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Likely Lib-Dem leader in 'no to ID card data' pledge

Ah, but what about the card, Nick?

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Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Nick Clegg has vowed to break the ID Cards Act by refusing to hand over his personal details when ID cards are made compulsory. Clegg, currently the likeliest winner in the LibDem leadership race, could therefore become the first major party leader to break cover as a law-breaking ID card refusenik. But before applauding, we should perhaps consider precisely what he's pledging, and what he's really risking by doing so.

Clegg presumably has a passport*, and has not as yet promised to refuse to provide personal details for his passport renewal when it comes up. The nature of the proposed National Identity Register changes as the years roll by, most impressively when it flipped from Blunkett's conception of a completely new, clean database to a pile of old databases, but the plan always was for the data from passports to be used for ID cards by the Identity & Passport Service. Effectively, passports and ID cards are pretty much the same thing, and whether or not the data from passports goes into the NIR is something Clegg can only influence if he wins a general election.

As intended by the current Government, the ID card rollout will have a "voluntary" phase where Clegg can, if he wishes, refuse the ID card they try to give him when he renews his passport. At this juncture however the ID card is only a bit of plastic that's neither here nor there, and the Government isn't going to care particularly if he declines one.

The opportunity to be a database refusenik, such as it is, arises when ID cards are intended to become compulsory, around 2010, but it's a very limited opportunity. The Government, should it still be in place, will require personal details from those who are not already on the database. Practically everybody who has a passport will already be on the database, however (although the percentage here will depend on when IPS starts, or started, pouring passport data into the NIR), and other source databases may also have made their contribution. Giving itself the power to compel people to submit information is therefore very much a backstop for the Government, and it's likely to apply to very few people. That few is not going to include Nick Clegg.

Once compulsion comes in, there are wider possibilities associated with being an ID card refusenik. If you refuse to take delivery of it or destroy it, then you can achieve illegality, and if enough people do that then the campaign could have an effect. Clegg envisages a poll-tax style grass-roots campaign, but as we've explained, if he just sticks to what he's said so far, he is not going to be in any position to lead it or even join it.

So if he doesn't want people to start thinking this is a risk-free publicity stunt, perhaps Clegg had better explain how far he's prepared to go in is lawbreaking career. It won't necessarily be glorious, and it could be personally expensive, as the legislation is specifically framed to frustrate would-be martyrs and publicity seekers, so takes money off them rather than sending them to prison. Not much there in the way of photo opportunities, but does Nick have what it takes anyway? ®

* Update: Nick Clegg's office confirms that he does indeed have a passport, and that he renewed it "as part of the No2ID Renew For Freedom campaign, before the passport becomes a designated document, so his details would not be added into the NIR until he renews his passport, which he won't do if it entails becoming part of the NIR and/or getting an ID card."

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