I have not forgotten that fifteen years ago, the Prime Minister wrote in this paper that if someone in authority demanded he show an ID card he would “physically eat it in the presence of whatever emanation of the state has demanded that I produce it.”
Well, he is eating his words now. Because Covid passes are the nightmare we feared ID cards would become.
One of the great concerns raised during the decade-long ID card debate was that, one day, ID cards could be expanded to hold our medical data. An unscrupulous Government could even mete out liberties based on health status.
That is the starting point for Johnson’s Covid IDs – not the dystopian destination.
It is a remarkable reflection on how far the dial has shifted. This time there has been no proposal, no Bill, no debate in parliament. The domestic Covid pass has simply been quietly added to the NHS App. An ‘NHS Covid pass verifier’ has been added to the app store too, allowing any of us to scan another person’s Covid pass.
Therein lies a major difference between the ID cards that Cameron scrapped and the ones Johnson has foisted on us.
Covid IDs are not just designed for checks by state authorities, but by anyone from bouncers to bosses, and even foreign governments. They come with a mirroring network of civilian checkpoints and permissions. As we try to revive the small joys in life – meeting friends at a bar, concert, football match, or even office working – we do so under the spectre of exclusion.
But there are more similarities than differences between the ID cards Johnson baulked at under the Blair government and those he’s championing today.
Both are expensive. Blair’s ID cards were £93 a pop, Covid IDs require a £500 smart phone.
Both are “voluntary” only in the eyes of the authoritarians who defend the indefensible consequences for non-compliance – in this case, exclusion from social, economic and even academic life.
Both are discriminatory. Who among us, in practice, will face demands to show our Covid passes and be ousted for having the wrong papers? It won’t be the elites. We’ve already seen the Covid threat mysteriously dissipate when it comes to VIPs being exempt from Covid restrictions to go to football matches and business meetings.
Both are dangerously prone to mission creep, with more and more pieces of personal information destined to be added and checked by anyone dressed with authority. Even the wartime ID cards had bulged from 3 pieces of information to 39 before Churchill scrapped them altogether in his “bonfire” of state controls. But with a digital pass, the possibilities for expansion are endless. Alongside the ‘health incentive’ scheme to be launched in January, the Government has vowed to expand the newly passed mandatory Covid vaccination law for care homes across the entire NHS and to include flu jabs. I can see where this is going: we’ll all need voter ID by the end of next year too.
And just wait for the panic about Covid pass fraud. Blair’s ID cards were to be linked to fingerprints to prevent fraud. Biometric technology has advanced significantly since then, and some people are already being required to undergo a facial recognition check to set up the NHS Covid pass.
Opposition to Johnson’s Covid IDs is no more anti-vax than opposition to Blair’s IDs was pro-terrorist. What this is really about is a dramatic rebalancing of the relationship between the citizen and the state. It’s about the grip of control tightening over our lives.
As Britons, we have enjoyed our common law freedoms for centuries. We’re free to act as we please unless there is a law to stop us, and authorities must identify themselves to us rather than vice versa. But vaccine IDs turn our constitutional liberties upside down. We are now becoming a nation that only has liberty on license, like the European neighbours we extracted ourselves from through Brexit, rather than liberty by birthright.
Johnson won’t be thanked by today’s generation for Covid passes. He won’t be thanked by the older generation either, who don’t understand liberty through the purview of an app, and who fought for the freedoms he’s casually throwing away. And he certainly won’t be thanked by the next generation who have already sacrificed so much to protect their elders, yet now don’t even know if they will have the opportunity of higher education without a vaccine pass.
His legacy will suffer – but worse, so will British liberty.
Silkie Carlo – Big Brother Watch Director.