Saturday, February 12, 2005

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges

I am highly sceptical of the plan to bring in compulsory ID cards. There are many false passports in circulation at the moment - so much so that the Court of Appeal laid down late last year (in the case of Kolawole) that simple possession of a false passport must attract twelve to eighteen months, even on a person of good character pleading guilty at an early stage. Quite recently we saw a man who had been arrested for a minor shoplifting offence. On being searched he was found to be carrying a false passport that had got him into the country a few days earlier. Off he went to Ealing Broadway Crown Court for sentence. Forgers are well able to deploy high technology, and anything will be available if the price is right

As an old-style libertarian I have concerns about the principle of cards in peacetime, but I acknowledge the genuine fears of a new kind of terrorism. My principal objection is on the grounds of practicality. The law abiding and the organised will carry their cards. What are the Police supposed to do about everyone else? What if a druggy forgets? He doesn't know or care what day it is anyway. At what age will cards be compulsory? 10? 12? 16? What happens when a policeman stops a burly youth who says "I'm too young to need one"? If the officer takes him in for checks that's him out of action for the rest of his shift. The child can't even be interviewed until an 'appropriate adult' has been arranged to sit in. Unlike cars, that are fitted with number plates, there is no practical way of giving a person a ticket to produce his card later - he can simply disappear. In a population of well over 50 million it will just not be possible to police a card system without causing crippling manpower problems for the police. All this and a cost of billions that could better be spent elsewhere.

My fear is that cards will be a burden on and a nuisance to the law abiding while doing little or nothing to inconvenience the criminal or the terrorist.

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