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UK ID cards to be abolished?

September 14, 2009

(Ironically, my last post in the UK, a couple of weeks ago was about Canada, and my first here in Canada will be about the UK…)

The Guardian newspaper’s headline today seems to indicate that the UK government is considering scrapping the controversial National Identity Register and card program, along with the Trident nuclear submarine upgrade. This is based on a speech that the increasingly influential Chancellor of the Exchequer, Peter Mandelson, gave to the centrist Progress think-tank. However, reading the whole article, it is much less clear that any such radical move will take place. Mandelson hedges his bets and says when asked about cost savings from the mooted cancellations:

“I have seen some rather different figures relating to the savings that would arise from cancelling those projects which don’t make the contributions that some people imagine.”

But at the same time, he said “it would be foolish to rule out anything.”

He’s right in many ways. Contracts have been signed. Money has been committed and legal costs could be very high if the government tries to wiggle out of those contracts now. As David Lyon’s new book on ID makes it very clear, ID cards schemes are a global industry with powerful corporate forces involved.

In any case, the real reason the scheme should be scrapped or significantly reduced in ambition, is because it is based on flawed premises and is massively intrusive and controlling. The fact that it also costs a ridiculous amount of money (and will of course, escalate in costs still further, as every state computer project inevitably does), is simply a contingent factor.

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