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Clarke takes charge of Blunkett's Fear Agenda

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Analysis British Home Secretary David Blunkett's resignation last night casts doubt over his ambitious and controversial plan to implement a compulsory biometric ID card scheme. The plan has been deemed "technologically impossible" by the Government's own IT chief. Blunkett was also viewed as Tony Blair's most senior political ally. He resigned after he could no longer deny giving his nanny preferential immigration treatment.

In the highly centralized UK political system, the Home Secretary officially wields power over the police, prisons, immigration and drug crime, a role so broad that clashes with the judiciary are considered part of the job. Like his New Labour predecessor, Blunkett made a virtue out of antagonizing as many civil liberties groups as he could. Last year he oversaw the publication of the Civil Contingencies Bill, which permits politicians, with a handful of Privy Council votes, to bypass the monarch and impose sweeping restrictions on movement, and seizures of property, however they see fit.

This year Blunkett has proposed making every offence arrestable, and in turn, giving police the power to make every arrestee submit to a drugs test and DNA sample. So be careful where you park… But it's the expensive ID card plan that has raised the most widespread concern. Although mooted as a voluntary card, it's really compulsory for employers; it's based on unproven technology; even the Home Office can't work out how much it will cost. The list of fields to be stored on the card looks ominously like an open-ended data trawl.

Which sensible politician, with an election just months away, wouldn't want to kick this as far away as possible? Well, Blunkett's successor at the home office, Charles Clarke, isn't much more of a civil libertarian. At the Department of Education he welcomed the installation of X-ray machines and police stop and search tactics into schools. But Clarke must decide how much political capital he wants to spend on a scheme that has already been compared to the Poll Tax. ®

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