Former U.K. home secretary: compulsory passports rather than national ID

Published 23 February 2009

David Blunkett, in a speech today, will suggest making national ID voluntary, opting instead for compulsory, pocket-size passports; will also raise questions about massive national database; critics charge there is less here than meets the eye

They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is the view of some of what, on its face, appears to a change of heart by former U.K. home secretary and national ID-card supporter David Blunkett, who is to switch horses to passports, in what the Independent claims is a “U-turn.” Some argue that it looks more like a cunning plan to get everyone onto the ID database faster — by making passports compulsory. John Lettice writes in the Register that may also be an effort to save the core of the U.K. ID scheme in the event of a future Tory government pulling the plugs on ID cards.

Since Blunkett first proposed them, ID cards have been a tricky presentation and sales problem. Delays, technical issues, and budget problems have already knocked the ID cards rollout schedule a long way back, and even if the Brown government is re-elected in 2010, there is no certainty that the ID scheme will not be downgraded into something very like what Blunkett is recommending.

If this is the case, then those who support a national ID will find Blunkett’s new idea appealing. Most of the data required for a national ID is being gathered via passport applications anyway, and in order to gather this information you never needed the ID cards Act in the first place. Blunkett will suggest that ID cards should be voluntary, but that U.K. citizens will have to carry convenient pocket-sized mini-passport. Compulsory ID cards will continue to be rolled out to non-EU nationals.

Blunkett, in a speech today, will also warn of the dangers of a “Big Brother” state. He will “urge the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, to water down provisions in the Coroners and Justice Bill on data sharing between public bodies,” the Independent writes. He will also say that he 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.

Lettice asks: “David Blunkett, freedom fighter?” and answers “No, not really. While disputing some of the detail of pending legislation and criticizing the way RIPA is sometimes used, he’ll also say that Labour has got the balance between liberty and security broadly right.”