FEW in Britain want their country to turn into an ID card state where ‘Show your papers, please’ becomes routine and where living an ordinary life is conditional on officials checking what you are doing. Even fewer can see it coming, including 650 MPs.
The pandemic policy has shown how quickly people can be coerced into being compliant with pointless instructions, and how willing many have been to have their movements tracked by NHS Test and Trace for their own ‘safety’. However, the pinch point has been the Covid passport, which has created enough friction between the public and the Government for the plans to be held in reserve – at least in England.
Disagreement between citizen and state over ID card schemes is not new. Wartime ID cards were cancelled only after a member of the public refused to show his card to a policeman, an act of defiance which led to the High Court quashing the scheme in 1951. ID cards with a database logging where and when they were used were tried out by New Labour from 2008, but the legislation was repealed by David Cameron’s coalition government on the grounds that they infringed civil liberties.
Nevertheless, Whitehall has never given up on its goal of having a fully detailed personal record of each and every one of us. The Covid pandemic response drove a coach and horses through our civil liberties and the ready assent of many to being tracked has not gone unnoticed. With a few more chess moves, we can be taken to the point of no return where Government knows exactly how we each lead our lives.
Announced on October 13, the ‘New Gov.uk app’ will let users access 300 services, ‘notify users of changes in government policy which will affect them’ and ‘act as a reminder for things‘. The app is flagged as voluntary, and so it may be for a while, but Whitehall plays the long game and there is a generation of children to be schooled into making the ‘right choice’ of signing in to be monitored. For the rest of us, Government doubtless assumes we will all come round eventually, especially if the technology is so cheap and user-friendly that we really can’t avoid it.
Identity, tracking and nudge – all in one innocuous-seeming app.
Do we really want to let Government build a super-database of every individual? Of course not, but Government knows the ease we enjoy via Amazon, Google and the rest. We’re probably a few chess moves away from a Chinese-style social credit system, but the introduction of the New Gov.uk app places our civil liberties firmly in check. A further move is signalled by proposals to water down the UK Data Protection Act, making it harder to refuse consent for data sharing and more difficult to check how our personal data is being used.
Just signing into the New Gov.uk app will trigger monitoring. Those falling for the siren call of Government’s Pied Piper should be careful. This app doesn’t even need Parliamentary approval. And don’t forget, Government didn’t blink at making it a criminal offence to visit Granny or sit on a park bench.