Pro-privacy groups in the UK and those Brits agitating to push back the boundaries of an ever-encroaching state have received an early Christmas present. Yesterday, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, gave her royal assent to a bill that will see the so-called 'National Identity Scheme' abolished. Martyn Warwick reports.
For once Big Brother has come off second best and UK citizens will now not have to carry formal identification with them wherever they go and run the routine risk of being stopped by police and other law enforcement agencies demanding, Gestapo-style, whenever they feel like it and without the requirement to give a reason, to see their "papers".
The Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government had made the abolishment of the 2006 Identity Cards Act (that had been passed into law by the previous and increasingly authoritarian Labour administration) one of the first actions of the new administration and has carried the promise through to realisation - despite having quickly reneged on many other election promises.
In fact, the repeal of the reviled law should have been enacted a month or so ago, but its passage through the House of Lords (the UK's second chamber) was held up, not for sinister reasons but to permit it time to vote on an amendment that would allow the 12,000 mugs, sorry, pioneers, (out of the UK's population of 60 million) who had actually forked out £30 for their own ID cards to get their money back.
In the event the amendment fell and those that did pay for ID cards won't be getting a refund.
We live in straitened times you know, and, frankly, serves you right for volunteering to give up the rights and freedoms the country has fought for and jealously guarded over hundreds of years.
So the bill is passed before parliament rises for the Christmas recess and ID cards will be "invalid for any use" after January 21, 2011.
Damian Green of the Home Office (the UK equivalent of a Ministry of the Interior) announced that work is now to begin on the "secure destruction of the National Identity Register", the monstrous interlinked and thoroughly Stalinist database that would have underpinned the ID card system,
He said, "Photographs, fingerprints and personal information that were submitted as part of the application process for an ID card will be destroyed within two months" and adde, that the Freedom Bill that will be presented to parliament early in the New Year will prohibit the fingerprinting of children without parental consent, regulate and limit the CCTV systems and networks that make the British the most spied-upon people in the world (it is estimated that on an average ten mile commute to work every day, the average Brit is captured on a CCTV system more than 350 times) and will legislate on the retention by police of DNA samples taken from those either found not guilty of committing a crime or having had DNA taken without being charged with any crime or misdemanour whatsoever.
The minister added, "These measures are only the start. In the following months and years, we will continue to act decisively to defend civil liberties while protecting the public. I hope we have put the era of ever-increasing state intervention in our private lives behind us forever."
Compulsory identity cards were first issued in the UK during World War I and abolished in 1919. They were re-introduced during World War II but were kept until 1952 by which time "feature creep" had seen the number of functions relating to the cards rise from 3 to 39.
It was only after civil unrest, and the mass burning of the hated cards in public bonfires by many individuals who had fought for six long years to overthrow totalitarianism, that a reluctant government was forced to abolish them for a second time.
Identity cards headed their ugly rears again half a century later and the contentious Identity Cards Act 2006 provided for the introduction of National Identity Cards linked to a monolithic database: The National Identity Register.
The Act specified fifty categories of information that the National Identity Register would, INITIALLY,, hold on every Brit, including 10 fingerprints, a digitised facial and iris scan, current and past UK and overseas places of residence of all residents of the UK throughout their lives and indices to other Government databases including the individual citizen's unique National Insurance Number via which all records would be interconnected. Hilter, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot would have loved it.
However as the costs of the scheme ballooned to unfeasible levels (said to be in the region of £20 billion) trimming began and before the Labour administration was voted out of office earlier this year, ID cards had already risen in price to £60 a time (to be paid for by the individual, naturally) but had been made voluntary rather than compulsory.
And now with the passing of the Identity Documents Bill 2010, all data on the National Identity Register is to be destroyed.
It looks as though we woke up just in time to avoid walking into a fully-fledged surveillance society. Now we have to be on the alert for the next time the bastards try it on. For, as Benjamin Franklin said, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
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