Do you know who am?

Headlines following the tragic deaths of migrants attempting to cross the Channel to England have focused on the alleged breakdown of relations between French President Emmanuel Macron and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

I say alleged because there is an unfounded and unprovable suggestion doing the rounds in certain quarters that the insults they are trading are designed to help Macron fight off the challenge of the far right in the upcoming presidential election.

Stranger things have happened but given the tone and seriously undiplomatic language it is certainly unlikely. More importantly the insults that have been making headlines and articles in the British media have almost completely buried one important reality that emerged from the EU ministerial meeting in Calais.

In what has been treated by media generally as a throw-away remark a Belgian Minister, interviewed by the BBC, referred to the fact that the U.K. does not have identity cards. He stated unequivocally that the word has spread that migrants able to get into the U.K. illegally can just ‘disappear’, give false identities and, in some cases, escape justice in their home countries.

While only part of the story it is undoubtedly true and the comment raises a much bigger question - why do the British not have ID cards? The answer is that they don’t trust politicians. Nor, generally, do they properly understand that privacy has all but disappeared in modern society giving rise to much wider political issues.

The facts are that everyone these days is on data bases all over the world.

The head of Britain’s MI6 has publicly alluded to how China has advanced technology allowing them to ‘hack’ into other country’s computer systems. The Chinese are not alone, Russia is ahead of the game as is the United States.

Commercially things could not get worse, and anyone who makes even an accidental internet inquiry about a product will be inundated with offers from well known on-line services who, clearly, know everything about subscribers. Local authorities know residents’ dates of birth, addresses and incomes. Travel companies et al know much more and so it goes on ad infinitum. Scammers hack information held by corporations and private firms whose legal obligations need to be addressed by parliaments and so-called democratic administrations.

Having lived in Belgium I am acquainted with the fact that ID cards there carry only name, number and date of birth. Of course any official body can then look up the full details as they can in the UK after establishing identity from a driving licence, domestic bill or other suitable identification process. Private access to that information is largely, but not sufficiently, restricted.

That the British need to reform their privacy laws is highlighted by the controversial Meghan Markle court victory over publication of a private letter to her father, Senior judges, defending the High Court decision have stated that the UK Parliament has ‘declined’ to debate the issues involved.

This is an increasingly typical failure by one parliament but it highlights failures at the EU level. Internet companies are international and both the EU and the UK should be cooperating in this area. It also raises the long standing issue of why, when the UK was a member state, did the EU not take action to ensure that all EU citizens had identity cards?

Passports are clumsy and most certainly more easy to steal, as has happened to several British friends of mine recently. Perhaps the EU should insist that British citizens be issued with ID cards to enter the EU given the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Such action should be combined with measures to protect individuals’ privacy and rights. That is not only a question of privacy but also fundamental to security.

................. Dateline: Corner cafe Deal, Kent 03/12/2021 .................

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Chris White

Chris White

Chris White is a former UK national newspaper journalist and was the founder and editor of a magazine focussed on EU affairs.

Now writing for EUToday, Chris has his own column, 'Chris's Corner'.

Chris is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK and the oldest in the world, having been founded in October 1884

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