Cameron’s immigration speech raises serious civil liberties questions

Ian Dunt writes at

Hidden in the murky depths of David Cameron’s immigration speech were some nasty ideas affecting civil liberties and privacy.

The prime minister, who not so long ago was deploying his best poetic rhetoric against Labour’s ID cards scheme, is planning on bringing in what appears to be a new biometric identity system. He only mentioned identity cards for migrants as an aside, but the implications are staggering.

“We are already rolling out a new single secure form of identification – the biometric residence permit – for those from outside the EEA to make it easier to identify illegal migrants in the first place,” he said.

This is curious. There is already a biometric ID programme for some non-EEA nationals, depending on the risk category the UK Border Agency puts their country in. What does he mean? Is he expanding it to include all non-EEA nationals, or introducing a new system, or just hyping a pre-existing system so he can look tough on immigration?

The current system is a remnant of the ID cards programme. In 2009 it was split in two, so ministers could preserve some of their efforts in case the ID cards plan was scrapped, which it was. Section one was the national identity register, section two was biographical footprint data and section three was the national biometric service. This was kept and the infrastructure for it was pretty thoroughly embedded. Most Post Offices have booths where they will take your fingerprints, for instance.

Mr Dunt notes:

What an ugly world he envisages. Brits would also be checked, of course, but Cameron urged us not to worry. You’ll just have to flash your passport or driving licence and carry on.

The reality is Cameron is expanding a system where you have to show your documents – prove your identity – while going about your daily business. This is the system of constant checks and monitoring which Labour envisaged: the need to constantly prove to the state you are legitimate, rather than the other way round.