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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation Organise #66 - FIGHTING LABOUR'S IDENTITY CARD AND DATABASE PLANS

Date Wed, 12 Jul 2006 16:41:05 +0300


The Labour Party has steamed ahead with its national identity
scheme and anyone concerned about threats to our freedom from an
increasingly authoritarian state should be worried by the Identity
Cards Act, which has been passed with little change from what the
government wanted in spite of all the 'write to your MP' lobbying by
No2ID and optimistic hopes of House of Lords amendments.
The so-called electronic identity, eID, is just one part of European
and American efforts to impose national identity schemes across the
western world. Bush has already pushed this through the US Senate
as an enhanced driving license known as RealID, tacked on to a
military spending bill that was unlikely to get voted down in the
middle of a war, and is demanding biometric passports for non-visa
entry to the country. This side of the atlantic, European paranoia
about borders is helping to drive EU-wide developments of
passports, ID cards and databases.

Creeping compulsion

In Britain, Labour was determined to get compulsory cards in place
within the next few years, starting off by forcing you to have an ID
card when you apply for a passport. This will now be the case from
2010. Until then applicants will be able to 'opt out' of having an
actual card, but from 2008-9 personal information will still be placed
in the National Identity Register, which is in many ways worse than
being made to have a card. Plus, it's not only about one government
Act. State officials have taken advice from their industry partners
that they will need to tread carefully and bring this in step-by-step.
Plans are already in place to create a 'co-ordinated online role of
electors' (CORE) and to encourage payment of council tax through
an internet scheme called Government Connect. These will both
involve gathering local lists into national ones, ideal for building the
National Identity Register which is a core part of Labour's ID
scheme. Moreover, the new Children Act allows creation of separate
databases for all children, that could easily turn into ID cards for
everyone as this generation ages – one estimate is 50% of the
population could be covered within 20 years! Plus, mandatory
fingerprinting as well as facial biometrics (which will start to be
gathered later this year in UK) are looking more likely for all passport
and travel documents within the EU.

Although ID is coming through in an incremental manner, the time
to start fighting is now. The Poll Tax came in and was still defeated
here from taking notice and learning from opposition to the initial
trials in Scotland, and applying them to build a countrywide
campaign. ID schemes have already been defeated in Australia,
Canada, Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere. We would do well to look at
how these examples of opposition worked before, since an
international effort may well be needed. If it is to succeed, the
campaign now needs to move beyond complaining what is bad about
ID and prepare for concerted refusal and outright revolt.

Standing up and not being counted

Unfortunately the situation is not exactly like the Poll Tax of 15
years ago, when there was a clear benefit to individuals refusing to
pay, because the government has strongly linked the scheme to
national security as well as to the emotive threat of ‘identity
theft’. They hope they will convince many law-abiding citizens it
will be a price worth paying. The high cost to individuals may well
help convince a lot of people to fight the scheme, but to beat ID we
really need to win the argument that the state cannot provide
security or any bogus idea of respect, whether by ID cards, cameras
or ASBOs. Society has been made rotten by the growing inequalities
that are permitted by the system called capitalism that allows a small
minority of people to own most of the resources and organise our
lives.

ID is a class issue – the rich will ensure their anonymity by their
limited need for the welfare state. We must preserve ours by
downright refusal to accept ID, not because it’s too expensive
and not because it won’t work, but simply because we won’t
let the state invade every part of our lives. Out of struggle, as we
have done before, we can strengthen our own idea of community
that one day will overthrow the dominant systems of state and
capitalism.

Common arguments against ID, and their limitations

For anarchists, opposition to ID cards might feel so obvious that
it’s beyond discussion, a ‘no brainer’. But the number
of dodgy anti-ID arguments coming out have only served to confuse
matters.

ID cards will cost loads, even more than a passport, and hurt those
of us who can least afford it

The ID database and card scheme will cost many billions of pounds.
Much of this will end up lining the pockets of the private companies
who will set up and run the computers and card-reading technology,
and to pay the personnel involved in running the scheme. A figure of
£300 per person has been determined by dividing the likely cost of
the scheme by the population, and it it likely that a lot of this cost
will be passed to individuals when we are asked to register for a card
or make changes to our records - a kind of tax to pay for the fear and
insecurity created by our scaremongering rulers. But it’s
important to remember the principle that we wouldn’t want it
even if it was free. Neither should the large fines scare us into
registering. One of the strongest weapons against the Poll Tax was
the campaign of mass non-registration by the public burning of
forms or simply by ignoring council letters.



ID card and database technology won’t work

There are huge technical problems with making ID work - no
government has attempted a database scheme on the scale of the
one proposed for ID in Britain. The story of public/private
Information Technology projects has generally been one of massive
delay and many additional years of expensive tinkering which have
mostly benefitted only the companies that have the contracts. Home
Office sponsored trials by Atos Origin showed unbelievably bad
results for biometric registration and validation that would clearly
discriminate against disabled, black and older people. A Dutch trial
involving RFID passports showed that encrypted personal
information could be read and the codes cracked in a very short time.
These might seem like a good basis for opposing ID, but it's really
not our problem. Let’s not get drawn into arguing for a
‘fair’ or 'secure' system. We need to stand together and be
clear we don’t want any system, and try to use government
incompetence to our advantage. Registration booths could become
an important focus for direct action against the scheme, as could the
companies involved.

ID cards won’t solve crime or terrorism

The government has been sneaky to lump terrorism and organised
crime in with any kind of credit card and welfare benefits fraud. But
why should we care if a few of us are working the system when
corporations and rich individuals continue to benefit from massive
tax-avoidance and the government is spending millions on arms? A
lot of us depend on ‘petty’ crime to overcome poverty in our
class-divided society. Organised crime and the terror threat are
mainly diversions to scare us into believing we need the state to be
secure when it’s state-imposed social inequality, warmongering
and religious bigotry that are the problems. Many of the people who
threaten us most through fear of poverty or violence, whether they
are fraudsters, terrorists, bosses or generals, are rich people who can
buy anonymity and freedom of movement. So the bleatings of
Liberty and others in the ‘It won’t work’ brigade end up
just adding to the confusion, because the very act of going on about
crime or terrorism just propagates fear of each other. This is another
form of ‘divide and rule’, keeping us down when we should
be fostering solidarity amongst ourselves to fight oppression
together. Anarchists refuse to be drawn into worrying about a state
initiative from the state’s own perspective.

ID cards will lead us into a police state

Well maybe, since the police will have access to the database and
will have powers to demand to see ID cards, but even this sort of
misses the point. The ID scheme is much more than information to
help the police know who we are. If you’re being denied
healthcare or a driving license because you’re not on the
national register, is it not really enforcement that’s the problem,
it’s the whole system. The real issue is the government’s
original idea of entitlement and its flipside - economic
discrimination. The global capitalist economy relies on inequality so
our governments are lying every time they say they don’t want
migrants working in Britain. They want cheap goods and labour
from wherever they can get it and always have done, whether from
the spoils of colonial rule, raw materials or sweatshop products
feeding multinationals, from migration of workers with lower wage
expectations, or by the driving down of wages in general.

Running this kind of capitalist system involves managing production
and consumption for the mass of us. An electronic ID database will
help to parcel up the majority of people in our 21st century society
into economic units whose wages or welfare benefits, and the way
these are spent, are tightly controlled. Plus, many workers are
already being tagged and tracked in the workplace - a national ID
could help extend this capability to all of us. All this is going on
whilst the rich and higher-earning middle classes, especially those
benefiting from the property boom or stock market income, can
afford private healthcare and pensions along with the relative
anonymity that goes with those privileges. That leaves those of us
who depend on resources like state or low-paid occupational
pensions and the NHS to have our entire life history put under
detailed scrutiny from government bean-counters and private
companies.

ID cards also take away our ability to create our own social and
economic sphere. Labour (and some of the socialist Left who
traditionally love social planning) hate the ‘Grey Market’
they can’t track and tax, and so roll out the usual scare-stories of
organised crime and terrorism. No surprise then that we are now
seeing adverts telling us that buying cheap DVDs will buy guns for
terrorists! They want us to feel guilty about everything from
biodiesel, media piracy and cheap booze, while at the same time are
promoting free-market policies for the rest of the world and helping
companies make millions from the poverty of the majority of people
on earth.

Ways to fight ID

Like the Tories' poll tax, ID cards are Labour's own version of a 'tax
on being alive'. We can scupper ID cards as soon as they try and
force us to register, but only if we start preparing now. Once the
scheme is in place it will be harder, although certainly not
impossible, to beat it. We cannot allow the state to get away with
becoming more authoritarian than it already is.

Get involved

One way to fight the national identity scheme is to get involved with
a local anti-ID group (or set one up) and help get the message out by
producing and distributing information against ID in community &
social centres, libraries, health centres and door-to-door. There is
still a lot to do to explain the basic facts of the scheme, as well as its
likely effects, and to work out effective forms of direct action.

Get informed

ID will affect different groups in society in many different ways. We
know that applications to the Student Loans Company will be linked
to ID, probably so they can keep tabs on any address changes, and
university students may even need to have an ID card to get a loan.
Charles Clarke also wants to gather ID information on other students
and school leavers through the Connexions Card scheme for 13-19
years olds. There are likely be big changes in levels of police
harassment for minority groups, and ID records could easily be used
to control access to benefits or healthcare.

Get the inside information

Those in work can try and find out about any ID-related
developments there. Anti-ID groups will be pleased to hear from any
council workers or anyone else who can help the campaign find out
when ID data collection starts to happen locally, especially in areas
that may be chosen as a trial area for ID registration. A word of
warning: local councils, who are likely to be involved with collecting
additional personal data from the electoral role or council tax
registers, are in general very authoritarian against anyone taking
autonomous action. They also hate local people turning up in their
cosy council houses to protest, especially when they would rather
maintain the illusion that they are victims of a scheme instead of an
integral part of it. Workers in companies implementing the scheme,
like Experian, may know details about how their employer is
planning to operate their part of it.

Get your passport

Personal information from passport applications will be used to build
the National Identity Register from 2008-9 although you can 'opt
out' of having an actual card until 2010. Some data collection has
already started, taking face dimensions from passport photos. Later
on, applicants will have to attend in person to get fingerprints or eyes
scanned. So, for anyone who needs a new passport, it would be a
good idea to get one now before the new systems are up and running
properly, making sure the photo is not too clear so it is harder for the
Passport Office to extract facial data. One Post Office service for the
newer photo ID driving licence has your photo pre-checked so you
can see what you can get away with (postage is also included which
can work out cheaper than paying for this separately) - this may also
be the case for passports. There must be lots of individual ways to
confound the ID scheme and these can be shared in anti-ID groups,
and even better, by telling friends and neighbours. This will help
build a mass refusal campaign, because a scheme like this won't be
prevented by small numbers of individuals helping themselves.

Get angry

Remember that local politicians of whatever colour cannot be
trusted. Under the Tories, Labour councils leaders enthusiastically
issued poll tax demands and court orders, sent in the bailiffs and
condemned local and national demonstrations as mindless riots. But
as local people, we supported each other, we defied the court and
saw off bailiffs. We were angry and we fought back. Many of us
disappeared off the registers for good. There may be a local MP
against ID in some areas, but lobbying has been shown to be
useless. We know that governments do not listen and that ID will be
beaten on the streets or not at all.

Read the second edition of the AF's pamphlet

Defending Anonymity-thoughts for struggle against identity cards,

available on our website or for free (with SAE) from our usual
address.
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