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Tremendous news from the Home Office. It turns out that the planned new national identity card which many had previously mistaken for a costly and intrusive waste of time has a valuable application after all.
According to Andy Burnham, the minister in charge of the scheme, the ID will be “a single gateway” to a whole range of everyday services. Yes indeedy, with your trusted biometric card in your hand you will be be able to “access” (another popular government word) those ordinary services that you need for your everyday life. With that magic card you can borrow money, hire a car, rent a DVD or even register with a doctor.
At last, we cry, a gateway to a doctor or DVD. What on earth did we we do before we had a gateway to access our doctor?
Some nagging questions persist. This gateway; is it just the “opening around a gate” as defined in the dictionary, or does it come with a gate too? If the ID offers only a gateway, will we have to bring our own gate? What if the gate is locked? Or if the gate is open do we still need a gateway?
Now, it is just a guess. But what Mr Burnham may have meant when he talked proudly of a “single gateway into a whole range of services” is that you will no longer need a copy of your gas bill or passport when attempting to avail yourself of one of these services. Or to put it another way. Where once people required two pieces of identification now they may (note the may) require only one, and all for the bargain price of £5.8bn, the creation of a national database and, ultimately, a new criminal offence of failing to produce your card when challenged by a police officer.
The good news doesn’t stop there. Mr Burnham makes clear that the new card, which Britons will be required to carry at a cost of about £100 (but only £30 if you don’t want a passport) is in fact “about the individual, empowering and protecting the privacy of the individual”.
That’s right the government will “empower” you to hire a car, visit a doctor or rent a DVD. All of those things we all felt too powerless to do before will now be open to us. Once we have been empowered by this benevolent government the high street will cease to be a frightening and forbidding place and become at once a vista of exciting new opportunities. Worried about that huge lump in your neck - well fret no more, the government has empowered you to see a doctor. Need a mortgage - at last you have a gateway to home ownership.
As for the bit about “protecting the privacy of every individual”; well that’s something of a relief, because some of us had feared that idea of a huge national government database filled with private information on every citizen and the right of the police to stop you in the street and demand to see your ID card could have been seen as something of an infringement of your individual rights and privacy. Although to be fair, when combined with the sweeping new terrorism powers afforded to the police, it should provide a really solid defence against hecklers.
What is more “every citizen will have the chance to place their own unique stamp on their data”. We may have absolutely no idea what this means, but it certainly sounds like a chance we would like to have.
Mr Burnham’s comments highlight once more the general thrashing around for a convincing argument for ID cards. The police and Home Office’s desire for a national identity card has been a solution in search of a problem for more than a decade. At first the cards were going to save billions by preventing benefit fraud. Then they were the one-stop solution (sorry, make that single gateway) to illegal immigration.
Then they were going to protect us from terrorism - assuming of course that individuals were required to enter “suicidal train bomber” or “homicidal religious maniac” as their profession. Now the best argument the government can muster that they will make it slightly easier to buy a blouse in Mark and Spencer.