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Identity Documents Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:43 am on 29th June 2010.

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Shami Chakrabarti: I can only reiterate that purpose-specificity is incredibly important to any database, and purpose-specificity is what the national identity register lacked. In a nutshell, our three fundamental objections to compulsory identity cards and this non-purpose-specific database include race relations and discrimination. Over the years, you will remember, your predecessors and colleagues offered up many reasons and justifications for the scheme that came and went. One that kept coming back was immigration and the suggestion that we in Britain might move from being the kind of country that my parents came to in the late ’50s—where border control takes place at the border—to having something more akin to continental schemes where immigration  control happens on the street. You can imagine the consequences for race discrimination and race relations if an identity card became required on the street.

Second is the fundamental shift in the relationship between the individual and the state in a country without a written constitution or very strong torts of privacy. What we have had in Britain instead, over the years, is a justificatory principle: the police officer identifies himself to you, and you are only required to identify yourself to the police officer or others for specific reasons, such as reasonable suspicion of offending.

Finally comes the issue of personal privacy, which is exacerbated by an identity scheme of the kind that the world had never seen before—not in the war and not subsequently—because of the enormous capacity that computerised databases of this kind have to hold vast amounts of information that invariably grow over time.