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Me and my ID card.

Robert Cutforth volunteers for an ID card and is told “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about” - over and over again

Published on January 12th 2010.

Me and my ID card.

In case you’ve been living on Mars for the past few months, Manchester has been selected as the guinea pig for the national ID card scheme. ID cards are there to protect you from identity theft and terrorist activity, and make travelling through the EU easier - or so the Home Office says. Bless Manchester to be so chosen. Maybe we had to accept the trial to get the Metrolink expansion money.

For the security questions I choose the sport's position I played as a kid, the name of my first pet and the first book I’d ever read. I chose the last one because saying “Jacob Two Two meets The Hooded Fang” to an over-efficient ID card flunkie tickled me.

Still I thought it might be interesting to see what actually happens during the process of getting ID-ed up. The building where you get 'processed' is the Passport Office on the third floor of Westminster House on Portland Street, Manchester. Westminster House was formerly the headquarters of the defunct Greater Manchester Council, so in its former use and its present name it seems to embody the type of governmental heavy-handedness that some people think the ID card embodies.

I must admit, I was a bit sceptical going in. Why would anyone pay £30 to give the government sensitive information? I’m not a tinfoil hat wearing nut locked in my basement with 800 copies of Catcher in the Rye by any means, but I think it’s safe to say that they don’t have the best track record when it comes to keeping personal information safe.

Step One: Go to the ID card webpage and request an application pack.

The first thing I read on the website is the fact that I need a passport before I can apply for an ID card. Erm, I thought this could be used instead of a passport? Scratch making travel through the EU cheaper and easier.

Step Zero: Get a passport. Fill out forms, get my photos taken, hand over £30 and go for an interview. The interviewer gets all Nineteen Eighty-Four on me when, to confirm my identity, he asks me who I bank with. “Erm... Lloyds”. “That’s fine”, he confirms, “Don’t worry, if you didn’t get that one right, we could ask you who your mortgage is with”.

Step Two: Fill out a second set of forms that ask for virtually the same information my passport application provided and go for a second interview.

The second interview was an interesting process. I was called up to talk to a cheery fella who checks my form, takes my money and inputs my details. Just to make conversation while he typed my info in manually, I asked “Have you had many people apply for these things?” Sensing my surprise when he answers yes, he goes on the defensive. “I don’t know what the fuss is all about”, he starts, “Organisations hold personal information about you for all kinds of things, it’s just how it works. It’s about time they came in if you ask me, the Home Secretary has said that they can’t keep track of illegal immigrants who are claiming benefits”. Hmm, that’s odd, they didn’t mention that bit in their marketing material, I thought this was about protecting me from identity theft.

“Besides”, he continues, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about”. He says that last bit three times during the interview. I’ve never liked that phrase “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about”, especially since the US government used it to convince Americans to accept the Patriot Act. You know, that one that allows the Feds to wiretap anybody without their consent.

At the end of my interview, I’m asked to sit back down, write down the answers to five security questions and wait to get called up again for the second part of the interview. There are a number of security questions on the list. I choose the sport's position I played as a kid, the name of my first pet and the first book I’d ever read. I chose the last one because saying “Jacob Two Two meets The Hooded Fang” to an over-efficient ID card flunkie tickled me.

Step Three: Give over my “biometric data”. I get called up to the biometric room where I am greeted by a silver box, a camera and plastic container full of used tissues. “Close the curtains behind you for privacy”, the woman tells me. Biometric data just sounds disgusting. Disgusting AND technical. Like getting a Dirty Sanchez from a robot. I think to myself, If she hands me a girlie mag and a cup, I’m outta there, sod the 30 quid.

Thankfully, no bodily fluids were spilled; the tissues were for wiping the fingerprint glass down. Biometric data is simply college talk for fingerprints, a signature and a photograph that apparently scans my retinas. Yes, this biometric lark isn’t like Nineteen Eighty-Four at all, scanning my retinas is entirely rational. As she takes my fingerprints, I ask her, “Who will have access to these? Can the police use this fingerprint database to solve crimes?” to which she replies, “Yes, I suppose they can. But if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about”.

And bingo I'm done.

But the whole process seems to confirm my scepticism. It feels utterly pointless, more of an exercise in treating me as a potential criminal by fingerprinting me at my own expense than making travel easier or fighting terrorism. The ID card also seems too easy to procure, all you need is a passport, and they have been known to be expertly forged.

Another thing, no one at the passport office ever asked me why I'd applied for an ID card. It didn't cross the interviewer's mind, nor did it seem to warrant official enquiry. Yet surely you must be a certain sort of person to want to put yourself and your biometrics on a government data base when you don't need to. If I was the government I'd certainly want to know why people like me are volunteering for a card which allows them to be more effectively monitored - and when the whole thing is likely to be abandoned by the Tories if they win the next election.

Nor has the take-up been spectacular, out of Greater Manchester's 2.5m population, only 2400 or so cards have been issued since 30 November 2009. It could take a while before we all see the wisdom of carrying one.

But let's say for a moment that creating a giant fingerprint and retina scan data base is not Big Brother poking his nose into our business. Let's say it is going to be an effective tool in the fight against crime and terrorism. The problem with that logic is that it needs to be mandatory. While it remains voluntary, it has no chance of being effective; Sean Mercer and Abu Hamza aren't exactly going to be lining up to get one. A legitimate one, anyway.

No, that's too cynical, isn't it? I’m sure that these cards will help hunt down those pesky illegal immigrants, stop Osama from stealing my identity and make travelling through Europe quick and easy like it was in the good old days. Why, I feel safer already. Now then, where did I put my Daily Express?

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20 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

OJanuary 12th 2010.

I am up for getting one; my passport expires in March this year and a new one is £70 odd quid isn't it so if I buy an ID card now while my passport is still valid I'll save £40. That's not a bad idea is it? If my passport wasn;t soon to expire though I wouldn't pay for one.

kzwooJanuary 12th 2010.

OMG - they know who I am now, I am a marked woman!

WasserJanuary 12th 2010.

Why have 2400 people volunteered for the card? Why would they do that?

Cockney GeezerJanuary 12th 2010.

Mr Snuffleupagus

AnonymousJanuary 12th 2010.

Richard Hammond.

Eddy RheadJanuary 12th 2010.

I feel a lot safer already.

DescartesJanuary 12th 2010.

Laughable, you know people have already been refused exit from the UK because they only ID they had on them was their ID card - it's worthless for travel, and unless it becomes mandatory and we go to an East Berlin 'papers out of prison you go' mentality it's a huuuuuuuuuge waste of time.

Hugh G. JohnsonJanuary 12th 2010.

Your mum

KzwooJanuary 12th 2010.

Think I will be voting Conservative!

NameJanuary 12th 2010.

Have Des and Ricky got one then? Or shall we just put names up? In which case Evelyn Waugh.

MrsJouseJanuary 12th 2010.

O: that's a rubbish idea, get a passport instead - the ID card is only valid for EU travel (and not even that by the sounds of it) - so sod's law you'll end up winning an all expenses paid trip to Australia or somewhere and will need a passport anyway....

scoteeeJanuary 12th 2010.

Brilliant, I reckon that article should have only been released to heroe's and billed as another £30 Mancon has saved me !!!

OJanuary 12th 2010.

What about him?

AnonymousJanuary 12th 2010.

Why because in principle it can be used instead of a passport in the EU and you may have your driving licence taken away. Maybe you are a criminal already what does it say on your CRB check?, or a subversive. Have you checked you MI5 File or asked the police what intelligence they hold one you. I am pretty sure I have and filed on by both those agencies.

Simon SeniorJanuary 12th 2010.

They'll all be people who have too, like airport staff wasser. Normal people wouldn't volunteer for this sort of thing. They are too busy.

peteoJanuary 12th 2010.

Given that Manchester has pioneered the most recent wave of the privitisation of public space and the criminalisation of the most minor infractions of social behaviour it seems that we are the obvious choice........what became of Manchester the independant, foreward thinking, radical city?.....we've just become another hellhole of commercialism and corporate control (not that i'm against people eraning money!).Manchester RIP

Eddy QJanuary 12th 2010.

By the way the caption on the picture made me laugh. So true. How will ID cards stop the terrorists? Answer: they won't.

AnonymousJanuary 12th 2010.

Desmond toutou

Knocker RileyJanuary 12th 2010.

I already have a Passport.I already have a driving licence with my photograph on.We dont need another form of I. D.Big brother rides on!!!

Andrew MeredithJanuary 22nd 2010.

I hope the journalist knows that he is now obliged to update his database entry whenever any of the info he gave changes, on pain of £1000 fine. He wants to hope that the next government does indeed scrap the whole scheme as all the other parties have promised. Otherwise he might regret the streak of curiosity that lead him to sign up for one.

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