This is NOT the official weblog of Mark Thomas; this is a place to post his articles and news to bring them to a wider audience. This blog is in no way endorsed by the activist/comedian Mark Thomas. Most of the posts appeared on - hopefully they won't object to them being republished here.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Why ID cards won't deter terrorists

David Blunkett is a kind, gentle, soft, petal-stroking, happy cuddly bear of a man... Admittedly these are all lies, but I reckon this is the description most likely to annoy him - and it does seem pointless writing about him if I can't attempt to piss him off.

It has been suggested that all Home Secretaries become more draconian than their predecessor. If that is the case, then it is fair to say that Blunkett has skipped a few generations, as the logical progression should go: Michael Howard, Jack Straw, then Ming the Merciless, followed by Alf Garnett, Paul Dacre and Torquemada, before handing the baton to Blunkett. When it comes to being a bastard, David really has put in the hours. Whoever takes over from him can afford to put their feet up for a while.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope on the horizon: that Blunkett might have overreached himself.

Thirty-eight MPs signed up to the recent early day motion calling for greater transparency in the methods employed by opinion pollsters. They might consider the YouGov poll, commissioned by Privacy International and published last month. The poll is the first to show that support for ID cards is falling.

In April, the government, basing its facts on a MORI poll, said 80 per cent of Britons were in favour of compulsory cards. And to quote Blunkett: "Anyone against is a liberal, Bin Laden-loving nonce and a Hampstead sodomite."*

In the YouGov poll, 61 per cent were in favour with 38 per cent against, indicating either that the more aware people become of the detail of ID cards, the more opposed they are to them; or that a mass migration of al-Qaeda supporters indulging in anal love will shortly reduce Hampstead Heath to standing room only.

There could be another explanation, though. The April MORI poll was commissioned by Detica, which calls itself the leading UK IT consultancy and boasts a client list including the UK military, police, security services and government. You can pretty much guarantee that Detica will make a bid for some of the ID card work. If it doesn't, I will eat my, or my Hampstead neighbour's, hat. So cynics might say Detica has a vested interest in commissioning an expensive poll that shows 80 per cent of the public backing the scheme. Those who are even more cynical, if that were possible, might point to the fact that its analysis of the poll did not say if this support was for compulsory or voluntary ID cards - or, indeed, if that distinction was made in the questions.

By contrast, the YouGov poll asked questions about the detail of the bill. Was it fair that, upon registering for an ID, people have to inform the government of any changes to their address and that failure to do so would result in a £1,000 fine? Forty-seven per cent said not fair; 41 per cent said yes.

Reading about the 38 per cent opposed to the card will give Blunkett cause for concern. Almost a quarter of the opposition say they are prepared to demonstrate against the card, which would translate nationally into five million people marching in protest. Sixteen per cent said they would engage in civil disobedience and 6 per cent said they would go to prison. This would mean more than a million people are prepared to be locked up for opposing the card.

Some pundits are comparing it to the beginning of the poll tax revolt, although obviously all of this will be making David Blunkett dance around his office, gleefully muttering: "A million more people in prison! Result!"

Opposition to the cards is growing for the very simple reason that no one has explained properly why we need them. The arguments have been lumped together in the general hogwash about fighting terror - "One-third of terrorists travel using multiple identities," cry the card's supporters. But they then fail to mention that two-thirds do not, because they use their own identities, and these people would have an ID card. For an ID card to stop terrorism, all terrorists would need to register for one, something they might not do - they are, after all, terrorists. They kill people and blow up buildings and getting an ID card is probably the last item on their list of things to do. 1) Get Semtex. 2) Take flying lessons. 3) Get ID card.

Besides, the information needs to be correct. With terrorists, there is always the possibility that they might fib. Or even get a fake ID. Then the state needs to get the information that the holder of the card is involved in terrorism, which also needs to be factually correct. This information has to match that on the card, and the cardholder must be located and caught.

May I suggest that the easier way to stop terrorism is to stop illegally invading countries, occupying them and killing their citizens?

* Please allow for a margin of error in the factual content . . . But not much.


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