Of all the ways to reshape society after the pandemic, a digital identity system should not be anyone’s priority
“We have no hesitation in making the national identity card scheme an unfortunate footnote in history. There it should remain – a reminder of a less happy time when the government allowed hubris to trump civil liberties.” That was then home secretary Theresa May speaking in 2010 as she scrapped the previous Labour government’s multi-billion pound ID scheme, following a Conservative election campaign that included a pledge to “reverse the rise of the surveillance state”.
Only last year, the Home Office minister Baroness Williams told parliament that the introduction of identity cards would be “prohibitively expensive and would represent a substantial erosion of civil liberties”. What a difference a year makes. Under the guise of the coronavirus pandemic, the government has announced plans to create online ID cards and a digital identity system to “revolutionise the use of data across government”. Although the Times reports that the details have not been finalised, under the proposals people “will be assigned a unique digital identity to help them with such tasks as registering with a new GP”. Pub owners, the article suggests, “would be able to digitally verify drinkers’ ages”.