In a desperate bid to ram through its controversial plans for a national identity register and the associated ID cards, the British government has announced yet another defenceless section of society to be targeted: students.
Not content with making university students pay over the odds for what are frequently sub-standard educational opportunities, the government now plans to "encourage" them to supply personal details including biometric data "voluntarily" in order to "help" them access educational services. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith claims that "young people who register for an ID card will find it easier to enrol on a course, apply for a student loan or open a bank account". The implication is that if they do not agree to register, they will find it hard or impossible to enrol on a course, get a student loan or open a bank account.
If that doesn't amount to coercion, I don't know what does. As a parent of two students currently at university, I feel very strongly about this. This is very reminiscent of the kind of vindictive tactics employed by the morally bankrupt East German government in the communist era. Moreover, the government expects to add me (an EU national resident and working in the UK) to its database automatically in a few years time "unless I opt out", which I certainly intend to do.
A series of high-profile security breaches recently proved that governments generally, and this one in particular, cannot be trusted to handle personal information securely or to refrain from using it as a means of coercion. The sausage-slicing approach it has adopted for introducing the scheme is evidence that it knows it faces a massive revolt if it were to apply the same rules to the whole population in one go. By bringing in the scheme in this sneaky, insinuating way, the government makes me more convinced than ever that its motivation for the identity register is anything but the publicly stated one of making us "confident that other people are who they say they are" - security experts have already shown that an ID card of the current design will be relatively easy to fake, so that pretext doesn't persuade me at all.
I don't normally subscribe to conspiracy theories but what else can you believe in the face of this government's announcements and actions?