Identifying the Problem

Over the last few years, there have been proposals in the British government to introduce a national identity card scheme.  The motives we tend to hear about seem to be along the lines of helping to fight crime and to track down terrorists and illegal immigrants.  Though it isn’t entirely clear how the system would work.  There were threats for a while that we would be forced to carry them around wherever we go.  Is it really worth compromising the civil liberties of the innocent British public just for these people?

It seems that there has been quite a bit of cross-purpose talk about it.  There are really three issues:

Why Are People Complaining?

Obviously the mere existence of a national ID card scheme isn’t (at least directly) going to inconvenience everybody.  But many people are likely to disapprove of having to carry an ID card around everywhere and put up with random police checks.  The usual argument against compulsory ID cards seems to be civil liberty – law-abiding citizens would rather not feel that the police are keeping tags on them.  They also have better things to do than be stopped in the street when in a hurry.

If such a system were to be implemented, the consequence of failing to have your ID card with you may or may not be serious, but it would certainly be an inconvenience.  I have seen one or two comments from people on how one might forget it one day and hence get into trouble.  Moreover, what if there are constraints hindering the carrying of such a card?  OK, so a lot of people do regularly carry around certain items, including keys, money, mobile phones, driving licences and credit/debit cards.  But for some people, even some of these same people, there are times when they may be free from having to have any of these items to hand, and maybe even have no pocket in which to hold an ID card.  It certainly wouldn’t be nice to be caught in this situation if you’re one of these people!

As it happens, since the idea was initiated the government has indicated that, should a national ID card scheme be introduced, it won’t be something that you’ll have to carry around all the time.  But we still might all need to possess one and to use it to access certain public services.  But it seems people are unhappy even with this idea, fearing that it could compromise their privacy by enabling institutions to gain access to personal information.  Or that they might end up having to show it in a lot of places anyway, which would make it the next worst thing to a statutory carry-everywhere ID card.

But We Do Need a Universal ID

Being caught without your compulsory ID card in random circumstances is one thing.  But being caught without any of a select few forms of ID when it is really necessary is quite another.  Basically, we still need a means by which everyone can prove their age and identity whenever and wherever it matters.  You may well have been asked for ID for various purposes, such as buying cigarettes or alcohol, getting into a nightclub, opening a bank account, etc.  What forms of ID have been accepted in your experience?  And what forms have you had rejected?

The nearest things we have to universally accepted forms of ID, at least in the UK, are driving licences and passports.  Other forms of ID include student cards and work ID cards.  There are also a handful of dedicated proof of age cards developed with specific aims in mind.  Just to mention a few:

The problem with most forms of ID is that they are not universally accepted.  Indeed, it might be difficult to prove the genuineness of some ID schemes, and this might be a pretext for having a list of acceptable ID forms.  But such lists often don’t cover everything that is verifiable as real proof of identity.

The Crawley News once reported on a group of blind students who had tried to get into the nightclubs of the town.  At the door, the visitors were simply asked “Have you got a driver’s licence?”  And that their excuse for rejecting student ID cards is that they’re often forged.  Otherwise no statement was given on what these clubs considered to be valid ID, but it was made to look as though the nightclubs in Crawley are exclusively for people who drive.  I fail to see any motivation for such exclusiveness, let alone by two different clubs in the same town.  And an article by the Equality and Human Rights commission implies that this is actually illegal….

In Loughborough, on the other hand, NUS cards are traditionally the means for students to be admitted to nightclubs.  However, I have since been turned away by two of the late night bars having introduced a strict ID check, accepting nothing but driving licences or passports.  What’s more, these are places that never used to ask for ID!  I cannot see any logical reason for such a restriction.  Obviously not everybody drives.  And expecting every patron to carry a passport is infeasible:

As such, any establishment that imposes such a restriction is discriminating against anybody who doesn’t drive.  If only a truly universal ID card existed, it would solve this problem once and for all (pun semi-intended).

(A modern UK driving licence actually comprises two parts: a photocard and a paper counterpart.  It appears from my experience that those companies that list a driving licence as an accepted form of ID actually require only the photocard.  While it seems common these days to refer to the photocard by itself as a driving licence, this doesn’t really make sense – especially considering the statement “Both must be produced when required” that I have seen on the paper bit, obviously referring to uses that are actually related to driving.)

Moreover, expecting customers of a pub or nightclub to have driving licences is turning logic on its head, and could be construed as encouraging drink-driving.  Those who don’t drive are likely to be safer on the streets afterwards!

And don’t forget that people often go to these places in groups.  Just think about a situation where people in the group are let into a club one by one, and a few towards the back of the queue are shut out.  Now imagine that you’re in this situation and have possibly even come from out of town for the night.  What will you do?

Here’s another absurdity.  Many shops and pubs have lists of only acceptable forms of ID.  But you might not even be asked for ID.  It would appear that if you simply look old enough to them, you’ll be served without question.  Actually, some of the notices some places have acquired, such as the “Challenge 21” poster which is one of the standard ones at least in Loughborough, are to the effect that you will be asked for ID if you look under 21, obviously so they don’t get in trouble too often for serving people who are aged just under 18 (the minimum age for buying alcohol in the UK) but look a little older.  More recently, some places have adopted a Challenge 25 policy.  But almost whatever your threshold for asking is, such restrictions on what ID forms you will accept don’t make sense – if you don’t think student ID cards, dedicated proof of age cards or whatever are verifiable forms of ID, what on earth makes you think that any judgement of how old someone looks is?  To really make sense, you would have to either accept all conceivable forms of ID or ask all customers for ID.

Why Wait?  Universal ID Is Here … Or Is It?

Among the various ID card schemes run by various organisations is one with a focus on being universal.  It’s called CitizenCard.  It is run by a British-based non-profit, non-statutory organisation, and was available to anybody anywhere in the world, though it seems they now issue only to the UK and Ireland.  Still, there are probably similar schemes operating elsewhere in the world.

Its being non-statutory has its pros and cons.  The obvious pro is that they can’t turn it into a compulsory ID card scheme and hence start keeping tags on people with it.  The obvious con is that they can’t force institutions to accept the card as valid ID.  Though the card does carry the PASS (Proof of Age Standards Scheme) hologram, which is issued by the British Retail Consortium as an indication that the information on it has been thoroughly verified.  And although CitizenCard is non-statutory, apparently it is recognised by governments as a genuine form of ID.

Since I’ve just mentioned PASS, I shall take this opportunity to point out another of its advantages.  Some places list among their ID policies one or two specific ID cards that happen to be PASS-endorsed.  By having on your ID list cards with the PASS hologram in general, you no longer have to worry about keeping up to date a list of such cards.  This also means that anybody who already has any of the PASS cards will not have to fork out more money and wallet space for another one just to be served at your establishment.  Moreover, there is no need to train staff to recognise the various PASS-accredited cards individually when all they need to be able to recognise is the hologram common to them all (and a few simple characteristics, such as everything being printed directly on the card and not stuck on top).

The CitizenCard has the potential to supersede the aforementioned specific-purpose proof of age schemes.  Rather than carry several proof of age cards for different purposes, one could simply use one card for everything.  Though there’s one caveat.  The CitizenCard used to be free to people under the age of 16.  This would have made it good for proving entitlement to child rate for public transport and tourist attractions.  Later, the price was £5 for under 16s and £9 otherwise; now it seems it’s £15 regardless of age.  This means that one might hesitate to get a CitizenCard if it might be cheaper simply to pay adult fare whenever you are forced to.  But there is yet another step forward that CitizenCard achieves.  Even for those who would otherwise be getting Portman Prove It, Validate UK or similar cards anyway, there is nothing to stop you from getting a CitizenCard sooner rather than later, so that you can have it ready for when you come of age.

But really, CitizenCard is let down by little other than its own limited scope of advertising.  The few adverts they have seem to be the “No ID No Sale” signs in some shops.  The CitizenCard is also displayed (along with ValidateUK) on Photo-Me photobooths, but lacking any indication of where to get the card from.  When I first wrote this piece, CitizenCard was scarce among lists of valid ID.  Things have since improved, but there are still plenty of companies that haven’t caught on.  The only reason I can think of for anybody having an ID policy that excludes the CitizenCard is that they have heard of neither CitizenCard nor PASS.  But even with the level of advertising CitizenCard does have now, any company of more than a few people surely has no excuse for having not heard of it.

Indeed, I have been turned away since acquiring my CitizenCard.  Rejecting student ID cards is one thing, and rejecting them in a university town is sure to cut off many people.  But rejecting a universal ID scheme just exceeds all stupidity.  Indeed, all institutions that dare do this are giving both themselves and CitizenCard a bad name.  The CitizenCard website states that the scheme enables one to prove identity while leaving more valuable documents, such as passports, at home.  However, when the more valuable documents are what some places are insisting on seeing for apparently no reason at all, this benefit is lost.

If you are a manager of a pub, nightclub, off licence, supermarket, etc. reading this, you can now go and add the CitizenCard, and PASS hologram-bearing cards in general, to your list of valid ID forms if it isn’t there already.  If you are a bartender, club doorperson or shop assistant being forced by policies to reject such forms of ID, don’t hesitate to go and complain.  If you are a victim, then do whatever you can to show them the error of their ways.  Indeed, even if you do drive or are lucky enough to be never asked for ID, I encourage you all to give your business to those places that accept the CitizenCard in preference to those that don’t.

Here’s an idea.  I’ve made some posters.  Hopefully they’ll teach those managers a lesson!

The Law Should Not Let Them Get Away with This

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, there is legislation in place requiring businesses to make reasonable adjustments for customers with disabilities.  So if you require customers to have a driving licence for identification purposes, you are in breach of this law, because you shut out people with disabilities meaning that they cannot drive.  I argue that making a passport the only other form of ID you accept is not a reasonable adjustment, for the reasons already stated.  So why are the authorities doing such a bad job of stopping this?

In any case, regardless of disability, no business should be allowed to choose its customers on the basis of whether they drive or not without a valid reason.  If these same businesses were choosing by race, religion, gender, star sign or the like, I’m sure they’d get into trouble or at least be very unpopular.  So why is this being tolerated?

PASS is, according to various sources, recognised by the Home Office as a form of ID.  It’s time the government took it one stage further, by passing an explicit law requiring businesses to accept PASS-accredited cards as ID in those situations where it makes sense.


Needless to reiterate, the idea of having to carry an ID card whenever we go out is going to be unpopular with many members of the general public.  Fortunately, there have been indications since the initial proposal that this isn’t going to happen … but how sure can we be?

The possibility of a national ID card that we won’t have to take everywhere, but will need to access certain public services, has also been considered.  I guess that this wouldn’t be much of a problem, as long as it’s only required by those services that have a legitimate reason, and the public is made aware of which services these are and can be assured that the system will not be abused.  However, it seems that the public isn’t going to be convinced that the system won’t be abused, and so I can sympathise with those who oppose the scheme on this basis.

Now, following the UK’s 2010 General Election, the national ID scheme is officially being scrapped.  Still, the commentary on this may still be applicable at some time in the future and in other jurisdictions.

But we seriously do need to have a convenient means by which everybody can prove their identity in the situations where it already matters.  And the CitizenCard has the potential to achieve this.  What it needs is a good advertising campaign, which would boost both the number of CitizenCard holders and the recognition of the CitizenCard as a universal form of ID.  And these two developments would have knock-on effects on each other.  The other thing that’s needed is the government to support PASS more through campaigning and legislation.

Hall of Shame

This appendix is to list some of the more mind-bogglingly stupid cases of companies’ poor ID policies.  If you are in charge of any establishment listed here, don’t take offence – improve your policy so that I’ll have to take you off the list!  (Apologies to Dan Tobias.)  (More examples would be more than welcome!)

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