Lord Steyn

Lord Steyn AKA Johan Steyn. Chairman of the human rights organisation JUSTICE. Until September 2005 he was Law Lord.


Identity cards

Very anti ID cards. Lecture delivered by Rt Hon Lord Steyn Abandon ID cards 16 June 2009

"In my view a national identity card system is not necessary in our country. No further money should be spent on it. The idea should be abandoned."

House of Lords debate Civil Liberties: Electronic Surveillance 23 April 2009

My Lords, I would like to apply what is sometimes called the casino principle. That is that everyone has only a limited number of chips to play. I would like to address the subject of the national identity register, which will store biographical information, biometric data and administrative data linked to the use of an ID card. Upon my retirement as a Law Lord in the second half of 2005, in reply to media inquiries, I expressed sceptical views about a national identity card system. My views have hardened. I am now strongly opposed to such a system. I would like to explain why.
The Identity Cards Act 2006 received Royal Assent on March 30 2006. That legislation was no doubt influenced by the global insecurity following 9/11 and the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act in the United States in the era of President Bush. It is noteworthy that even in that era, the United States did not permit the development of a national identity card system.
Our legislation is geared towards the creation of a central register and the powers to issue identity cards for everyone living permanently in the United Kingdom. The status of the scheme is that foreign nationals will need biometric residence permits from 2008. From 2009, identity cards will be issued to British citizens on application for a passport or driving licence. The Government are at present intent on introducing in due course a universal identity card system for all persons aged 16 and above legally resident in the United Kingdom.
The Government have sought to justify the ID card system on the grounds of security considerations. This is an unwarranted premise. ID cards will have no value as far as security is concerned. ID cards and the national identity register are, of course, identity-related, but there is absolutely no evidence that they will improve security. If that view is right, the case for an ID card scheme is gravely emasculated, and the Home Office attempt to sell the concept of ID cards to the public as a weapon for controlling immigration is quite misconceived. A drastic invasion of our civil liberties cannot be justified on grounds of mere administrative convenience.
If there had been a real security justification, one would have expected the Government to bring the Identity Cards Act 2006 into effect with some alacrity, but the Government are aware that there is strong and ever increasing public opposition from all sectors of the political divide to the introduction of ID cards. The Government hope that they can soften up public opposition by a phased introduction. They underestimate the robust common sense of the British people. The tide of public opinion is running against the Government on this matter. Since May 2007, there have been losses of data on a massive scale, of which some details are given in an article that I wrote which is due to be published in Public Law 2009. It is part of the evidence that the Government have not mastered the way to competently run an identity card scheme.
A central concern about the creation of a national identity register is the privacy implications that flow from having millions of individuals' personal data contained in the scheme. Moreover, if there is an inopportune time for the introduction of an unnecessary ID card scheme, it must be now as we head into what may be a prolonged economic downturn.
It is true that there are countries, such as France, Germany and other western European countries where, due to their different historical or cultural developments, ID card systems are in place, but our heritage is different. In one of his famous English letters, Voltaire said that the civil wars of Rome ended in slavery and those of the English in liberty. The English are jealous of their liberty, he said. Our commitment to the European ideal does not require us to adopt an ID card system. The British public have no confidence in the introduction of a national identity card system and wish the Government to speak for Britain.



2009-06-16 - The Guardian - Abandon ID cards
Author: Lord Steyn
Summary: The Identity Cards Act was introduced during the period of global insecurity following 9/11 ... In my view a national identity card system is not necessary in our country. No further money should be spent on it. The idea should be abandoned.