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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
ID cards will 'infringe civil liberties'
An Asylum Registration Card (ARC)
Mr Blunkett will bring ID card plan to cabinet 'shortly'
The introduction of identity cards to crackdown on the numbers of asylum seekers will not make Britain more secure, according to civil rights campaigners.

They claim Home Secretary David Blunkett's plan to create an "entitlement card" will merely infringe civil liberties and add to the weight of information the state already holds on British citizens.

Mr Blunkett signalled on Thursday his intention to bring the controversial issue of ID cards to the cabinet for discussion "shortly".

I don't believe people will dance in the streets rejoicing at the introduction of ID cards, but I do think they will think 'well, OK yes, the time is right'
Andy Burnham
He claimed they would help him find out whether people were working and drawing on services legally.

As concrete blocks were being positioned around the Houses of Parliament on Friday to protect the building from attack, the cards will also be seen as a further tool in the fight against terror.

The measure will be included in legislation being drawn up to tackle groundless asylum applications, the problem of asylum seekers destroying documentation and abuse of the legal aid system.

Only the civil liberties lobby will have a problem with this.
Scooter, London, England

'Big brother?'

It is part of attempts to keep the pressure up on reducing numbers seeking asylum in the UK.

On Thursday the Home Office announced that asylum claims had fallen by 32% in the first three months of this year, down from 23,000 to 16,000.

Mr Blunkett said he saw the cards as a way of dealing with illegal migrants.

"I want them because I do want to know who is here," he said.

"I want to know whether they're working legally. I want to know whether they are drawing on services legally."

But Alex Runswick of Charter 88, the campaign for democratic reform, said the cards are "neither necessary nor inevitable" and will simple infringe civil rights.

Constitutional protection

"They don't do what the government says they are going to do. The idea that they are going to prevent terrorism is simply wrong," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The terrorists who committed the atrocities in America on September 11 had legal papers.

"Identity cards aren't going to help secure the safety of the people. What they will do is infringe our civil rights. Countries that already have identity cards have a written constitution and have those rights protected - we don't.

"Most of us do carry some form of ID. It's not that we are trying to conceal our ID, but if we forget our driving licence or our credit card at home, it is an inconvenience. At this stage it could come a criminal offence."

'Small price'

But Labour MP Andy Burnham said the cards are essential in the fight against terror, insisting that the state "has a right to know who people are".

"I don't believe people will dance in the streets rejoicing at the introduction of ID cards, but I do think they will think 'well, OK yes, the time is right'," he told Today.

"We live in a society that has changed and the authorities need every tool available to them to bear down on those problems.

"I am not saying ID cards are a panacea to all of the ills of society, but they are a tool and they will help create a more secure society.

"There is a small price and that price is the state has to have these details on you, but I don't think we should have a problem with that."

On track

It is expected the identity cards will carry name, date of birth, address, employment status, sex , photo, national insurance, passport and driving licence numbers, plus a password or PIN and "biometric information" such as an electronic fingerprint to prevent identity fraud.

While everyone will need to register on a national database, being able to produce the card to the police is not expected to be compulsory.

The measure follows Prime Minister Tony Blair's claim that the fall in asylum claims meant Britain had "turned the corner" in dealing with the problem.

The country was "now on track" to meet his target of halving asylum claims by September, the prime minister said at his monthly Downing Street news conference.

Refugee's battle to stay
22 May 03  |  UK
UK 'turns corner' on asylum
22 May 03  |  Politics

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