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Last Updated: Monday, 11 February 2008, 12:16 GMT
The campaign group: No2ID
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

Like many great - and not-so-great - ideas, the NO2ID campaign against identity cards and the "database state" started with a trip to the pub.

NO2ID CAMPAIGN
No2ID campaigners
Founded: 2004
Leading figures: Chairman Mark Littlewood, deputy chair Debbie Chay (of Charter 88), National co-ordinator Phil Booth
Aims: Non-partisan campaign against identity cards and the 'database state'
Funding: Subscriptions and Joseph Rowntree Trust grant
Legal status: Unincorporated association
Membership: About 40,000

In less than four years it has become one of the best-known single issue campaign groups.

Public concern about data security is running high at the moment, after the loss of millions of bank details by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and other scandals.

Even Prime Minister Gordon Brown appears to be having a few second thoughts about whether the cards should be compulsory - and the scheme's introduction was recently delayed by two years.

But in early 2004, when the then Home Secretary David Blunkett first proposed a national identity register, it seemed the only real opposition would come from what Mr Blunkett liked to deride as "airy fairy libertarians".

Groups attending a public meeting at the London School of Economics in May 2004, where the idea of a campaign against ID cards was first proposed, included Privacy International and Liberty. Speakers included the future Conservative leader David Cameron.

In the pub afterwards, the NO2ID campaign was officially born.

'Idiotic idea'

Phil Booth was one of about a dozen people at that first meeting in the Newman Arms, in Grafton Street.

"I came along having done some T-shirts on my home printer so I got the fundraising and merchandising role," he recalls.

He had no previous campaigning or political experience. He says he had become concerned about data security when he helped to set up a secure website for children in care.

Des Browne
Ministers believe the cards are needed to secure the UK's borders

"My professional understanding of [ID cards] was this is a bad, stupid idiotic, appalling way of doing any sort of identity management.

"My personal view is that this was a grab for personal identity, that an ID card system of the sort that was being proposed was a direct assault on my freedom."

The fledgling group appointed Mark Littlewood, then on sabbatical from Liberty, as its chief spokesman.

Rapid growth

But when he stood down a few weeks later, to take a job for the Liberal Democrats, continuing as the campaign's chairman, Mr Booth found himself thrust into the spotlight.

"Within three days I found myself with a microphone stuck in my face and on BBC and ITV, at six o'clock," he recalls with a grin.

His main experience to that point had been printing campaign T-shirts. Now he was expected to hit back at the home secretary, who had just launched his Identity Cards Bill in the Commons, on live television.

No2ID campaigners
The campaign has a network of grass roots activists

The campaign grew rapidly, from the initial 12 registered supporters to about 10,000 within three months.

Like many smaller voluntary groups, it is an unincorporated association, which is more informal and cheaper to set up and run than a charitable trust.

Unincorporated associations do not have to file annual accounts but they cannot own property or hire staff in their own name, and those running it are personally liable for any debts.

There are currently about 40,000 NO2ID members but it continues to be run on a shoestring says Mr Booth, who works full time for expenses only, and relies on the efforts of its members around the country.

It only recently gained its first paid member of staff thanks to a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Trust.

As so often with single issue campaigns, it is not a simple to job to judge levels of success.

NO2ID failed to derail Mr Blunkett's bill, despite apparent pledges of support from more than 80 Labour MPs, but it was a significantly changed and delayed scheme by the time it passed Parliament.

'Refuseniks'

That delay means there is still doubt over whether the cards will ever come in for Britons, and the group's focus has now switched to building a mass campaign of civil disobedience.

Mr Booth talks about building a "wedge of refuseniks" - people who have signed NO2ID's pledge not to co-operate with the national identity database and to encourage others to do the same.

N02ID has also broadened out to include campaigns against other aspects of what it calls the database state.

It recently encouraged more than 100,000 people to write to their GPs to ask for their details to kept off a central database. It has also campaigned against the collection of DNA and the fingerprinting of schoolchildren.

Phil Booth
You need a movement not a campaign
Phil Booth, No2ID national co-ordinator

The past few weeks could prove to be a turning point on ID cards.

Gordon Brown - in stark contrast to the bullish rhetoric of his predecessor Tony Blair - was reluctant to make the case for compulsory ID cards, when pressed in the Commons, stressing that it will depend on the success of the voluntary scheme and a vote by MPs.

Mr Booth believes the change of tone is a political necessity - given the scale of opposition to the scheme among Labour MPs - and that nothing has really changed.

The government is clearly hoping that the introduction of ID cards for foreign nationals, which begins later this year, and the voluntary scheme for British citizens that will follow, means that by the time MPs finally come to vote on whether to make cards compulsory, it will no longer be controversial.

Public support

The government's decision to stage the introduction of ID cards has turned them into something of a moving target for campaigners.

Most people will only start to get angry when they are asked to "present themselves for interrogation and fingerprinting," which might not happen until 2010 at the earliest, says Mr Booth.

By then, of course, it may be too late. Mr Booth is conscious of the need for NO2ID to mobilise greater public support if it is to achieve its aim.

No2ID campaigners
No2ID has specialised in eye-catching stunts

"You need a movement not a campaign. We are a campaign. But this campaign was always going to be in phases. The first phase was a Parliamentary battle, simultaneous with a public education phase, which will continue all the way through."

The second phase, he says, is to move "off the internet" and into grass roots action.

'Targeted campaign'

He also wants to recruit more public figures and celebrities to the cause, even though it is a "hardcore political campaign" and lacks the glamour of Live8 and other campaigns.

He is confident the numbers signing the NO2ID pledge - which is available on the campaign's website - will "pass the million mark" at some point.

But he does not envisage a million people marching down Whitehall in protest at ID cards in the near future.

"We have said this will be Labour's poll tax, if it comes to it, but I don't want to see people hurt. I don't want to see people rioting on the streets. I am not some sort of anarchist. I want to stop it by appropriate, lawful means at the earliest point.

"And I don't see marches as being the most effective way of doing that. So let's have a precise, targeted campaign."

'Extremists'

With his black N02ID T-shirt and enthusiastic, scattergun delivery, Phil Booth remains far cry from the archetypal sharp-suited lobbyist.

His "ordinary bloke" image is a useful prop to counter what he sees as an attempt to portray anti-ID campaigners as "extremists" and "fundamentalists".

He says he would love to debate ID cards with a government minister but - with some exceptions - they have tried to ignore or, he says, smear the campaign.

In March 2005, he was branded "sinister" by a Labour peer, Baroness Gibson, during a debate in the House of Lords, who accused the campaign of "hiding" its literature behind a PO box number - an experience he found disconcerting.

On the few occasions when he has met one of the civil servants or ministers behind the scheme, the mood has been "nervous".

That attitude is in contrast to that of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who have both said they would scrap the scheme.

Despite the delays and hints of a rethink from Mr Brown it looks as though ID cards will still be one of the more clear-cut dividing lines at the next general election.

Which in itself is one of the strongest signs of success for any group of campaigners.


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