Experts raise concerns about “disturbing” plans for ID cards
(24 November 2008)
Durham University security and surveillance experts have raised major concern about the UK’s first identity cards for foreign nationals.
The government scheme, launched next Tuesday (25 November), requires all foreign nationals applying to enter or remain in the UK to apply for a credit-card sized, biometric identity card. The Home Office says the cards – which will include an electronic chip holding fingerprints and a digital facial image - will protect against identity fraud, illegal working, and organised crime and terrorism. But fears have been expressed by leading experts at Durham University who suggest the cards may encourage racial discrimination and could lead to misuse of personal data. They also express worry about the potential for covert surveillance of ordinary citizens and the subsequent ethical issues this raises. Steve Graham, Professor of Geography at Durham University and a member of the UK Surveillance Studies Network, said: "The most disturbing thing about the UK ID cards scheme is the cards' potential, through their embedded radio frequency chips, to be used as a means of passively tracking people's whereabouts continuously and covertly. “The cards are likely to be required as often as a credit card because of the way more and more functions are added to such systems. This would effectively transform the nature of the national border into a mobile, continuous and ever-present feature of everyday life." Dr Francisco Klauser, an expert in security politics at Durham University, further highlighted the potential for discrimination. He said: “The association of ID cards with large-scale databases produces a powerful system of surveillance and social sorting. “It raises a series of important issues not only in terms of privacy and individual liberties, but also in view of its potential for discrimination between different populations through modes of classification that may include ethnicity and nationality, for example.” According to Dr Matthew Kearnes, in researching the implications of new technologies on society, the identity cards also raise issues over the reliability and security of the information on the cards themselves. Dr Kearnes, of Durham University’s Institute of Hazard and Risk, said: “As well as concerns about the reliability and security of such technology there are wider questions here about the increasing penetration of technology in all areas of everyday life. The Government is seemingly committed to a technological solution to a human problem. “Given the Government’s recent track record – the NHS data base scandals and concerns about electronic wheelie-bin monitoring – this technological approach is likely to exacerbate existing public concerns” He added that the ID cards were part of plans for a bigger 'smart', or so-called e-borders, idea based on anticipatory data mining, profiling and risk management, which is not reflected in the current debate. Dr Kearnes said: “Part of this is about the UK extending its borders through setting up immigration processing posts in off-shore locations, such as ‘trouble spots’ for immigration. It is therefore significant that it is foreign nationals who will be required to hold the cards, which perpetuates the idea that they are a problem to monitor. “Currently asylum seekers are required to register for an application registration card (‘arc cards’) which are a similar, but ‘low tech’ card, which have done little to lessen concerns about illegal immigration.”