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'Fascist' ID database worries Lords

Creeping compulsion

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The House of Lords called upon the ancient liberties enshrined in British common law last night when it ping-ponged the ID Cards bill back to the House of Commons.

The Lords stood by its previous amendment to the bill, rejected last month by MPs, that prevents the cards from being introduced by "creeping compulsion".

But it accepted the Dobson amendment, endorsed by MPs last month, that watered down powers of scrutiny it had previously tried to impose on the ID Cards project - 227 to 166

Much of the Lords' concern about ID Cards has focused on the national identity register, a proposed database of every British citizen.

Baroness Park of Monmouth said the database constituted a threat to the freedoms enjoyed by British people: "We must be very, very careful not to bring on ourselves a system that cannot but be fascist, in the end."

Lord Phillips of Sudbury agreed, and said ID Cards "could create an insidious chemistry between the citizen and the state," characterised by "intrusive, all-knowing state [and a] culture of complacency" among the people.

Details of the register that emerged during the last ID Cards debate in the House of Commons showed that it is a more extensive scheme than the government liked to admit. The register itself would contain only basic information, but it would also have keys to 13 other government databases, making it a one stop-shop for information about individuals. Many critics says that this makes the information less secure.

Ultimately, last night's talk was over a single line from Labour's election manifesto that stated ID Cards would be introduced voluntarily when someone applied for a passport. The government subsequently maintained that the voluntary aspect of the application was in the choice of whether to get a passport or not - a person applying for a passport "must" also get an ID Card, said the bill.

Although compulsion appears inevitable, explicit compulsion will have to be enforced by primary legislation after debate in both houses, probably in about 10 years.

However, the "creeping compulsion" that would be introduced by tying ID Cards to passports would make any future legislation over compulsion academic. ®

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