Reviewed by: BigAl
Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words
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SA Mathieson is a journalist and author. He specializes in healthcare IT and management and contributes regularly to blogs and publications such as the Guardian newspaper on these subjects.
You can learn more about the author on his website.
In Card Declined… the author traces the historical facts regarding Britain’s use, abolition and attempts to reintroduce an identity card scheme over the period 1945 – 2011.
This book discusses the history of a movement to institute a program requiring a national ID card in Britain. A political battle that raged on and off for several years, a law was ultimately passed and then repealed before it could be fully implemented. I thought it would be interesting to read this from the viewpoint of an American, not just to see the differences in the political systems of Britain and the US, but also what we might learn from Britain’s experience in a few related political battles going on here. I’ll start with a quote from the book
Americans have a written constitution that states that “we the people” are sovereign. Britain doesn’t, and many people (including Tony Benn) talk about a ‘they’ who are responsible for all manner of things – which means they can take the blame, too.
At least in theory that quote should get to the heart of the differences between the two systems. But at least from what I read here, although the political process of passing a law may not be the same, in how it functioned (or didn’t) I couldn’t see much difference. There was partisan bickering between the majority and minority parties, with gamesmanship seeming to matter more than doing what was right. In the next election the majority and minority might change, but the game didn’t. There was plenty of money wasted and in the end, nothing of worth (from any perspective on the political spectrum) was accomplished.
However, I did notice some similarities and two significant differences between this political battle in Britain and two current issues in the US, specifically voter ID laws and some laws that have been passed in some states allowing law enforcement to demand proof of citizenship. One difference I saw was that the changes are generally being proposed by parties on different ends of the political spectrum, with those from the liberal end championing the ID laws in Britain and those from the conservative side proposing these laws in the US. The other difference is the proposed changes in the US aren’t as sweeping, in that they wouldn’t require everyone to have a specific form of ID, but would potentially require people who currently have no need for accepted forms of ID to obtain one of them. Rather than argue either for or against, I’ll point out a few of the ideas raised in Card Denied that seem pertinent to the US and the laws under consideration here.
The first is this quote from an opponent which sounds familiar to those who have paid attention to discussions of voter ID laws in the US. “This is a rare victory for civil liberties. ID cards were a solution looking for a problem.”
The main objection to the ID cards in Britain is that it would provide the government a means of tracking too much about a person, in essence making it easy to invade privacy. The law that eventually passed gained favor with politicians in the wake of 9/11, not unlike the passing of The Patriot Act in the US. In the wake of recent terrorist acts in the US, we should be on guard for attempts from either party to shove through laws using this as an excuse.
Last is this quote, which is applicable in many ways to the issues being discussed in the US:
“My biggest objection, of many to this scheme, is the impact I know it will have on racial minorities,” she added. “It won’t be the home secretary, or his family, or people that look like him, that get hassled for their ID card in a doctor’s surgery, on the street, at every port and call. It will be people who look like me. That is the experience of every European country that has compulsory identity cards.”
Card Denied raised the specter of 1984 and how ID cards allowed Big Brother to track every citizen. Although the US is nowhere near that, we need to scrutinize proposals taking us more in that direction and decide whether they are solving a problem or only helping put us in Big Brother’s sights.
No significant issues
Rating: **** Four stars