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ID Cards - Yes Or No?

Mal Fletcher
Posted 27 August 2004
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The pollster MORI recently found that four out of five Britons say they are in favour of mandatory ID cards for the general population. If this is true, it is significant, for Britain is one of the few major European powers that have thus far resisted the introduction of ID cards.

People in Germany, Belgium, France and Spain already carry ID cards as do people in the Nordic countries. Yet people in other parts of the world have resisted all attempts to introduce such a system of identification.

In Australia, for example, massive protests in 1987 led to the overthrow of the government's proposal to introduce ID cards. In 1988 the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that a national ID card system violated the constitutional right to privacy.

In 1991, the Constitutional Court of Hungary found even a multi-user identification number system violated the right to privacy.

Those who favour ID cards for everyone claim that they will greatly assist the fight against terrorism and credit fraud. Yet the London-based human rights group Privacy International has reported that the likelihood of an ID card preventing a terrorist attack is virtually zero.

They say that an ID card could only assist anti-terrorism work if it was carried by a terrorist who was eligible and willing to register for one -- hardly the sort of thing you'd expect a serious terrorist to be doing.

And as for credit card fraud, well, anything can be faked and the more secure we think we are, the easier it is for fraudulent cards to pass muster.

Proponents of ID cards will say that if you already carry a passport, a driver's licence or a bankcard of some kind you are already using pieces of plastic to identify you.

The difference is, of course, that none of these stores information unrelated to the specific use of the card. There are limits on what kinds of information can be accessed directly from each one of these.

ID cards, though, would only be of benefit in terms of law enforcement and public security if they allowed authorities to access a much wider range of information about you, quickly and easily.

The key issue here is not in fact security, but privacy.

One dictionary defines privacy as, 'freedom from undesirable intrusions and especially publicity.' Privacy is a measure of our freedom. When we lose our privacy to any significant degree, we're open to control by outside forces.

Throughout history, leaders and governments have tried to remove the privacy of the individual so that they can control people's lives.

If we're going to have a safe and lawful society, we will need to compromise some of our privacy. That's a price most people are willing to pay. But governments by their very nature evolve, they grow.

When a government has reached the limit of the geographical area it can control, it must grow in another direction. There's only way one for that to happen: the government must increase its control over the people it already covers.

For its part, the Christian faith – on which much of Europe's civilization has been based – says that human rights come from God. That includes the right to make independent, personal and private choices.

Privacy is a fundamental human right because it affects our ability to make choices. As human beings, we don't react to circumstances through instinct alone. We respond by making rational and moral choices. Those decisions help to shape our lives.

Our choices carry both privileges and consequences. It's vital that we make righteous choices, but it's harder to do that if people who want control erode our freedom.

Jesus taught that God knows the very secrets of our hearts. He also weighs them up. Jesus said that, "There is nothing hidden that will not [one day] be disclosed..." (Matt. 12:2). What we do in private will be held up to the light of God's standards. So we need to be careful how we treat this precious gift of privacy and what we do under its covers.

According to the New Testament God delegates certain powers to secular authorities so that we can live at peace, with law and order. The exercise of that power, though, has limits. No human individual or agency must ever try to fill the role that only God is qualified to play.

© Mal Fletcher 2004
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