ID cards: a price worth paying

Sorry, I’m back on ID cards again. But it’s Squander Two’s fault, because his excellent post on the subject got me thinking about one of Blair’s emailed arguments:

If national ID cards do help us counter crime and terrorism, it is, of course, the law-abiding majority who will benefit and whose own liberties will be protected. This helps explain why, according to the recent authoritative Social Attitudes survey, the majority of people favour compulsory ID cards.

I’ve mentioned that survey before, but it’s worth coming back to. The key point:

Seven out of ten people believe that compulsory ID cards are “a price worth paying” to combat terrorism.

Now maybe I’m wrong – I can’t check, because the actual survey is a paid-only publication and I can’t see how the questions were worded – but assuming the above line is an accurate reflection of what people were asked, then it’s a leading question – it’s based on the very shaky assumption that ID cards do indeed combat terrorism. Based on the evidence so far, the survey could easily have asked this instead:

Compulsory ID cards won’t do anything to stop terrorism but could enable every little petty jobsworth to get on your tits, could make it considerably easier for criminals to steal your identity and could make it impossible for you to get benefits, to get healthcare, to travel or even to bank if some incompetent arse mucks up your entry on the database. Is that a price worth paying to prevent the government from looking stupid?

Sadly, they weren’t asked that, so the figure of 70% in favour of compulsory ID cards… hang on a minute, wasn’t this scheme supposed to be voluntary?… has to stand. So what else is A Price Worth Paying?

22% believe torturing terror suspects is a price worth paying.

35% believe that banning “some” peaceful protests and demos is a price worth paying.

45% believe that denying terror suspects trial by jury is a price worth paying.

79% believe that detention for weeks at a time without charge is a price worth paying.

Again, the questions were based on combatting terrorism, and as many others have pointed out the answers are based on the belief that these things would only affect other people, such as brown men with beards who look a bit shifty. I’d love to see how the people surveyed would have responded to this, which is essentially the same questions put in a slightly different way:

If you were peacefully protesting against a government policy and you were told such demonstrations were illegal, arrested, detained without charge, kept incommunicado for weeks, forced to endure physical and mental torture and finally released without apology or compensation, knowing that the state will watch you as a suspected terrorist for the rest of your days, and you were told that, hey, it’s a price worth paying… would you agree?

Far fetched? Not when we can falsely accuse people of training 9/11 hijackers, stick them in Belmarsh for five months and let them out again without any compensation, even though they’ve lost their job and suffered god knows what inside:

The Home Office argues that since Mr Raissi has neither been charged with an offence nor “completely exonerated” he does not qualify [for compensation].

That “completely exonerated” dig is telling – remember that Mr Raissi hasn’t been charged, so he’s innocent until proven guilty. As Steven Poole writes in his book, Unspeak:

You might still think it desirable that anyone accused of a crime in Britain should be assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. The widespread usage of the phrase “terrorist suspects”, on the contrary, presumes guilt. It derives from, and feeds back into, an alarming assumption that the lamentably old-fashioned ideal of presumed innocence is no longer appropriate to modern times. It is at one with the fine contemporary tradition of contempt for the courts evinced by Labour home secretaries. After the four co-defendants of Kamal Bourgass in the “ricin plot” trial were unanimously acquitted, and a further prosecution collapsed, Charles Clarke said: “We will obviously keep a very close eye on the eight men being freed today, and consider exactly what to do in the light of this decision.” Once you are a “terrorist suspect”, it seems, not even a not-guilty verdict will help you. You may no longer be a suspect, but you are still, by definition, a terrorist . . .