Well, it's IDDay tomorrow as the ID Cards Bill heads for a second reading in the Commons. Gratifying signs of impending failure are breaking out all over it, what with the London School of Economics study, the card's possible rejection by two major trade unions, and a wave of hostile press comment. If you want to help, get your arse down to Parliament tomorrow, 1130 hours, and help us demonstrate.
That's the public service announcement over with. This weekend, the Independent on Sunday wapped everybody by claiming that the government was going to sell the information from the National Identity Register to private interests. Now, I wouldn't put it past them, but on reading the story it appears what they meant was that the government intends to charge businesses for the ability to check IDs. Not very good journalism, but it did point up an important aspect of the scheme which has otherwise not been mentioned very often. If a company can read the cards and presumably look up the database, then it can also store the replies. In this way it would be possible to, in effect, reverse engineer the database for your customers. If you were (say) Tesco, you could build a shadow database of most of the records in the real one. You might even portray it as making the technical challenge simpler by locally caching the replies, thus relieving the load on the central system. The risk exists that multiple, not necessarily updated, part-NIRs will appear.
Just yet another reason to reject ID cards. And, of course, the Database State.
I wonder what will happen when the ID Cards Bill falls? After all, as I've said before and been proved right on, we are going to win. My bet would be that, in three or four years' time, the Home Office will bring the bugger back, or one of its many stealth versions, like the national database of children. This is a key feature of the Home Office. It has about three ideas, which appear in rotation. These are: Prison for everyone, compulsory boils for asylum seekers (or whatever), and ID cards. As far as I can see, defeat does not change them at all; they just shift on to the next stereotype. When ID cards fail, there will be a new assault on asylum seekers (hell, they are already happy to send people back to Zimbabwe), and when the limits are reached they will start bingeing on incarceration again. Once the prisons are jammed beyond capacity, the Treasury will call a halt and there will be a period of purging, before the next cycle begins with the ID Cards (2010) Bill. With the crazed proposal to use troops (troops!) to repress "anti-social behaviour", we can already see this happening.
What I want to know is: what does the Home Office do for our society?
After all, it is a long-standing British principle that policing should be local and accountable. Police forces already answer to elected police authorities, with the exception of the MOD Police, UKAEA Police (Tony Benn's private army) and the dear old British Transport Police (the railway plod). Now, the first of these is a military responsibility. The second ought to be as well. What the third is actually for defeats me. Even the Blairite prison-hawks like the idea of "elected sheriffs" because it sounds American, and the Treasury geekmeisters love to talk about "new localism in our public services".
The control of the borders is split between Customs (part of the Treasury) and the Immigration Service. We have seen quite enough poisonous, Sun-driven ministerial meddling with the assessment of claims for immigration or asylum in the UK, so it's time to depoliticise the issue. Bang goes another function. The secret services are currently split between departments, and live outside proper ministerial and parliamentary accountability. In fact, they have the reverse problem to the Immigration Service. That leaves - what? The National Criminal Intelligence Service? Feh. And the prisons. Those.
I propose we kill it before it grows, as Bob Marley so wisely put it. Managing the individual police forces should be devolved and democratised (perhaps to the regions I suggested). The civil nuclear security task should go to the military, and the Transport Police tasks go to the local forces. The sensible Liberal Democrat proposal for an independent Immigration Agency should be taken up. Something like two-thirds of prisoners are illiterate; perhaps the Department for Education and Skills should take over the system, or seeing as similar numbers have at least one mental illness, the Department of Health. MI5 should go to a new Secretary of State for the Intelligence Services, taking over GCHQ and MI6 into the bargain - and why not a reduced NCIS combined with the National Crime Squad? The Intelligence and Security Committee should be released from the prime minister's power and beefed up as an Intelligence Supervision Committee. This would provide a single lead for anti-terrorism, into the bargain.
Marsham Street, it's time for you to go...