Mr Blunkett: his new plans for our liberties

Two new initiatives launched by our inimitable Home Secretary, David Blunkett, and his department, ever vigilant for opportunities to extend the power of the state at the expense of our liberties and privacy, deserve outraged protest, but seem unlikely to get it except from a handful of admirable organisations such as Civitas.

Perhaps the lesser of the two offences is the proposal for a ban on "incitement to religious hatredâ€?, to join our existing laws banning racial and gender discrimination. As the Home Office’s "consultationâ€? paper, “Strength in Diversity: Towards a Community Cohesion and Race Equality Strategy”[1] (wonderful title!) proudly boasts[2],

We now have in place some of the most progressive antidiscrimination legislation in the world, including a duty on public bodies to promote race equality and protection against discrimination based on religion or belief in the workplace.

Now we shall be forced to think long and hard before making any criticism of religion – any religion. This gag is to be forced into our mouths at the very time when we urgently need a frank and uninhibited public debate on the social and political implications of Islam, both "moderateâ€? and "extremistâ€?, in our country and in the world, and on the impact of all religious belief on our political life: witness the role of his "passionateâ€? Christian beliefs in reinforcing our prime minister’s deep conviction that he always does the right thing, notwithstanding all the irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Since the essence of religious commitment is adherence to a set of propositions for which there is no rational evidence, such deep conviction in a political leader poses real dangers for us all. A ban on incitement to religious hatred is made to sound innocuous by the inclusion of the obviously negative word "hatredâ€?, but how confident can we be that such a ban will not soon enough be used to muzzle all criticism or negative analysis of any religious practice or doctrine or its social consequences? It will be ironical if, for example, a ban generally assumed to be designed to protect the Muslim minority in Britain against abuse from non-Muslims comes to be used to bar Muslims themselves from denouncing those whom they regard as heretics or apostates from their own faith, along with other infidels.

Fortunately, the arguments against this pernicious proposal are cogently and eloquently set out in a "Note to the Home Secretary� by the Director of Civitas, available on the Web at In his Note, David Green quotes the splendid words of David Hume :

"We may observe, that, in all ages of the world, priests have been enemies to liberty; and it is certain, that this steady conduct of theirs must have been founded on fixed reasons of interest and ambition. Liberty of thinking, and of expressing our thoughts, is always fatal to priestly power, and to those pious frauds, on which it is commonly founded.

And Green concludes that:

For the sake of religion, democracy and the continuance of our tradition of tolerance, there should be no law against religious hatred. Priests, rabbis and imams should develop thick skins.

Amen to that, if you will pardon the expression!

(I am indebted to Iain Murray’s excellent and stimulating Blog, "The Edge of England’s Swordâ€?, for pointing me in the direction of the Civitas website and David Green’s paper just quoted: both obligatory reading. Mr Murray’s parting shot on this hits its mark:
"Blunkett’s new law would clearly violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution. I find that’s a pretty good guide to whether an idea is crazy or not…â€?)

But the second of Mr Blunkett’s latest jeux d’esprit is far more dangerous and objectionable even than his proposed gag on criticism of religion. In April 2004 he published a draft Identity Card Bill "for further discussionâ€?. The Bill and its accompanying commentary have attracted blistering criticism both from the Home Affairs Select Committee (which however seems rather weirdly to have regarded the lack of any proper costing of the proposed scheme, or of any cost-benefit analysis, as representing a much more significant defect in the Bill than its numerous illiberal and unconstitutional features), and even more pungently from the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, who has issued a statement on the objections to the proposed bill which is more harshly critical of formal government proposals than anything I can remember seeing from a person holding an official position, apart perhaps from the reports of successive Chief Inspectors of HM Prisons (also, incidentally, directed at the Home Office).

Mr Thomas points out that the identity card proposals would involve, among many other appalling things, setting up a national database containing extensive information on virtually every aspect of citizens’ affairs, all accessible to the government through the chip in the identity card; that a wide range of departments and official bodies will be able to access this information, with no restriction on one department’s ability to read information only of legitimate concern to another; that the Home Secretary will have the power to extend the list of departments and other bodies entitled to access the information; and that the citizen will himself have no right to see the information held on himself in the database and on his ID card, even to check whether it is accurate!

The following partial quotation from the Information Commissioner’s statement gives the flavour:

"I want to make it very clear to the public that this draft Bill is not just about an ID card, but an extensive national identity register and the creation of a national identity registration number. Each of these raise substantial data protection and personal privacy concerns in their own right. The introduction of a national identity register will lead to the creation of the most detailed population register in the UK.
"The lack of a clearly defined purpose for ID cards, including the continuing changes in focus causes concern. Further clarification is also needed regarding the nature and extent of the personal information which will be collected and retained, plus the reasons why such a large amount of information needs to be recorded as part of establishing an individual’s identity.
"I also have concerns in relation to the wide range of bodies who can view the record of what services individuals have used. This will enable the Government and others to build up a comprehensive picture of how we live our lives. However, individuals will not know which bodies have been accessing their personal information because the draft bill removes the right to see their own information. I have asked the Government to reinstate this fundamental data protection right.�

The Commissioner voices many other concerns as well, including the unacceptability of representing the identity card scheme as (initially, anyway) "voluntary�, while in practice making it compulsory for anyone applying for a driving licence or a passport. Not many of us left to make a choice, then.

These proposals look suspiciously like the latest example of an old and discredited strategy beloved of the Home Office: greedy for more power over our everyday lives, and spotting an opportunity to grab some more while we’re all obsessed with the danger from terrorism, they publish proposals containing 150 per cent of what they want, and in response to the ensuing storm of objections to virtually the entire package, they magnanimously, "in a spirit of compromiseâ€?, agree to abandon or modify a third of the more patently unacceptable proposals, leaving them with 100 per cent of what they originally set out to get. And when that happens, we may be sure that Mr Clive Soley MP ("it is important to note that Tony Blair is seen as an effective leader not least because he does take difficult decisionsâ€?), and a raft of other faithful New Labour loyalists, will welcome this helpful ‘concession’, acknowledge that it meets the strongest of their previous reservations and misgivings, and call on us all to support the resulting measure.

If the Home Secretary and his patron, the prime minister, had any self-respect, they would quickly and quietly drop the whole of this disgraceful and illiberal scheme before it sinks under the weight of such far-reaching objections by the relevant parliamentary Select Committee and from the government-appointed Information Commissioner, both of whom know what they are talking about. But Messrs Blair and Blunkett "passionately believe� in the rightness of everything they think up for us, and it will be surprising if they can be forced off this dangerous road by any objections, however authoritative and fundamental.

Brian Barder


[1] The ‘Strength in Diversity’ consultations are open until 17 September 2004. Responses can be emailed to:

[2] The Home Office paper contains other remarkable boasts, too: e.g., "The Government is committed to eradicating racism, whether explicit or institutional, in all public institutions and organisations.�

Websites quoted:

14 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    From Peter Harvey.

    << witness the role of his “passionate� Christian beliefs in reinforcing our prime minister’s deep conviction that he always does the right thing, notwithstanding all the irrefutable evidence to the contrary. >>

    The problem is not with his beliefs as such but with the way in which they interfere with his running of the country. In a secular country, which the UK absolutely is not with bishops in the legislature and the monarch having an officially recognised position in the Church, there should be a clear distinction between private belief and public action, extending to all levels of the government and officialdom.

    In this context, the quote: ‘We may observe, that, in all ages of the world, priests have been enemies to liberty; and it is certain, that this steady conduct of theirs must have been founded on fixed reasons of interest and ambition,’ becomes irrelevant; the priests can do what they want provided that they keep out of politics and stick to religion.

    And while: ‘Blunkett’s new law would clearly violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution. I find that’s a pretty good guide to whether an idea is crazy or not…â€?) hits the mark, I wonder why a British source does not cite a European example, the ECHR for example. After all, that is applicable in the UK; the US Constitution is not.

    As for ID cards, I have lived for 26 years in countries that have them. Zambia was so chaotic that I had been there for more than a year before the police got the film for their camera to take the photo. Saudi was so totalitarian that ID cards were merely a small part of the unpleasantness of living there. In Germany I applied for my residence permit and was told that I needed two identical photos. I asked where I should get them. The official told me that there was a photo both nearby but it didn’t do identical photos ‘But just sit as still as you can and bring me the photos and I’ll decide which two are identical.’ And in Spain there are ID cards but no-one believes that they are a front-line weapon in the fight against crime. They are a useful and indisputable form of identity for cashing cheques or for picking up a parcel at the post office. They have a definite defencive value and are of use for keeping track of dealings with the government bureaucracy. But they are run by the State, and the question is whether the State is to be trusted. My feeling is that the Spanish State, which is controlled by a proper Constitution, is within reason; but that the British State, which is under no proper control at all, is not under any circumstances.

    <>If the Home Secretary and his patron, the prime minister, had any self-respect, they would quickly and quietly…>>



  2. Brian says:

    Thanks. But with respect (as they say), Peter, I disagree profoundly with your assertion that private belief should be kept separate from public practice, which seems to me neither practicable nor desirable. A person’s private beliefs (values, adherence to principles or injunctions mandated by a religious or other body, etc.) are bound, and ought, to drive his or her actions in public as in every other area of life. Whether a society is ‘secular’ (as Britain plainly is, notwithstanding the bishops in the House of Lords and the monarch’s separate role as head of the Church of England, all meaningless residues of the past) or in some sense religious (e.g. the US, where a huge majority of the populations professes some form of religious belief and practice, notwithstanding the formal separation of church and state), is really beside the point.

    On identity cards, the objection is not mainly to the cards themselves (although many people, myself included, object to any legal obligation placed on us by the state to carry documents of any sort as a means of identification: I claim the right to assume whatever identity I choose at any time of my choosing, provided that I don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses), but rather to the issues (a) of the information stored on the card, even more importantly (b) of the information stored on the proposed national database linked to ID cards, (c) of which officials have access to what parts of that information, and (d)of the citizen’s right to know what information is held on him or her, whether it is accurate, and who has had access to what parts of it. It’s also objectionable that this radical new measure is being smuggled onto the statute book under cover of the ineptly misnamed ‘war on terror’ with which it has virtually no genuine connection. There is no evidence that a system of ID cards and the associated maintenance of information on citizens’ private affairs by the state has eliminated, or even been of significant help in addressing, the threat posed by terrorists. It represents an accretion of real power to the executive at the expense of our civil liberties and privacy, and experience shows that all such power will sooner or later be abused. Sooner rather than later, probably. Plenty of supporting evidence in a piece in today’s Guardian by George Monbiot (with whom I rarely agree) — see,5673,1274829,00.html.

  3. Brian says:

    This post has been removed by the author.

  4. Anonymous says:

    From Peter Harvey

    [Whether a society is ‘secular’ (as Britain plainly is, notwithstanding the bishops in the House of Lords and the monarch’s separate role as head of the Church of England, all meaningless residues of the past) or in some sense religious (e.g. the US, where a huge majority of the populations professes some form of religious belief and practice, notwithstanding the formal separation of church and state), is really beside the point.]

    Maybe I did not express myself as clearly as I should have done. British society is clearly secular in the sense that very few people go to churches and a good number are professed atheists or agnostics. But I was in fact referring to the State and its institutions rather than society in general. The Church of England is an integral part of that State and it won’t do to regard the bishops in the Lords as a historical curiosity. They have a say in the legislative process and they have a privileged platform from which to express their views that their position cannot warrant in a secular state. Moreover, almost every Oxbridge college has a dean who must by law be an Anglican clergyperson, with a chapel that is Anglican; if you wish to be married in your college, as a friend of mine was, it must be by the Anglican rite. A friend teaches at a well-known public school in the north of England, and when I visited him last year he took me to the cathedral and told me how the school went to service there several times a year; as my friend is an Ulsterman by origin, it is improbable that he is an Anglican himself. It an intolerable situation and it is impossible to allow one organisation to have a privileged position and then say that is take it or leave it. It is certainly not equal, to put it mildly.

    The position of the CoE also leads to an acceptance of it, even by those who are not members; after all, it’s the national Church. But this very fact makes it more difficult to oppose it and see just how it is ensconced at the very heart of what passes for the British Constitution, whereas the Roman Catholic Church, which is separate from the Spanish State, has to make its own way and do its own convincing (admittedly it has some curious tax concessions, which may not last much longer). The result of this is that ant-clericalism, which has a long and honourable history in Europe, is still alive and well and a surprising number of people here say that they are atheists. In fact, there are regular comments and jokes in the press that would probably fall foul of Blunkett’s proposed anti-anti-religion law. For example, in a cartoon in today’s La Vanguardia a woman is reading a newspaper and saying to her husband ‘According to the Vatican everybody’s evil: feminists, atheists, gays, agnostics, genetic biologists, liberation theologists, pagans, free-thinkers, heretics, divorced people, condom users…’ He replies ‘Apart from the bishops themselves is there anyone who’s good?’ La Vanguardia is far from being radical in its social outlook.

  5. As an Ulsterman by birth . not my fault – and an Anglican introduced to that sect by Brian I tend to be rather satisfied with the status quo in Britain, which app[eals to my idea of what I am, though this has undergone several changes over nearly seventy years. It was also brian who told me so many years ago of a public school which claimed to inculcate “Christianity but not to excess”, and a lot of my own belief is in practice a pinch of incense at the temples of our fathers. I am glad that the spanish have got a new and better constitution and perhaps concurrently or consequently new habits, and as an Ulsterman I truly envy them if that is so but will continue to wait for new light on our own road. What I was meaning originally to ask was what either of you thought about the notion of heavier penalties for racially or religiously motivated crime. A broken nose is a broken nose whether your assailant cries “F—–g Jew” or “F—–g Socialist”. And I suppose have already decided, but would you let this distinction affect the amount of any criminal injury award for pain and suffering?

  6. June, whom I married o9ver a year ago, now has three identities in practice. As my wife she is June Smartt, and is happy, I hope, so to be. She can open new accounts in that name; even this is a bit difficult because under our domestic regime I pay for utilities. She still retains various acounts in her old name and finds it so much easier not to change. And for some purposes she is Meenagh-Smartt because colleagues wished to say that although married she was still the same person they had elected. Does anyone think that the administration needed to cope with this will be quicker than the terrorists’ grapevine? And yes I do, God forgive me, still want to write John Smith in some hotel register.

  7. Brian says:

    Two splendidly thought-provoking Comments from Ronnie, for which many thanks. On the first, (a) I’m not proud, or even conscious, of having introduced anyone to a religious sect, even Ronnie, even Anglicanism: accepting an external authority that requires one to believe in a series of propositions for which there is no evidence or rational basis seems to me to obstruct mankind’s stumbling progress towards a more sensible way of conducting our lives and affairs. But I have too many eminently decent, thoughtful, intelligent friends who are believers for me to hold this opinion, or perhaps any other, with total confidence; and (b) I am strongly opposed to accepting religious, sexual or racial factors as aggravating any criminal charges of any kind, from murder downwards. The criminal law should concern itself exclusively with what people have done, not with why they did it. Magistrates and judges have no window into men’s souls and even if they were forced to undergo training as psychoanalysts it must be doubtful if they would be able to make an accurate diagnosis of the real motives for criminal deeds or the dark forces of genetics and upbringing that unconsciously influence them. Criminalising people’s prejudices and thought processes takes us over the edge of a treacherously slippery slope.

    On the second, about multiple and alternative identities that identity cards won’t be able to cope with and indeed will try to eliminate, I can only say, “hear, hear”. Why should I, and everyone else, not adopt whatever identities we might choose to suit changing circumstances or indeed a passing whim? So long as we don’t change identities in order to defraud others or to pervert the course of justice (which are already criminal offences), why must we be deprived of this harmless liberty? One of the glories of the internet is the freedom it bestows to communicate with others in whatever persona one likes, free of the constraints of name, place or even gender: of course that carries risks in the wrong hands, but what liberty doesn’t? But Mr Blunkett thinks it tidier to make us all have one identity and one only, registered by the state in a gigantic Orwellian database full of usually inaccurate information about our every transaction and peccadillo, information that will be available to every spook, copper, snooper, grass and tax collector — but not to us its victims. Yet even the most trenchant critics of the scheme seem for the most part to swallow the concept as a whole, fastening instead only on its details of costing, accessibility, monitoring, and so forth. What defeatism!

    Keep up the good fight, however slim the hope of winning it.

    7 Aug 04

  8. Anonymous says:

    From Peter Harvey

    [On the second, about multiple and alternative identities that identity cards won’t be able to cope with and indeed will try to eliminate, I can only say, “hear, hear”. Why should I, and everyone else, not adopt whatever identities we might choose to suit changing circumstances or indeed a passing whim? So long as we don’t change identities in order to defraud others or to pervert the course of justice (which are already criminal offences), why must we be deprived of this harmless liberty?]

    Why indeed, when citizens of other countries that use ID cards are not so deprived? Here you can use whatever name you like provided that you do not do so for fraudulent or criminal purposes; actors, writers, and other artists do so all the time, as of course do people chatting on the internet. You are, however, required to use your correct, legal name in making a tax declaration or applying for a driving licence for example, which seems quite reasonable. I would feel deceived too if I found that a newspaper article was written under a pseudonym without the newspaper making that clear (but more about this below) and all contracts require all parties to provide proof of identity, the numbers being written into the contract; this is a very sensible precaution. As for booking into a hotel under a false name (which exerts a curiously strong influence on the British psyche even forty years after the reform of the divorce law), there is nothing in law to prevent anyone from doing so here. It is common for one member of a couple (not both) to be asked to present an identity card on booking into a hotel. No doubt under the dictatorship the police collected these routinely, but even then the boom in mass tourism in the 60s must have made this an impossible task. The point, though, is that a hotelier is in the business of providing unsecured credit to complete strangers, and it does not seem unreasonable from a business point of view for him to want to know who he is dealing with and to have some means of positive identification for possible future claims; and if a self-declared John Smith pays with a credit card in the name of Fred Jones, a hotelier must surely be justified in wondering what is going on. On the other hand I find it rather worrying to think that British hotel registers are publicly available for examination; this seems a considerable breach of privacy.

    Spanish names are rather different from British ones and the form that is actually used may be rather different from what is expected. Every Spaniard has two surnames (paternal and maternal first surnames in that order) and is commonly known by the first of these alone. However, the order of these names can be reversed when the birth is registered and people often choose to be known by their second surname: the Spanish Prime Minister’s name is José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, but he prefers to use his more distinctive maternal surname; when Durão Barroso arrived in Brussels he was asked which surname he wanted to use, and replied that he didn’t mind but that Barroso was probably easier than the nasal vowel in his first surname. On the other hand, a Spanish journalist called Julio Parrado was killed in Iraq; in fact his name was Julio Anguita Parrado and he was the son of the leader of the far left party IU, but he chose to use his second (maternal) surname in order to establish his own professional identity without any association with his father; that seems reasonable.

    Women do not change their names on marriage here, but a married woman may choose to call herself “de [husband’s surname]” in addition to or instead of her own name. Add to that the fact that under Franco all Spanish women had to be called María, and they are often known by the name of the particular Virgin after which they are named (Montserrat, Pilar, Dolores, Nieves, Mar, etc.), and that Francisco Javier is just as likely to be known by one name as the other, and it is obvious that there is immense scope for variety and even confusion in how Spaniards name themselves.

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  10. Those who are prepared to exchange freedom for security deserve and will get neither!

  11. << The problem is not with his beliefs as such but with the way in which they interfere with his running of the country.>>

    But as a professing Christian, Mr Blair surely has an obligation to convert the non-believer.
    Jamie Whyte in his wonderful book “Bad Thoughts A Guide to Clear Thinking� puts Blair’s dilemma neatly:
    “The Prime Minister, for example, is well known to be a devout Christian. In several interviews he has been asked how this influences policy-making. He always insists that it is entirely a personal matter, of no relevance to his role as Prime Minister. You see: principled but not a dangerous fanatic.
    Yet on a moment’s reflection, his position is bewildering. Mr Blair must believe the souls of many citizens to be imperilled; the have, after all, replaced prayer and church-going with fornication and drug-taking. These lost souls are in grave danger of spending eternity in the flames of Hell or, at the very least, missing out on heaven. Is it not bizarre that the Prime Minister is unconcerned by this, that he devotes his energies to trifling matters affecting the quality of life during our brief time on earth- public transport, tertiary education for the poor and hip replacements for octogenarians? That plastic hip will do you no good in Hell! Get to church!
    Mr Blair may have some combination of religion and political beliefs that explains his blasé attitude towards British citizens being cast into oblivion. But, if he has, he does not tell us what it is.”

  12. Brian says:

    I agree entirely. It seems to me absurd to suggest that a person’s actions, especially in such a thorny ethical thicket as politics at the highest level, can or even should be divorced from his or her religious and/or philosophical beliefs and values. And it goes way beyond any sense of obligation to convert non-believers, anyway never a terribly strong suit among Anglicans appartently.

    The rather worrying implication is that there are dangers in electing (or being landed with) a national leader whose beliefs and ethical code are not ultimately open to rational argument, and whose conviction of his or her correctness is reinforced by a belief in supernatural endorsement. Blair, Bush…

    [But not] Brian

  13. I cannot disagree with anything written here Brian. But as I came to your last words, I asked myself, “Do enough people care�. I mean really care enough to make sure these Draconian measures are not, as you put it, “smuggled� onto the statute book? I’m afraid my confidence level is not much above absolute zero.
    The examples of statutory “smuggling� within the criminal law, in my professional career alone, are terrifying.
    No longer does an arrested person have an untrammelled right to say nothing when questioned in the police station. No longer does an accused person have the right to keep his defence to himself until trial.
    In cases of rape and now other sexual offences, a defendant facing, on conviction, many uncomfortable years in jail, finds it increasingly difficult to challenge the complainant’s sexual history. The chances of miscarriages in this area alone increase as juries are now being asked to believe either the complainant or the defendant. No need for corroboration!
    Thousands of kids are being criminalised by the use of the powers contained in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The civil law provisions in the Act allow the police use second-hand hearsay evidence to obtain Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. The government has not exhausted this crafty procedure; a civil order followed by criminal proceedings, with substantial periods of custody for breach. Five years in the case of an ASBO.
    I shudder to think what the Labour Party’s manifesto for the next election will contain. Law ‘n’Order, we are told, will be at it’s heart. I wonder if anyone will really mind, if amongst its provisions are the implanting, under the skin, of a chip to which details can be added during the lifetime if the citizen. Or the compulsory taking of DNA to complete the gaps in present database, which now contains a miserable collection of those arrested or reported for any criminal offence.
    And yes, Number 51, the national database behind the ID card! A few years ago the limits to the digital storage of information made these ideas fanciful. Today, the technologies are increasing exponentially whilst the costs of storage are moving with equal speed in the opposite direction.
    We are now a nation of involuntary Prozac users who find “Big Brother� an entertainment.


  14. Anonymous says:

    Hello: Tim Weakley again. I’ve been following the dialogue on identity cards with interest. Surely we need to establish a firm point of departure in this discussion; namely, under what circumstances can the authorities at present require a citizen to establish his identity, and by what means may it be established? I suspect the average Briton is pretty vague about this matter – I’m sure I am – but perhaps you and all m’learned friends who read Ephems can comment. I can construct plenty of scenarios in which the police could, reasonably in my opinion, speak to me or stop me and ask me to identify myself. I may look like (or even be) the person described as being near the scene of a crime of which I know nothing around the time it was believed to have been committed. I may be pulled over because my car is similar to the one described as a get-away vehicle in a robbery or as having been driven dangerously. My car breaks down near the gates of a nuclear power station and I am spotted loitering, waiting for the AA van: clearly, a suspicious character, possibly a terrorist casing the place. What documentation would, in the absence of a national identity card, be acceptable as reasonable proof that I am who I say I am? I’ve just looked in my wallet and all I have that gives my name, apart from my signed Dundee City Libraries card, is my driving licence. What should a person who is too old, too young, or too disabled to drive or who simply doesn’t own a car show the police, and is it legally required for the cops to accept it? I’m blowed if I carry my passport everywhere, nor do I usually carry a wad of bills addressed to myself! Come to think of it, my driving licence says (truthfully) that I was born in Egypt, and the fellow in the little photo looks a healthy light brown, so perhaps I’d better just show my library card… but I really would like to think they could identify me quickly if I was knocked unconscious in a street accident.
    So for these reasons I have on principle no great objection to being issued with a card saying I am who I say I am, provided the only items on it, clearly legible, are (1) photo; (2) name; (3, optional) maiden name; (4) date of birth; (5) tax or other ID number (I see no harm in this, it’s already known to a good many branches of officialdom); and (6) address, though getting the last updated (no charge, of course!) would be a bore especially for people who for perfectly respectable reasons move often. I’m not sure, though, what inviolable precautions could be taken against either forgery or identity theft: for the latter, perhaps an encoded piece of information, known only to oneself but readable by an Official Machine, of the type one is sometimes asked to provide when registering for on-line banking: maternal grandmother’s maiden name, name of first school, etc. In any case I would insist on two things.
    First, there should be no other encoded information whatsoever. The card confirms that you are who you say you are: that’s all. In this connection, perhaps our greatest guardian of civil liberties is the teenage computer buff and electronics whizzkid, who, given the possibility that his and his friends’ and families’ cards carried encoded stuff, would not rest till he had read and decoded everything (with the aid, no doubt, of code-cracking algorithms downloaded from the Internet). Imagine the stink if it turned out that a large proportion of Mr. Blunkett’s shiny new cards said ‘has a police record’, or ‘politically unreliable’ or simply ‘troublemaker’, even if the details were not spelled out. Or ‘hypochondriac’ or ‘layabout’, for that matter.
    Second, the card should be in law a sufficient proof of identity in all situations and not just in dealings with the police. The card would be acceptable at airline check-ins, for example. Banks should be required to accept it when one opens an account. My wife (that notorious money-launderer, or laundress) still seethes about the difficulty she had in opening an account in her maiden name, although she could prove who she was born as and where, who she married and when, and that she is still married, and to the same person, and where they live.
    By the way, can anyone remember: how did we get on with the old pasteboard ID cards, 1939 to ca. 1950? I lost mine only a few years ago. I know there were forgeries, but were there any confirmed cases of mistaken identity, and did any spies and fifth columnists thrive undetected?