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Blunkett told ‘ID cards are racist’

By Lester Holloway
12/11/2003

David Blunkett was warned that ID cards would lead to an upsurge in discrimination against Black and Asian people

Karen Chouhan   David Blunkett
CHOUHAN: ID cards will discriminate   BLUNKETT: On the defensive.

Blunkett was challenged on ID cards in a TV debate last night (Tuesday) by 1990 Trust director Karen Chouhan, who criticised the Home Secretary’s decision to target foreign nationals in the first wave of the ID card ‘roll-out’.

Chouhan told Blunkett that singling out non-British residents was sending out the message that immigrants were more likely to cause crimes, which was not true.

And she expressed concern that police would misuse ID cards to disproportionately target Black and Asian communities.

Speaking on Channel 4 News, Chouhan said: “With all the work we do with black and minority ethnic communities, one of the very great concerns is that it will be discriminatory and racist – just as we have seen stop and search being used on the basis of skin colour in a disproportionate way.

“It is not helped by one of the first parts of the phasing in being directed against foreign nationals. They are going to be the first part of the ID compulsory scheme.

“Why foreign nationals? Is there a suggestion that foreign nationals are the ones that are committing crimes and the ones that are going to be terrorists?”

Chouhan challenged the Home Secretary to state whether the scheme would be abolished if it were found to be being used in a discriminatory fashion.

A rattled Blunkett responded: “Quite the opposite of being racist, I think there are many women in ethnic groups who will be liberated by being able to display their own identity rather than relying upon their husband.”

Chouhan was sceptical of arguments put by the Home Secretary that the ID card scheme would allow many women of ethnic minority backgrounds greater freedom.

She challenged Blunkett: “You are saying that women in ethnic minorities would be liberated. I am saying that it goes across the board… why are you directly putting the problem in black communities?”

In the broadcast, Blunkett claimed that ID cards had won strong support from minority ethnic communities.

Blunkett added that to be positively identified by police investigating crimes was a positive step as it would avoid cases of mistaken identity.

He said that people from ethnic minorities frequently complained that they were wrongly identified.

The Home Office claimed yesterday that foreign nationals were in the first wave of people to be required to hold ID cards because of the ‘immigrant offending’ problem.

However speaking after the TV debate, Chouhan said: “It is a fact that British citizens are far more likely to skip bail than immigrants are to commit crimes.

“Why start with law-abiding foreign nationals? If the government is serious about wanting ID cards to tackle crime, it makes far more sense to give an ID card to people who have actually committed a crime.

“To target foreign residents will only give a green light to hardline opponents of immigration to continue to portray immigrants as criminals, when the facts don’t support this prejudiced view.”

Launching the ‘biometric’ ID scheme, Blunkett stated that fraud and identity theft would fall dramatically with the introduction of the cards.

For British citizens the cards would remain voluntary until the vast majority of Britons had signed up.
The cards are to be compulsory in four years time, and phased so that people who apply for a passport or driving licence will be issued with a card and their details stored in a national database.

However former immigration minister, Barbara Roche cautioned that the government was not ready to take on such a massive IT project, and warned that its’ introduction would be chaotic.

She said: “I think there is a real issue of civil liberties. All the evidence suggests that governments simply aren’t very good at very big high-tech endeavours of this kind.”

Tony Collins, editor of Computer Weekly, said: “‘The Home Office has had perhaps the worst record of any government department introducing major IT systems; passport office, criminal records bureau, probation service, immigration service and national police systems. All these are major systems which have had big issues.”

 

see also:

Entitlement to What? 1990 Trust statement on proposed ‘entitlement cards’ Nov 2002

On external sites

Channel 4 news poll on ID cards

Response to Blunkett’s ID card push (Liberty)

Whatever the question, ID cards aren’t the answer (The Telegraph)

Should we carry ID cards? (BBC)

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