Gordon Brown on national biometric IDs

Published 7 January 2008

The debate in the U.K. over the wisdom and effectiveness of a national biometric ID rages on, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown weighs in; he says: “We shouldn’t rule out a way to protect people’s identities”

The debate in the United Kingdom over the wisdom — and feasibility and effectiveness and and cost — of a national biometric ID continues. Here are two answers Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave in an interview to the Guardian on the issue:

Guardian: People seem confused as to what [biometric ID cards] are for. Is it specifically to guard against foreign nationals working and living illegally here? Or is it aimed at domestic security?

Brown: There are two things. One is, when it comes to foreign nationals coming in and the danger of illegal immigration. I think most people would support there being some form of identification that people are asked to produce.

Guardian: Is that the principal reason for ID cards?

Brown: As far as the individual is concerned, the danger for me and you in the modern world is that our identity is easily stolen. And people feel worried when information that is personal to them is lost, and rightly so. And I think if we were giving a better means by which people could protect their identity, then in the private as well as the public sector people are looking at biometrics. I mean maybe in a few years’ time on your computer you will need biometrics rather than a password.

Maybe when you go to a supermarket, as happens in some parts of the States and Europe, you are going to be safer, instead of carrying a credit card which can easily be stolen, to use your biometrics to shop. Maybe in relation to banking to use biometrics or fingerprint biometrics, you might find that you are safer in your banking transaction than if you carried a card and a number. But the very fact that you’ve got biometrics now in a way that you didn’t have two centuries ago gives you opportunities to protect people’s identity and I don’t think we should rule out the use of that. In fact, I don’t actually think most of the general public think that the use of biometrics is in itself wrong, either for private transactions or for passports or whatever.