Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Who's this Brown anyway

Well, for one thing he's someone who's in favour of ID cards. He clashed with Cameron in the House today (BBC report) where he argued in favour of the things, calling for "unity in the face of terror".

I thought we'd left the idea that ID cards would do anything to prevent terrorism long behind. Brown's not playing to the fears of the gallery in the wake of the recent attacks is he? Tut. Double tut.

As No2ID argue "International evidence shows [ID cards] have little to no effect, and to claim otherwise at this time is opportunist at best." To date there is no terrorist outrage that ID cards would have come close to preventing.

A little while ago there was a very well attended No2ID meeting in Cambridge where MPs from the three Parliamentary parties spoke against these proposals. The meeting was excellent and contained wonderful entertainment in the form of three UKIP loons whose weird little Englander psychosis was pretty difficult to conceal - please note, the EU is not at the root of everything my friends.

One guy simply resorted to spluttering. "I'm from this country, but, but, I find it so hard to be English these days!" So presumably he comes over all French every now and then. Poor thing.

A lot of the speeches and comments from the floor concentrated on the consequences for the "law abiding citizen" which is all well and good and makes for good rhetorical points, but had I been called to speak I'd intended to say "but what about the consequences for those that do break the law?" - I'll come back to this in a second.

Our would-be Labour MP Daniel Zeichner really disappointed me with his pro-ID card speeches. Not because I disagree with him, he seems an honest and likable chap, but because of the arguments he choose to deploy. Namely immigration. The core argument he had for the cards was about monitoring and controlling foreigners. Not cool mate, not cool at all.

The other thing he said is that if a paramedic came to treat you he/she might need to know if you have a violent history. So let's get this straight shall we? Daniel thinks that ambulance crews should have a look at my criminal record before they treat me, even if I'm lying in a pool of blood in desperate need of medical attention. In fact all they need to know is are you dangerous, to them, right now and a card does nothing but confuse the issue.

The idea that everyone has the right to know what criminal convictions you have makes the reintegration of offenders back into society far more difficult. At the moment the courts supposedly pass sentences that are proportionate to the crime you've been convicted of. If we add to this sentence the idea that this information is going to be widely disclosed for years, or possibly forever, then we may as well brand people's faces like in the old days and be done with it.

The whole idea behind the demonisation of offenders, and categorising them in this existential sense as "criminals" is one designed to keep those at the fringes of society firmly out of the centre, and makes being caught for an offence all the more unpalatable.

This is important because, firstly, as a society we're idiots if we let petty offenders become desperate, poverty stricken outcasts. Secondly, just because someone was once convicted of a crime does not define them forever more. Thirdly, if the consequences of being caught for a crime are well beyond the reasonable then people will do anything to stop themselves being caught - which may involve murder.

The harder we make it to pull yourself up out of your current situation the more dangerous, divided and unpleasant society becomes. Yes, ID cards are problematic for the law abiding but add on to this that the current proposals will reinforce the current tendency of creating non-persons with little to look forward to and shunned where ever they go.

That might be what some want but it is not a recipe for a healthy society. If we allow the creation of one central database with vast amounts of information on it we have to be prepared for this information to be disclosed, distorted and destroyed - and the social repercussions of any of these could be catastrophic.

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