- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

In the months following September 11, Congress pushed national identification cards as a purported tool in the fight against terror. The idea was rejected as too intrusive on liberties, too susceptible to abuse, too dubious as a counterterror tool and too logistically challenging to implement even if it were. Now we hear the British are hatching their own national ID card plan. On Nov. 23, the British government announced plans to issue national identity documents for the first time since their post-World War II discontinuation in 1952. We would urge them to reconsider.

As we’ve pointed out before, we hope that the war on terror does not require a police state, nor the precursors to one. Unfree societies require the showing of “papers,” not free ones. The bad news is it seems the British are no longer convinced of that fact. We hope they are wrong. Shortly after the September 11 terror attacks, an overwhelming majority of Britons indicated support for ID cards — about 85 percent, by one polling firm’s reckoning. Now, with the endorsement of both Queen Elizabeth II and Tony Blair, it’s clear much of the establishment strongly favors the plan too.

Not all of it does. A revolt has been brewing in recent weeks among conservative opposition members of Parliament, civil libertarians and even members of Mr. Blair’s own Labor Party. Prominent among the revolters were former Shadow Home Secretary Lord Hattersley, a Laborite, who said the ID card plan went “too much in the direction of authoritarianism and too little in that of civil liberties,” and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, who accused the government of trying to win votes by stirring fears of terrorism. Scottish leaders, too, are uncomfortable with the encroachment.

As displeased MPs consider the issue, we’d like to remind the British public of what, precisely, they are bargaining for. “You will want this to be part of your life,” said Neil Fisher of QinetiQ, one of the companies building the technological systems for ID cards, to the BBC in April. “You will want, in what’s fast becoming a digital society, to be able to authenticate your identity for almost any transaction that you do, be it going to the bank, going to the shops, going to the airport,” he said.

We cannot, in logic, categorically reject the prospect that it may become necessary, in the efforts to detect terrorist planning, for the government to keep track of a citizen’s every action and purchase.

But we are not at that point yet. And we hope national survival will never require said police-state conduct. Certainly the case has not yet been made. Britain should hold her historic freedoms tight and not yield them to shadow fears.

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