Millions may resist database, says poll
Wednesday, December 6th, 2006
The first signs of a significant popular revolt against the Government’s identity card scheme have been uncovered by a YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph.
It suggests that hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even millions, would refuse to register on the proposed database that will underpin the scheme, even if this meant a fine or going to jail.
Despite ministerial claims during the passage of the ID Cards Act through parliament that there was widespread public support for the multi-billion pound plan, the opinion survey shows a country split in two on the issue. It also indicates growing public concern at the encroachment of the so-called “surveillance society”, with large proportions suspicious of the Government’s intentions.
While people appear to accept measures like CCTV cameras, which they believe help tackle specific problems like crime, they increasingly resent the rapid expansion of databases collecting information about everybody.
Overwhelmingly, the public is unwilling to trust Government promises not to misuse personal information and fears the national ID database will contain inaccurate and unreliable information about them.
Although half of those questioned said they still support the idea of national identity cards, this represents a big fall from the 80 per cent backing claimed by ministers a few years ago.
Many still do not associate the card with the national ID database that will accompany it. When pressed, a majority were unhappy that their personal details were to be recorded and worried that inaccurate information could cause them harm, denying access to services or jobs.
Most worrying for the Government is that a large proportion of those interviewed would accept a penalty rather than be registered. Half those opposed to the ID scheme would pay a fine or risk prison by refusing to hand over their details. Fifteen per cent said they would go to prison.
Even if a large proportion of these “refuseniks” eventually fell into line, the potential exists for a huge popular backlash. If just two in every 100 person over 16 refused to sign up, the Goverment would be pursuing one million people.
The ID Card Act deliberately did not make refusal to register a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment because ministers wanted to avoid the creation of “ID martyrs”. The main penalties are a £2,500 fine for not registering and a £1,000 fine for failing to inform the authorities of a change of address. However, if people decline to pay their fines, the prospect then arises of going to prison.
The Act also does not make it a requirement to carry an ID card, again to avoid the so-called “Clarence Willcock effect”, named after the last person to be prosecuted for refusing to show his wartime ID cards in 1952, leading to their abolition.
People will either have to produce a card at a police station if required or will simply have their biometrics, which will be stored on the national database, checked by special readers.
The poll is the first major test of opinion since Tony Blair sought to revive public interest in the ID scheme last month. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he said: “We can’t ignore the advances in biometric technology in a world in which protection and proof of identity are more important than ever. . . it will enable us to cut delays, improve access and make secure a whole array of services by giving certainty in asserting our identity and simplicity in verifying it.”
However, the YouGov poll shows that many people, aware of the Government’s poor record on IT, do not believe this. Substantial numbers think the database will contain inaccurate and unreliable information. Two thirds said they did not trust the government to keep the information confidential despite safeguards built into the legislation.
Support for the ID cards was strongest among Labour voters and weakest among Tories and Liberal Democrats, whose parties have said they would scrap the scheme.
There is also compelling evidence that Mr Blair is wrong to assert that there is no civil liberties issue at stake, merely an argument about cost and practicality. Of those unhappy with the database, 70 per cent object in principle.
Phil Booth, national co-ordinator of the NO2ID campaign group, said the survey confirmed a continuing decline in support for the ID scheme that would grow when people saw the costs involved and had to submit to giving their biometrics by visiting one of a network of ID centres being set up across the country.
“From next year, people as young as 16 applying for their first adult passport will have to attend their nearest centre where they will be subject to background checks, questioning to test their story against official records, photographs, and, before long, fingerprinting,” Mr Booth said. “When that starts happening, public support will slide away even more. The vast majority of people do not want to be treated like numbers or common criminals.”