A new briefing paper from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on the British National Identity Scheme highlights the dangers of the ID cards project.
Ever since the government proposed in 2005 the introduction of a national identity card scheme, civil liberties, human rights and anti-racist groups, and international NGOs have raised powerful and cogent objections. The parliamentary human rights committee expressed concerns over aspects of the scheme. The government has however ploughed on regardless, despite compelling critiques (Read an IRR News article: ID cards: implications for Black, Minority Ethnic, migrant and refugee communities) and soaring costs estimates, in an attitude of stubborn wrong-headedness similar to that displayed over the ill-fated 42-days detention clause defeated in the Lords in October. This briefing paper by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, More than just a card: intrusion, exclusion and suspect communities: implications in Northern Ireland of the British National Identity Scheme, explains the scheme, rehearses the arguments against it and adds arguments particular to Northern Ireland. The timing of its release should remind the government that sustained, intelligent and vocal opposition can defeat its more reactionary initiatives.
The paper explains that there are in fact two ID schemes, a compulsory one backed by sanctions for those who are not nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA)* (brought in by the UK Borders Act 2007), and a so-called voluntary scheme for British and EEA nationals – although confusing terminology by the Borders Agency has led to a misapprehension that all non-British citizens (including Irish citizens) are ‘foreign nationals’ who must obtain an ID card under the compulsory scheme. Apart from this confusion, the main objections to the schemes are, in brief:
- the huge number of fields of information to be registered (fifty, compared with six or seven in most ID schemes);
- the wide range of bodies, including foreign governments, who may have access to the information;
- the involvement of the private sector in the collection of information;
- the exacerbation of discrimination as non-Whites and Muslims are disproportionately targeted for ID checks;
- the creation of ‘suspect communities’ based on racial and religious profiling;
- the creation of an ‘underclass’ of migrants and others ‘sans plastique’ who cannot access services for want of a card.
While the need to carry a card in order to access services and prevent detention on suspicion of illegal presence is clearly objectionable, the need to register so many bits of information, and to have that information relayed to such a wide range of agencies, is the truly frightening aspect of the scheme. The paper points out that the ‘voluntary’ scheme for EEA nationals will be compulsory in effect, since the aim is to make registration a prerequisite for exercising basic rights and obtaining basic services including a passport, travel (including between the UK and Ireland), education, health and other public services.
Special impact on Northern Ireland
While many of the points in the paper have been well made elsewhere, it is the exploration of the particular impact of the scheme in Northern Ireland that gives the paper its particular interest. There is no provision in the scheme for dual nationality. Thus, nationalists in Northern Ireland who have taken Irish citizenship in addition to their British citizenship cannot, the paper asserts, register as Irish, only as British – and there will be huge resistance to this, particularly if the card carries a symbol of Britishness such as the Union flag. The paper estimates that there are around 400,000 Irish citizens resident in Northern Ireland. The possibility of a mass movement against registration in Northern Ireland, and the impact of such a movement on the viability of the scheme, is canvassed.
The paper ends with an assessment of the scheme against the government’s stated purposes (convenient proof of identity; prevention of terrorism; prevention of ‘illegal’ immigration and working; prevention of benefit fraud or abuse of public services; and prevention of ‘identity fraud’,) and finds the scheme either unnecessary, or disproportionate, or counterproductive, or all three, in respect of each aim.
A succinct, clear and useful addition to the campaign against ID registration.
Read an IRR News Story: ID cards: implications for Black, Minority Ethnic, migrant and refugee communities
Download a copy of: More than just a card: intrusion, exclusion and suspect communities: implications in Northern Ireland of the British national Identity Scheme (pdf file, 256kb)