Compulsory ID Cards were first issued in the United Kingdom during World War I, and abandoned in 1919. They were re-introduced in World War II, but were abandoned seven years after the end of that war, in 1952, due to widespread public resentment culminating in a court case of Willcock v Muckle, where Clarence Henry Willcock refused to supply his card after being stopped by a policeman for a routine driving infraction. Although he lost the case, the court concurred with his view that ID Cards had become inappropriate.
Nevertheless, several Home Secretaries have since proposed reintroducing ID Cards, under various pretexts and, in 2003, the then Home Secretary David Blunkett stated that the British government intends to introduce a national ID Card scheme based on biometric technology, together with a database to track the resident population, to be made compulsory by 2013. To that end, the ID Cards Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on November 29, 2004; the bill failed as it was not passed before the UK general election, 2005, but was reintroduced soon after.
The Home Office argues the card will frustrate international terrorists, 35% of whom travel under a false identity. More recently, the government also claims the cards will help to prevent illegal immigration; “health tourism”, benefit fraud and identity theft, and that biometric passports will make it easier for British citizens to travel to the US.
Critics oppose the bill on the grounds of: civil liberties, spiraling costs; issues with the database and audit trail (unprecedented amounts of personal data linked by one number and tracked on every use of the card, an unwarranted invasion of privacy leading to a “surveillance society”); potential for discrimination (stop and search already targets and marginalises ethnic minorities) despite government assurances to the contrary; inability to stop terrorism, illegal immigration, or identity theft (which could be aided by linking all the information to one number); the risks involved (eg. inconvenience of errors and mismatches, government history of IT failure). Thousands of people have signed a pledge stating that they will refuse the register for an identity card if 10,000 other people also make the same pledge.
The TGWU (Transport & General Workers Union) has said that ID Cards have the potential to become Labour’s Poll Tax!
ID Cards in the United States
There is no true national ID Card in the United States of America, in the sense that there is no federal agency with nationwide jurisdiction that directly issues such cards to all American citizens. All legislative attempts to create one have failed due to tenacious opposition from libertarian and conservative politicians, who regard the national ID Card as the mark of a totalitarian society.
ID Cards worldwide
According to Privacy International, as of 1996, around 100 countries had compulsory ID Cards. They also stated that “virtually no common law country has a card”.
For the people of Western Sahara, pre-1975 Spanish cards are the main proof that they were Saharaui citizens as opposed to recent Moroccan colonists. They would be thus allowed to vote in an eventual self-determination referendum.
Some Basque nationalist organisations are issuing para-official ID Cards (Euskal Nortasun Agiria) as a means to reject the nationality notions implied by Spanish and French compulsory documents. Then, they try to use the ENA instead of the official document.
Countries with compulsory ID Cards
The compulsory character may apply only after a certain age.
Note: the term “compulsory” may have different meanings and implications in different countries. Often, a ticket can be given for being found without one’s identification document, or in some cases a person may even be detained until the identity is ascertained. In practice, random controls are rare, except in police states.
First issued at age 12, compulsory at 15)
Compulsory at age 16 to possess either a “Personalausweis” or a passport, but not to carry it
- Hong Kong, China:
Children are required to obtain their first ID Card at age 11, and must change to an adult ID Card at age 18
First issued at age 16, compulsory at 18
- Also Spain, Croatia, Estonia, Italy, Egypt, Greece, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Portugal and Thailand.
Countries without compulsory ID Cards
Australia (“citizenship certificate”), Austria, Canada (“Certificate of Canadian Citizenship”), Finland, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland have non-compulsory ID Cards.
United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, the United States, the Republic of Ireland and Iceland have no official national ID Cards.
Note: As noted above, certain countries do not have national ID cards, but have other official documents that play the same role in practice (e.g. driver’s license for the United States). While a country may not make it compulsory to own or carry an identity document, it may be strongly recommended to do so in order to facilitate certain procedures.
Non-national ID Cards
Some companies and government departments issue Employee ID cards for security purposes, they may also be proof of a qualification. For example, all taxi drivers in the UK and Hong Kong carry ID cards.