Why we must oppose the Coalition’s Mandatory National IDs and Biometric Systems

The UK Government have started to roll out mandatory Biometric Global ID Cards. These will trace, track and store our information directly, wherever we go. This is now being implemented by the UK Border Agency. If you applied for a residence permit in a category that did not require you to enrol your biometric information and your application is granted on or after 1 December 2012 you must now apply for a biometric residence permit. Mandatory national ID cards violate essential civil liberties. They increase the power of authorities to reduce your freedoms to those granted by the card.

The Communications Data Bill (the Snooper’s Charter) never made it through the legislative process, yet the Secretary of State for the Home Department was asked by Dominic Raab how much her Department currently remunerates (a) telephone companies, (b)  internet service providers and (c) others annually for data storage; and what estimate she has made of such figures if the draft Communications Data Bill was passed.

The answer provided was: “the total estimated payment to the communications industry for these purposes by the Home Office for the fiscal year 2012-13 is £15 million. 80% of this expenditure is through a pilot project established by the Home Office to ensure value for money and auditing of payments to industry. Under this pilot, a subset of providers are reimbursed directly by the Home Office, with the money then recharged to operational agencies”.

In June 2013 the Snowden leaks revealed that GCHQ has access to the transatlantic cables that carry the world’s communications and is intercepting and processing billions of communications every day and sharing the information with the US.

This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on social media sites and the history of an internet user’s access to websites. All without public knowledge and consent. This is not the kind of behaviour one would expect from Governments in western democracies.

The project – Tempora – has been in existence since the beginning of 2012. The leaks also suggest that the US authorities have similarly breath-taking and direct access to global communications via the world’s biggest internet companies. This secretive programme is known as PRISM and reports strongly suggest that the UK also accesses this data.

So it appears those who failed to make the case for the Draft have already smuggled in a more intrusive Snoopers’ Charter for blanket surveillance through the back door.

The Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) is a Coalition initiative to create a ubiquitous mass surveillance scheme for the United Kingdom. It would involve the logging of every telephone call, email and text message between every inhabitant of the UK, (but would not record the actual content of these emails) and is intended to extend beyond the realms of conventional telecommunications media to log communications within social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. It is an initiative of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism at the Home Office, whose Director is Charles Farr. It has been pursued since the 2010 Coalition Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Freedom of expression and privacy are two sides of the same coin – and we need both for full participation in democratic society. Surveillance techniques that prevent individuals remaining anonymous when producing or accessing information both infringe privacy and have a stifling effect on free expression. 

Systems of identification that employ automatic recognition of individuals’ faces, fingerprints, or irises are gaining ground globally. Biometric ID systems are increasingly being deployed at international border checkpoints, by Governments seeking to implement national ID schemes, and by private sector agents. Yet as biometric data is collected from more and more individuals, privacy concerns about the use of this technology are also attracting much attention.

The Coalition have certainly changed the relationship between the citizen and state: privacy experts have sounded the alarm that the national database would further usher in the era of “Big Brother”, as David Kravets from Wired Magazine has suggested.

It seems that the State wants to take a clear authoritarian role using the principle of permission for basic freedoms and civil rights: it’s nothing short of a tyrannical attempt to catalogue the population.

Mandatory nationwide identification systems have been implemented in a number of other countries including Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Peru and Spain. Whilst these schemes many vary by country, individuals are typically assigned an ID number, which is used for a broad range of identification purposes. Large amounts of personal data such as name, date of birth, place of birth, gender, eye colour, height, current address, photograph, and other information is linked to this ID number and stored in a centralised database.

The French Constitutional Council ruled that their new law proposing the introduction of a new biometric ID for French citizens was unconstitutional. In many countries, such as Argentina, national ID regimes are adopted during military or identified authoritarian regimes. And this ought to trigger alarm bells.

Supporters argue that biometric identifiers are an efficient way to accurately identify people, biometrics are costly, prone to error, and present extreme risks to privacy and individual freedom. Once biometric data is captured, it frequently flows between Governmental and private sector users. Companies have developed biometric systems to control access to places, products and services. Citizens can be asked for a thumbprint to access e-Government services or enter a room in a corporate headquarters. Geo-location tracking, video surveillance and facial recognition software built on top of large biometrics collections can further enable pervasive surveillance systems.

Following 9/11, many Governments began collecting, storing and using biometrics identifiers in national IDs. Authorities justified these initiatives by arguing that biometric identification and authentication helps secure borders, verify employment and immigration, prosecute criminals, and combat identity fraud and terrorism. Despite this global trend, the citizens of many countries have successfully opposed biometric national ID schemes including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, under the previous Labour Government, abandoned the pursuit of the initiative because of the widespread criticisms presented.

National ID is required for employment, people may be fired and their   employer fined if they fail to present the necessary papers. People without ID cards can be denied the right to purchase property, open a bank account or receive Government benefits. National identity systems present difficult choices about who can request to see an ID card and for what purpose.

Mandatory IDs significantly expand police powers. Police with the authority to demand ID are invariably granted the power to detain people who cannot produce one. Many countries lack legal safeguards to prevent abuse of this power. And as we know, some states simply refuse to implement those safeguards, should they be in place, in any event.

National ID systems have been used historically to discriminate against people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion and political views. The use of national IDs to enforce immigration laws invites discrimination that targets minorities. There is little evidence to support the argument that national IDs reduce crime. Instead, these systems create incentives for identity theft and widespread use of false identities by criminals. And we know that the administration of ID programs is most often outsourced to unaccountable companies. Private sector security threat models assume that at any one time, one per cent of company employees are willing to sell or trade confidential information for personal gain. I suspect that percentage to be much higher.

80 civil liberties organisations have asked the Council of Europe in 2011 to investigate whether National ID biometrics laws in Europe comply with the Council of Europe Privacy Treaty and the European Convention on Human Rights. We need to refuse to let states collect massive amounts of biometric data without due regard to privacy rights.

With the international community still reeling from the revelations of mass surveillance sparked by Edward Snowden’s leaks, much of the discussion of internet issues is focused on how to protect human rights, in particular privacy, in the digital age. The widespread surveillance scandal has now reached the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, which opened its 24th session last week to a multitude of questions about privacy and spying, many of them were targeted at the United States and United Kingdom. That’s perhaps not surprising, since UN representatives were among those listed as being monitored by the NSA and GCHQ.

Human rights lawyer Navi Pillay, who is also the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, has urged all countries to “ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent security agency overreach and to protect the right to privacy and other human rights”.

The launch of International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance follows landmark report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, which details the widespread use of state surveillance of communications, stating that such surveillance severely undermines citizens’ ability to enjoy a private life, freely express themselves and enjoy their other fundamental human rights. And recently, again the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nivay Pillay, emphasised the importance of applying human right standards and democratic safeguards to surveillance and law enforcement activities.

The High Commissioner presented a report on the safety of journalists, which contains an overview of the situation facing journalists and identifies good practices that could assist in creating a safe and enabling environment in which journalists are able to freely exercise their profession. The report highlighted the attacks that online journalists face, such as illegal hacking of their accounts, monitoring of their online activities, arbitrary arrest and detention, and the blocking of websites that contain information critical of the authorities.

One part of the potential solution to those concerns will be officially launched this Friday in a Human Rights Council side-meeting on digital privacy hosted by concerned countries: the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance.

Amnesty International also submitted a written statement on impact of surveillance on human rights, as did a group of 14 South Korean NGOs though the Korean Progressive Network “Jinbonet”. These efforts build on the joint civil society statement at the last session of the Human Rights Council, in the aftermath of revelations of the NSA’s PRISM program. The statement, which attracted support of over 300 human rights organisations and individuals, called for means to ensure more systematic attention by the UN to internet related human rights violations.

We really don’t want to see the UK, in cahoots with the US, regarded as having started a race to the bottom of privacy standards: a race too many other countries will be happy to join. The greatest risk to the internet in the international arena at the moment lies in the formation of an unholy alliance between countries who are already seeking excuses to spy and censor the net and those, like the United States, who have previously argued against such practices, but are now having to defend their own surveillance excesses using similar language.

Government mandated biometric systems are invasive, costly, and damage the right to privacy and free expression. They violate the potential for anonymity, which is crucial for whistle-blowers, investigators, journalists, and political dissidents.

National ID cards and the databases that lie behind them comprise the cornerstone of Government surveillance systems that creates risks to privacy and anonymity. The requirement to produce identity cards on demand habituates citizens into participating in their own surveillance and ultimately, social control.

We are seeing a rise of constraints placed on the global population (such as use of  repressive tactics against any political opponents and a prohibition of anti-regime activity – often subtle in nature, such as trojan horse types of legislation) by overly bureaucratic authoritarian regimes. We no longer have a vibrant and full democracy, as we are seeing an increasing deprivation of civil liberties, and little tolerance for meaningful opposition. Liberal democracies are founded on certain principles such as the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and we are certainly seeing a shift away from this here in the UK.

The private sphere is the part of our social life in which individuals enjoy a degree of authority, unhampered by interventions from Governmental or other institutions. Examples of the private sphere are our family, relationships and our home. There has been an increasing intrusion by Government into the private domain, (the bedroom tax is a good example of this, since it affects our family sleeping arrangements and significantly reduces the choice of home we are permitted to live in) whilst at the same time, our participation in the public domain of work, business, politics and ideas is being repressed.

The publication of mass surveillance revelations by the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald has had reverberations around the world. The UK government has moved toward confrontation with the news organisation by forcing the destruction of hard drives that contained documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The recent developments around the detention of David Miranda and the seizure of material he was carrying under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act has raised concerns over press freedom. But many of us know that the press here has not been unbiased and “free” for some time now.

Free speech as a constitutional principle must be inviolable. As a person that closely follows events in Parliament, and I base much of my work on Hansard records, I know that media representation of challenges to the Government and portrayals of the opposition are NOT free from bias, and Government interference. Not that some Minsters hide the fact that they openly interfere – Iain Duncan Smith accused Stephanie Flanders of “peeing all over British industry” with her coverage of employment figures, that contradicted his own, which led to the Tories closely monitoring BBC for “left wing bias” ahead of party conference season.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”.

These international standards of freedom of expression are no longer being met. Our liberties are certainly being steadily eroded by an authoritarian Government.

And we must not be become silent and complicit.


With many thanks to His Excellency Sir Kurt Alleyne, the International Human Rights Commission Ambassador for United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, for flagging up this issue, and for subsequent discussion. 

Further reading:

UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, publicly defined the right to electronic privacy and freedom from surveillance as a human right.

International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance

New Israeli Biometric Database Pilot Scheme

In the US –The Immigration Reform Bill – Prodding Forth Real ID, an INTERNATIONAL Biometric ID

David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face

Smashing of Guardian hard drives over Snowden story ‘sinister’, says Amnesty

It’s Left-wing prats who are defending our freedoms: “The British degree of trust in their security agencies startles many other countries (like Germany and the US) where liberty is taken less for granted. An editor of the US National Review wrote last week of those “who steadfastly refuse to express anxiety unless they can actually hear jackboots”. Note: once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.”

Belgacom Attack: Britain’s GCHQ Hacked Belgian Telecoms Firm

“Operation Socialist” Hack

BBC Newsnight exclusive interview with journalist Glenn Greenwald on Edward Snowden, the PRISM revelations and mass surveillance



Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant pictures

21 thoughts on “Why we must oppose the Coalition’s Mandatory National IDs and Biometric Systems

  1. Reblogged this on kickingthecat and commented:
    Funny how Liberals and self=proclaimed Libertarians are suggesting this.

    And of course governments in this Country all renowned for their skill at commissioning and overseeing Software Systems and not leaving private data on USB sticks and laptops in public places….


  2. I don’t actually have a problem with carrying an ID card. For many they will be an asset as a few services require digital ID these days. If it doesn’t go over the top then I don’t believe there is anything to fear. Under normal circumstances the only people with something to fear are those up to no good.


    1. With a government that has violated human rights to the extent that it has, do you really think this will be used in a way that will be inclusive, respectful of civil liberties and human rights? Furthermore, this has been linked with authoritarianism.

      It’s downright unconstitutional – see France’s response. Human Rights organisations , including the UN have already got involved, they have been under surveillance, too, and they can hardly be accused of being “up to no good”.

      We also know from experience that databases are never secure. The fact that this is now mandatory ought to ring alarm bells, too.


    2. Many of us – three or more generation trade unionists, active Labour members, writers and political theoreticians – are treated as having a track record. They have been under surveillance since the 1940’s. Do you think that the whole of the trade unionist movement has “been up to no good” to earn this attention? What about the massively costly (in all ways) infiltration and monitoring by under cover cops, is that “nothing to fear! when is has been demonstrated they have also been agent provocateurs?

      And how would you like to know your private conversations with a family member are being listened to? Would that count as being “up to something”? Under Thatcher in the 1980’s, trade unionists and their supporters, the miners’ strike, all other democratic rights to have opinions, collect for charity, organise demonstrations, they were condemned as “the enemy within”. Did you agree with that? If so why are you reading this blog?

      Bottom line is that anyone in any of the Central and local government offices can make a value judgement that you – YOU – are up to no good, and start surveillance. The East Germans made it into one of the worst places to live, intolerable. The ID card can now provide a more powerful and all-pervasive entry point into your life, medical records, email accounts, work history whatever is needed to feed the government machine for control of its people.

      There is nothing innocuous, and we are all “up to something” in someone else’s rule book.


      1. Totally agree with every word. Thatcher ordered MI5 involvement during the miners strike, too. Alan Bleasdale’s “GBH” wasn’t far off the mark. I have written elsewhere recently about this issue – the agents provocateur and the infiltration – Tories have a LONG history of that, as well as “Gagging” Acts, going back at least 2 centuries.


  3. Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    Kittysjones here gives an excellent and very comprehensive account of the dangers posed by such ID cards in this new age of mass surveillance. She documents the schemes now being implemented to monitor and log information from our telephone calls, emails and tweets. These are causing serious concern. The French courts have already ruled biometric ID cards unconstitutional, and the UN Commissioner in charge of preserving freedom from the encroachment of a global surveillance society, Navi Pillay, has also criticised such schemes. These are not new fears. In 1981 President Mitterand of France declared ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains a real danger for the liberty of individuals.’ Sir Noel Foley, the former chairman of Australia’s largest bank, Westpar, stated that ID cards would pose ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. When the Labour government under Blair launched the scheme for biometric cards, they were forced to drop it due to public opposition. Now the Coalition is reviving the scheme, and its consequent threat to our traditional liberties.


  4. I know it’s slightly off subject but the Government has slipped in another measure: the GPES (general practice extraction service) which will allow the sale to third parties of patient details. They claim it will not identify patients but will use information about conditions and medication outcomes. This worries me as it contravenes the Data Protection Act. Something of great concern is that the service level agreement appears to have been won by…Atos. Yes, Atos.


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