the Disillusioned kid: Charles Clarke's Big Brother
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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Charles Clarke's Big Brother

In an interview with Eastern Daily Press (via), Home Secretary Charles Clarke sought to defend the introduction of ID cards, arguing, "Big Brother society is already here and my job is to control it":
Most of us have dozens of cards in our wallets with our identities on. We already have a Big Brother society.

ID cards mean identity fraud can be dealt with and stopped.

ID cards are a means of controlling the Big Brother society rather than creating it. Big Brother society is already here.
There's no doubt that there our loyalty, credit and debit cards hold a huge amount of information about us, but there are some important distinctions between this and national ID cards. Firstly, those cards are optional, ID cards - if they are to be of any use at all - will have to be compulsory. Further, a friends who is doing his PhD on surveillance tells me that some political philosophers have argued that the current system can be seen as one in which we are monitored by a multitude of "little brothers" with only limited interaction between and government control over them. This is very much the case with the various cards we currently carry. ID cards, by contrast, will hold all the information contained on those cards (and more) centrally.

As is common in this debate, Clarke also seeks to distract attention from the biometric information which ID cards are to contain. The various cards we carry today may contain information on our names, addresses, gender etc, but ID cards are to carry an extensive amount of physiological information. The chip on the card will, I am told, be able to carry ten times the amount of information it will initially be required to hold. The introduction of such cards is not merely a consolidation of the current state of affairs. It is a major step towards the total surveillance state.

Clarke is, as you might expect, dismissive of concerns about civil liberties:
I think the civil liberties argument is ridiculous.

If we compare people's right not to be blown up with their right to civil liberties it is not difficult.

No measure can absolutely guarantee to stop a particular event. But I believe ID cards will help. Most countries in Europe have ID cards.
Therein lies, perhaps the strongest argument against the need for such cards. As David Winnick MP has noted, "If the emphasis is now on terrorism, the fact remains that in Spain identity cards are compulsory from the age of 14 onwards. In what way did that stop the massacre which occurred?" Most European countries do have ID cards, but they don't stop terrorism.

Furthermore, even David Blunkett was forced to concede that the cards would do little to prevent terrorism. Asked in July 2002 whether he would "confirm that the card will be little or no use in combating terrorism," Blunkett replied:
Yes, I accept that it is important that we do not pretend that an entitlement card would be an overwhelming factor in combating international terrorism. That is precisely what I said three times on the radio within a fortnight of 11 September, and I reiterated it this afternoon.
Is Clarke now suggesting that his predecessor was wrong? Or does he just think that we can now be scared into accepting any government policy, no matter how authoritarian, unneccessary and expensive, which claims to be a response to terrorism?

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