For those opposed to the ID card scheme, it is easy to see the silver lining to the recent news that the taxman has lost 25 million records in the post. While the disappearance of these CDs causes grave concern for the people who’s data has gone missing, the incompetence does undermine the case for ID Cards: “We cannot afford a similar error on the national ID database,” (the argument goes) “… so, lets scrap the scheme”. Tactically, yes, I think it is an argument we in the anti-ID card lobby should be making loudly… but let us never forget that the administration of the system is a practical reason to oppose the scheme, and not a moral or ideological reason. Even if (in some thought experiment world, some Cloud Number 10) the government could 100% guarantee the security of the data, I would still be opposed to the scheme, because the political relationship between citizen and state does not change when the State buys a better computer system. Nor, for that matter, would it change if the cost of the scheme were to rise or fall. Brighton blogger Neil Harding recently changed his mind on ID cards, based on these practical reasons. While his interlocutors crowed at his volte-face, it seemed an empty victory to me. The moral argument was sidelined.
This matters, because arguments for ID cards seem to be made up exclusively of practical reasons. Advocates in Government and the security services play down the costs, and instead cite ‘convenience’ and ‘efficiency’. The moral aspect to their argument – that the cards will offer a measure of safety from terror and crime – is unproven and untested, and has the unmistakeable allure of the post hoc about it.
Meanwhile, here in the anti-camp, the opposite is true. The moral resistance to any change in the relationship between individual and state is conceptually prior to, and transcends, the concern over costs or data-security. If we successfully communicate this to our fellow citizens, we shall win the debate.