I spend a fair amount of my time in Spain these days and when I am there I usually pay for purchases in shops with a credit card – as one does. To protect themselves from fraud many of these shops require a photo identity card to back up the credit card. I use an ID card issued to me when I was a permanent resident of the United Arab Emirates a few years ago. It fits in my wallet and it is a valid and clear proof of who I am. No problem. So why don’t I use my British ID card – well you probably know the answer? Because in the UK we don’t (yet) have them! But I hope that we soon will and I find the objections to the issue of ID cards ignorant and insular.

From 1980 – 2002 I spent the majority of my time living outside the UK – in Europe, the Far East and the Middle East. In all of the countries in which I lived, whatever their political systems, I was required to have and to carry an Identity Card. At no point did I think that this was an infringement of my freedoms, my privacy or my rights – on the contrary I believe that it enhanced them. The ID was my proof, as a foreigner, that I had a right to live in the country of which I was resident. Nationals of the countries had similar cards and these showed their rights as a citizen of the country – which in some cases were somewhat different from my rights as an alien resident. The ID cards were also useful in a variety of situations when I need to prove who I was. They carried a photograph which was very helpful when a Photo ID was needed (e.g. for some air travel) or in support when I was buying a product or a service.

The ID card system that I was part of abroad obviously had information about me stored in it. This varied from country to country – for example in the Middle East it carried information about my health (that I had “passed” an AIDS test, for example) whereas this was not required in Hong Kong or in The Netherlands.

To me the debate about ID cards has been dreadfully skewed to an inane debate about whether or not we should even have them at all in the UK – not what they will contain. My experience is that there are real benefits to individuals to the carrying of an ID card and I take the view that to object to them “in principle”, as an infringement of civil liberties is ridiculous. British residents have in recent years taken to carrying utility bills in their wallets and purses because it is increasingly the case that we are asked for some proof of our identity as we go about our business. ID cards would obviate the need for this absurdity.

If a country as liberal as The Netherlands has ID cards for all residents why then should we not have them in the UK? The issue is not about the principle but should be about the content of the ID card. We should not be arguing about whether we have them but about what is stored on them. That’s a real debate about civil liberties – not the specious and facile debate that is currently underway.

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