Those of us living in Spain, where identity cards have been part of the way of life for as long as we can remember, find it difficult to understand why so much fuss is being made in Britain about the proposed introduction of ID cards there. Indeed, during an earlier stage of the debate in the UK this newspaper urged Mr David Blunkett, then Home Secretary, to spend some of his annual holiday time on Majorca talking to British residents here who find ID cards useful and little bother. But that was before 9/11 and the situation has obviously changed in Britain with the need for increased security. Tony Blair's claim on Monday that the ID card is an idea whose time has come was presumably a reference to this heightened security situation. The problem in the UK is that the proposed cards will go far beyond the simple function of identification, either to the police or to one's bank or prospective employer. They will be used for a wide range of official purposes, starting with access to public services and extending to all manner of everyday transactions which at present need no proof of identity. An even greater concern has been identified by the independent information commissioner, Richard Thomas, who has warned about the risk of Britain sleep-walking into a surveillance society where its citizens will lose their long-valued right of privacy. A further difficulty is that the new ID cards will be much more sophisticated than the ones we know here in Spain. They will be linked to the new biometric passports containing iris or facial patterns which have to be introduced because of international developments. This increases their cost substantially but, of equal importance, raises the question of whether the technology, used on such a huge scale, will work. The British government's record with computers is abysmal; why, therefore, should it be assumed that a passport/ID card project involving every citizen in the country could be made to work at the cost estimated by the Home Office which has already been challenged by a study by the London School of Economics?
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