Should Brits carry ID cards? Terror threat renews debate

© Jason Reed
As Europe struggles to keep track of the wave of refugees and migrants crossing its borders, and amid fears of another Paris-style attack, the ID card debate in Britain has risen again. RT asks what such a move would achieve.

Advocates of the measure, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, say ID cards will make countries safer and prevent terrorists returning from training camps from carrying out attacks. It would also help authorities deal with the influx of migrants.

However, critics say ID cards would only heighten already tense race relations and create a culture of division.

RT looks at the arguments for and against.

Benefits of ID cards

In France, where 130 people died in an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) attack on Paris last month, authorities were able to quickly establish the identities of the suicide bombers and gunmen from their ID cards, MPs Frank Field and Sir Nicholas Soames argued in the Telegraph on Thursday.

The pair, who co-chair the cross-party group on balanced migration, wrote that ID cards are a vital way to prevent further terror attacks, although they “will not stop attacks happening.”

In addition to preventing terror attacks, advocates argue ID cards could help clamp down on fraudulent behavior, organized crime and money laundering, as well as taking away cover for illegal immigrants.

There is no question the public are conscious of the extent of illegal immigration and want it tackled. Achieving this is central to any efforts to get a grip of our borders and restore public confidence in our immigration system,” the MPs wrote.

ID cards would also provide some level of protection for the NHS from abuse, meaning doctors could easily check who has the right to treatment.

Landlords and employers would also benefit from the introduction of ID cards, the MPs argue, as they would be able identify illegal immigrants and clamp down on the illegal workforce currently operating in Britain.

Negatives of ID cards

Building the link between the individual and the state may seem like a prudent measure to ensure the population lives and works legally, and to prevent terror attacks. Nevertheless, critics say the cards could prove divisive.

Human Rights organization Liberty says there is no evidence to suggest introducing ID cards will stop terrorists carrying out attacks. ID cards in France failed to prevent the November attacks, nor did they prevent the bombings in Madrid in 2005.

Liberty also asserts ID cards would heighten ethnic discrimination.

Those from minority ethnic groups would be more likely to be stopped and asked to produce an ID card, further damaging race relations,” the charity says.

They are also expensive. In 2008, the government estimated that introducing ID cards would cost the taxpayer £5 billion, excluding external costs. Austerity architect Chancellor George Osborne may not be in a hurry to sign off on such an extravagance.

The group argues that information stored by the government, including addresses and immigration status, could be lost, used for nefarious purposes, or shared with government agencies.

Beyond the practicalities, cost and effectiveness of such a scheme, many object to ID card on the grounds of protecting civil liberties and the right to privacy.

Opposition group No2ID says a database of ID cards could constitute a breach of privacy.

Every registered individual will be under an obligation to notify any change in registrable facts. It is a clear aim of the system to require identity verification for many more civil transactions, the occasions to be stored in the audit trail.

“Information verified and indexed by numbers from [the cards] would be easily cross-referenced in any database or set of databases,” they say.

The government is yet to announce any plans to resurrect ID card legislation. But with counter-terrorism, surveillance powers and efforts to reduce migration figures firmly on the agenda, Britain may yet adopt the policy.