We must tackle terrorism - but ID cards are definitely not the answer

24 September 2001

Background: David Blunkett indicated yesterday that the government is to seriously consider introducing compulsory national ID cards. The proposals form part of a range of measures intended to minimise risk of future terrorist attack. Liberty opposes the introduction of a national ID card system.

John Wadham, director of Liberty:

"There is no evidence to suggest that introducing national ID cards will help the fight against terrorism. Sophisticated terrorist networks would not find it difficult to forge or steal the cards. Those who carry out terrorist attacks are often chosen because they are unknown to the police. Identifying those who carried out the attacks on New York and Washington before boarding planes would not have rung any alarm bells.

Preventing future terrorist attacks is a real and complex challenge. There is a danger that in the current climate in which people feel genuinely concerned about their safety, the government could implement a series of measures which will have no real effect in combating terrorism, but which will seriously undermine freedom here in the UK.

There is similarly no good evidence that ID cards would help tackle illegal immigration or domestic crime. There is, however, ample evidence that compulsory ID cards - and the police stop and detention powers that must inevitably accompany them - can do real damage within communities. That's particularly the case if, for example, - for example, if particular groups are seen to be disproportionately targeted for stops and feel that they are being harassed and criminalised by the authorities on the basis of their appearance.

ID cards only help you track people if you know who you are looking for, if you are certain they cannot possibly be carrying plausible fake papers, and if you stop them.

That means you have to use the police to stop vast numbers of people on the street, detain large numbers who aren't carrying a card or who in some way are deemed to arouse suspicion. This cannot be a sensible way of focussing our already overstretched police forces' time and resources on combating terrorism, or indeed any other crime.

There are plenty of available means of identification available in the UK for when citizens need to establish their identity. What is at stake here is whether it should be a legal obligation to show your ID card at any time when asked by the police, even if they have no clear reason to ask you.

If ID cards are introduced as a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to counter-terrorism, and even if the police do all they can to use the scheme for this purpose, it could be used for less benign purposes in the future.

Oneof the things that make this country such a good place to live is the tradition of freedom we have. If we curtail and limit these freedoms for no good reason, that would be a real victory for those who carried out and supported the terrorist attacks in the USA on the 11th September".