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Home > People

ID Cards: We wish we had a brain

30 April 2004

At TFT, we're starting to worry that we might be a bit thick. Not just possessed of trivial little minds, or more inclined to watch When Good Pets Go Bad 2 than Newsnight, but actually two-short-planks, Sara Cox with a lobotomy, dense as a lead brick in a collapsing supernova thick.

The reason? We've been racking our tiny brains for weeks now, but we still can't see the benefits of ID cards.

Everyone else seems to know what the benefits are. People like David Blunkett and the pressure group UK Migration Watch, for a start, plus hundreds of other people and organisations whose names, for some reason, momentarily escape us.

But at TFT, we're baffled. We just can't seem to get our heads round the manifest benefits of ID cards. Take illegal immigrants. If immigration officers pick up an immigrant who can't produce an ID card, in theory it will prove they're here illegally. But at present, if someone is suspected of being an illegal immigrant, they will be asked to produce documentation showing they've got a visa, or are applying for asylum or British citizenship. If they can't, or their claim has failed, they get deported. What's the difference? With or without ID cards, it's still going to be a fairly prolonged and bureaucratic process.

There's also the claim that ID cards will make things simpler. Concrete examples of this are thin on the ground. What will be simpler? Taking out a loan? Opening a Post Office savings account? Renewing your passport? Claiming housing benefit? All of these things are a pretty straightforward (if slow) process if you've got basic documentation like a passport, NI number, bank account and so on. If you haven't got any of these things, for whatever reason, chances are you're living and working in the black economy anyway.

Supporters of ID cards take a wilfully nave view that any illegal immigrant can come to the UK and instantly start claiming benefits just by signing on the dotted line. Anyone who's had any dealings with the labyrinthine DSS bureaucracy will know it's not this simple.

As for benefit fraud, to defraud the DSS you need to be able to make a claim in the first place, which means you need sufficient ID to prove who you are (even if you're not who you claim to be.) And apart from a few instances of organised fraud rings, the reality of benefit fraud is pretty prosaic: working while you're signing on, claiming incapacity benefit when you're not incapacitated and continuing to claim housing benefit after you've got a job. Where do ID cards fit into this?

The claims about terrorism are particularly dubious. Catching terrorists tends to rely on relatively high level intelligence, often from international security sources. What exactly is Blunkett proposing? That police officers routinely quiz anyone who's Asian, in case they're an Al Quaeda member (and happy to admit it)? Leaving aside the racist implications of ID cards, what would it prove anyway? You can be a fanatical suicide bomber and a UK citizen. And if you're an international terrorist, why not just travel on your own passport? If we make the reasonable assumption that international terrorists either enter a country using their own passport and a work or study visa (like the September 11 bombers) then presumably we're going to have to issue ID cards to everyone who comes here on holiday or to work or study. That should be straightforward.

Is there anyone out there who can help us? ID cards are obviously a fantastic idea that will solve a legion of problems. We just think it would be nice if someone would tell us what they are.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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