goods then, Big Brother is
surely here already (see separate article on
RFID in this issue).
On the other hand, the public sector has
struggled to keep up in `understanding its
citizens'. To push this forwards the Labour
party has actively pursued the idea of e-
Government and has attempted to create
and computerise a number of systems such
as the Inland Revenue and Criminal Records
Bureau at great cost with varying degrees of
success - the Passport Service and Child
Support Agency systems being notable
disasters in recent memory. But in spite of
the setbacks and huge expense, Labour
seems to have the will to see through a
multi-billion pound National ID Card Scheme
as a semi-public/semi-private initiative via
the Whitehall and Industry Group (WIG) who
have held events to attract a host of
telecoms, security and other hi-tech
companies, along with credit-checking
agencies and information management
consultants (see www.corporatewatch.org).
This is all happening while the supposed
reasons for needing ID cards are being
promoted by the government, and
campaigns are up and running to oppose
them. The picture is quite confusing with a
host of arguments coming from both sides
of the `debate', and even within the same
political parties. Lest we forget, Tories
Michael Howard and Peter Lilley failed to
introduce ID cards during the Major
government. Now as opposition leader
Howard is still in favour but Lilley has taken
a more right-wing libertarian position. For
anarchists, being against loss of personal
freedoms could be seen as a given but, as
we will see, some of the tactics of anti-ID
card campaigning leave a lot to be desired,
so it is perhaps worth a closer look.
Reading through the `Fiction and Fact' mini-
booklet response to ID cards from the civil
liberties group Liberty you can just imagine
their discussions with a social research
consultant. What do the stupid Daily Mail
reading public care about? Oh yes:
Terrorism, Crime, Illegal Immigration,
Benefit Cheats, security of their personal
information, and having to pay for the Card,
so let's organise our anti-ID campaign
around the issues and tell them it won't
work . Tell them how terrorists, bank robbers
rapists and muggers won't be deterred,
street crime is just as bad in countries that
have cards, people smugglers will just forge
them, 90% of benefit frauds involve the
cheat's own identity. Some of these may be
quite true, but talk about playing to people's
fears and forgetting about any kind of social
solidarity! When Blunkett or Clarke go on
about organised crime, terrorists and failed
asylum seekers, they are not interested in
helping people understand their real
agenda, but rather to market their plans
using media-friendly sound-bites. By
concentrating on this divisive catalogue of
political issues (that drop so easily out of the
focus-group kinds of methods which are
popular for gauging support or otherwise for
schemes that affect voting populations),
Liberty's campaign misses the point about
Labour's long term agenda which is all
about social control.
So how can we really understand Labour's
love of ID cards and work out how to oppose
them effectively and not at the expense of
unwarranted fearmongering?
As pointed out by the altogether more
sensible Defy-ID campaign (see www.defy-
id.org.uk), Labour's ID card bill could rightly
be called the `National Identity Register Bill'
since it is more about establishing a
national ID database than issuing cards. The
database, as currently intended, will contain
not just your current name and address and
`biometric' fingerprint or iris scan, but will
track and record any address (or name)
changes and include your photo, National
Insurance number, driving licence number,
passport number, immigration number, and
the number of `any designated document
not covered by the above'. The database
would be open not only to the Immigration
service and Police but to public and private
sector organisations. These could be the tax
office, employers, banks and credit
organisations (including student loans),
utility companies, libraries, dentists etc.
Such a database could be set up quietly
without further input from individuals and
without even issuing cards. Blunkett had
also spoken of linking the ID database to
the forthcoming NHS one for electronic
patient records. Furthermore, a database for
all children under 18 (to include their school
achievements, health visits, DSS and police
records) was proposed last year for addition
to the Children's Bill following the Lord
Laming report into the death of Victoria
Climbié, which according to minister
Margaret Hodge could `also be used to
support service planning and delivery' (see
Direct Action, No.32).
According to the Regulatory Impact
Assessment published alongside the current
Bill, a `terrorist' would need an ID card to
`stay in a hotel, rent accommodation, hire
cars and generally carry out their activities'.
As Defy-ID astutely brings to our attention,
this implies we'd all need to have an ID card
to do these things! This smacks most clearly
of Labour's original idea of the entitlement
card that Blunkett tried to get through in Feb
2002 on an anti-fraud ticket well before the
terror scare really hit the UK, which gives a
much clearer picture of the real purpose of a
national database. Feasibility of entitlement
cards was heavily criticised at the time*, but
still fits well with Labour's social control
agenda since they came to power which,
with a good dose of religious work-ethic
thrown in, has seen the imposition of
workfare schemes through the New Deal
and the more recent persecution of long-
term unemployed on incapacity benefit. If
retirement age goes up any further it looks
like many more of us will be working until
we drop dead. And Labour
despises the black or grey
economy they can't get taxes
from, because everyone must be
involved in building the Gross
Domestic Product of UK, which
is their real meaning of
`citizenship'. Blunkett's
obsession with the idea of a
card, continued by Clarke,
clouds the fact that a database
system would serve a very heavy
state function with or without
the actual carrying of one.
Bringing opposition to ID cards
into the arena of social struggle
requires solidarity and we can
learn therefore, not just from
the broad-based Australian
experience of defeating an ID
card scheme in 1987** and
other examples in New Zealand
and the Philippines, but also
from the Sans Papiers
`undocumented workers'
movement in France that has
helped show the way in a
countr y that already has ID.
Let's face it, we already have a
sizeable section of the country
that is excluded - the homeless,
travellers, many poor
`pensioners' or younger people
unable to work for any reason,
as well as our exploited illegal
workers and victimised asylum
seekers. Many people are
forced, whether they want to or
not, to live in the black economy
or resort to `crime'. These are
the groups that Labour don't
want to exist, since it costs them
money or denies them taxes, but
they are an inevitable part of a
capitalist society that values
only work and profit.
Anarchists, who are not stuck in
the mire of moralising about a
loss of GDP that could in any
case be recouped in days by
stopping war on Iraq and other
military spending, have always
worked on and applauded
tactics to elude national
schemes, like encouraging the
thousands of people who
disappeared from the poll tax
registers at the end of the
1980's. By not caring about the
promises of liberal (or `illiberal')
democracy we have a headstart
in keeping off the electoral role
but more importantly we have
been at the forefront of benefits
claimants' action groups against
Job Seekers' Allowance (see
www.geocities.com/ncajsa) and
other community-based
campaigns. At the hard end of
campaigning like-minded
activists have rescued asylum
prisoners and seen off bailiffs.
This is the kind of community
model being used by the Defy-ID
campaign, and one that should
be supported. The solidarity
gained in this level of grassroots
activity can help build a
sustainable fightback that
appealing to individual self-
interest on single issues will
never achieve.
* FIPR response to the UK
Entitlement Card consultation
- foundation for information
policy research: www.fipr.org/
** On Campaigns of Opposition
to ID Card Schemes, 01/01/
1995, Simon Davies:

Fact file

The Identity Cards Bill was
passed by MPs at its third reading
in February by 224 votes to 64
and is now headed for the House
of Lords. Labour looks determined
to get compulsory cards in place
by 2008, starting by biometrically
updating passports and driving
licenses and introducing a
voluntary card. Even if they don't
go all the way in that timescale,
the Children's Bill amendment
could easily turn into ID cards for
everyone as that generation aged -
one estimate is 50% of the
population within 20 years. Plus,
mandatory fingerprinting as well
as facial scanning for all passport
and travel documents is looking
more likely within the EU. The
time to fight is now, and even if
the Bill goes through it's not over.
The Poll Tax came in and was still
defeated here, and ID cards were
defeated in Australia and
To get involved with Defy-ID,
there are many local groups who
would love to hear from you
(contact details on www.defy-
id.org.uk or write to us and we'll
put you in touch): Armagh &
Down; Bolton; Bradford;
Brighton; Bristol; Cambridge;
Cheshire; Glasgow; Guilford;
Herts (South East); Leeds;
Leicester; Lincoln; Liverpool;
London (Barnet/Brent); London
(Hackney); London (Haringey);
Manchester; Norwich;
Nottingham; Preston; Sheffield;
Stoke on Trent; Worthing.

From the Defy-ID website:

"Defy-ID is not a national
membership organisation, it is a
network of groups from around
the UK. Local groups form the
basis for resistance to every stage
of the introduction of ID cards and
could involve all kinds of
campaigning methods. The best
way to get involved is to contact
your nearest group. If there is not
one in your area perhaps you
should think of forming one.
However, the idea is not
necessarily that groups would be
formed specifically to protest
against the identity card scheme,
but also that existing groups could
join the Defy-ID network. Such a
group might, for example, be a
community group, anti-fascist,
environmental, animal rights,
tenants association or asylum
seekers support group."
spychips - already at a supermarket near you

Radio-frequency identification
tagging, or RFID, is a technology
that started off in stock control,
motor way tollgates, fancy key-
fobs and pet `collars'. Now it's
on individual items in
supermarkets for anti-theft and
tracking shopping behaviours.
Each tag includes an aerial and
an electronic chip that sends out
a code when it is excited by a
transmitter in the shop. Both
ASDA/Walmart and Tesco tried
them out a while back on
"smart shelves" displaying
highly nickable Gillette razor
blade packs, taking your photo
when pick one up. Marks &
Spencer is now tagging 3.5
million food trays, and Tesco is
selling tagged DVDs in some
stores and is massively
expanding its RFID use. Tagged
clothes, another big product
area for RFID, could potentially
be tracked outside the shop
although the cheaply made tags
in common use are fairly large
and not very durable. The real
danger will come when these
become small enough to remain
as part of the clothing after sale.
A proposed European Union
"Intellectual Property
Enforcement Directive" would
actually forbid removal of
embedded tags. Permanent
tagging is being encouraged by
the EU for limiting global
movement of products, similar
to regionning of DVDs, although
this has been criticised by free-
There may still be time to act.
Gillette and the supermarkets
suffered from bad press when
they tried out RFID in razor
packs, forcing a temporary
withdrawal in some stores, and
many privacy organisations are
fighting RFID expansion. Various
groups are supporting a
worldwide boycott of Tesco to
test the water in the latest fight
against "spychips". Minimum
action is shopping less at
Tescos. Other retailers, with an
eye on their profits, are waiting
to see what happens so it's
wor th having a go, even if
boycotting of one supermarket
has its limits when they are all
at it to some extent!
Not surprisingly, the state is
interested in the level of control
of fered by RFID. The U.S.
Department of Homeland
Security is testing "Visitor and
Immigrant Status Indicator
Technology" (US-VISIT) for
tracking when and where people
cross borders. RFID tagging is
being installed in Ohio State's
prison system to track its
44,000 inmates, and some
schools are already trying RFID-
badges on students.
Other examples of RFID creep
are embedded credit cards and
mobile phones - these can of
course be linked directly to your
personal identity and location.
There have also been a few
(over-hyped) reports of under-
the-skin tagging, such as staff in
the Mexican Attorney General's
office and punters at a Spanish
nightclub. If you are worried
about ID-cards and other forms
of control, it's vital to keep a
close eye on RFID
More info on the web, in
addition to numerous IndyMedia
repor ts:

Organise is the magazine of the Anarchist Federation.
It is published twice times a year to promote discussion
and the development of anarchist communist theory.
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