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Father of ID cards moots compulsory passports instead

Downplay the cards, boost the database?

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Comment Former Home Secretary and career ID-card enthusiast David Blunkett is to switch horses to passports, in what The Independent claims is a "U-turn." But it looks distinctly more like a cunning plan to get everyone onto the ID database faster - by making passports compulsory.

Or, indeed, to save the core of the UK ID scheme in the event of a future Tory government pulling the plugs on ID cards. Since he first proposed them, ID cards have been a tricky presentation and sales problem. They couldn't be made compulsory (for everybody - special cases such as airport workers and foreigners are currently being invented) until large numbers of people had them on a 'voluntary' basis, but large numbers of people would only be likely to step forward for them if they were popular.

As popular as the government keeps saying they are, a great British (penal and correctional) institution.

Delays, cockups and budget problems have already knocked the ID cards rollout schedule a long way back, and even in the unlikely event of a Brown government being re-elected in 2010, there's no certainty that the ID scheme won't still be downgraded into something very like what Blunkett is recommending. So from the perspective of the unrepentant but cunning statist, his plan has much to recommend it.

Actually, you're getting most of the data via passport applications anyway, and in order to do this you never needed the ID cards Act in the first place. As they said some years ago, and as The Register noted. The problem with that one is that you don't get the stay-at-homes and you don't get the foreigners.

So, you announce that ID cards are voluntary, a convenient pocket-sized mini-passport, forever, you say that in order to do that everybody needs to have a passport, and you continue to roll out compulsory ID cards to non-EU nationals. The only flaw in this is that it misses non-UK EU citizens, because the UK can't force them to have ID cards unless it forces its own citizens to have them.

Blunkett, no stranger to political handbrake turns, will also warn of the dangers of a "Big Brother" state in a speech tomorrow, claims the Indie. He will "urge the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, to water down provisions in the Coroners and Justice Bill on data sharing between public bodies", may oppose (he says he "remains to be convinced") Home Office plans for a giant communications database, and will attack the "absurdity" of council officials' use of RIPA.

David Blunkett, freedom fighter? No, not really. While disputing some of the detail of pending legislation and criticising the way RIPA is sometimes used, he'll also say, says the Indie, that Labour has got the balance between liberty and security broadly right. ®

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