Opinion: The freedoms we are putting at risk

The amount of freedom we have surrendered during this government’s watch is unprecedented. It is death by a thousand cuts. No more so than with the Identity Cards Act 2006, which will permit compulsory registration and lifelong surveillance. Being required to produce your papers to show who you are undermines our values of freedom and privacy. Do we no longer remember that the state is here by our permission and we are not here by permission of the state?

Identity cards will be more than harmless pieces of plastic in our wallets. Each card will be linked to the National Identity
Register, a government computer which will hold a file on each of us including fingerprints, facial scan and iris scan. Other
personal information could be added to include your spending habits, your religion, your ethnicity, your sexual preferences,
political leanings, health records and criminal records.

The Home Office forecasts that “265 government departments and as many as 48,000 accredited private sector organisations” will have access to this database. Our lifestyles will become more circumscribed as we come under the daily scrutiny of bureaucrats. Will buying that extra bottle of wine go on my health record and affect my insurance premium? How about that book on guns I bought? Will it look bad on my file?

The cost to the taxpayer will be enormous.

Two years ago government figures estimated it to be £5.5bn. Scanners in doctors’ surgeries, benefit offices, banks and hotels will need to be paid for – by us. Will it stop terrorism? The government has already admitted it won’t. The police remain cautious about whether it will reduce crime. What it will create is a large, highly lucrative criminal trade in fake IDs.

There’s no point in having an identity system if people’s identities aren’t going to be checked. Ethnic minorities already feel they are unjustly stopped and searched by police. Further use of this will only increase antagonism and divide society. We should not live by government permission.

It is not the function of government to organise blanket surveillance of law-abiding citizens, instigate compulsory identification and criminalise those who do not comply. As a servant of the people, it’s about time the government heard us.

Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service

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