The Horror of a National ID Card System
A glimpse into UK Borders Agency, and what it portends for a population chained to a identification card
All the waste and incompetence of the ID card scheme becomes plain when you hear people's stories about their contact with the new UK Borders Agency. This one comes from an acquaintance, who would prefer to remain anonymous, chiefly because he fears retribution if his name is known.
It started when his wife, a foreign national, applied under the new laws for her card, which was then issued with a mistake. He writes:
In early January, my wife and I visited a UK Border Agency office and paid £595 for their 'premium' service to take her biometric data and process her foreign national ID card.
We waited for hours as they had lots of computer problems, until finally a staff member admitted to us that the 'ID system was down' and had been the previous day also. We were eventually told that the details had been taken and we should just wait for her ID card to arrive by post.
When the card finally arrived we soon discovered that they had got her nationality wrong. She is a US citizen and on the back of her ID card it said 'American Samoa'! We reported the problem and were told to post the ID card back to them in a Freepost envelope.
Weeks later the UK Border Agency sent my wife a letter saying that she needed to send her passport, as they could not correct their mistake without her passport.
My correspondent makes the following points. The agency had already recorded the passport details and scanned it. His wife has paid for a 'premium' service (£595) appointment at UK Border Agency where she was fingerprinted, photographed and filled in forms so that she would not have to send her passport by post. When she phoned UKBA twice to report that "American Samoan" was a mistake, she spoke to two people, who told her to send the incorrect ID card only and did not mention sending a passport. She explained that she would need the ID card back soon in case she had to travel abroad.
He says that the letter received from UKBA instructed - "Please send your passport to the Freepost address as above".
There was no Freepost address shown anywhere on the letter, or on the envelope. He continues:
After a very long phone queue, I spoke to a nice lady on the UKBA helpline (0300 123 2412) who was highly amused at the 'American Samoa' mistake, but said that unfortunately, yes, we would need to send her passport by post, but that we should also phone another UKBA number regarding a possible refund of part of our 'premium' fee.
Another long phone queue ensued and he spoke to what he describes as an unpleasant man at the UKBA immigration enquiry bureau (0870 606 7766) regarding a possible refund:
He was very irritable, dismissive and patronising, but then he admitted it was not his decision to make and gave him an address for UK Border Agency complaints at Lunar House in Croydon. When I heard the name Croydon I said to him: 'Oh, we heard about the Croydon office when we were waiting at the UK Border Agency Offices for hours during your system crash in early January, we heard the Border Agency staff talking about it.'
The man conceded that there was systems crash and hurriedly hung up.
As of writing this, my wife is still without an ID card and now doesn't have her passport either.
I am passing this story on because I have had my first taste of what a state with ID cards would be like, and I have found it very depressing and actually much more scary than I thought I would. The reality of this apparently secure and efficient ID card system is that it is wide open to human error, technical failures and abuse.
A mistake on an ID card will take a very long time to correct, and their mistake becomes your problem, your responsibility. It is a very disempowering and depressing process where a citizen becomes a cog in a vast machine.
This is not just your video club membership, or your supermarket loyalty card ... this is your citizenship and identity, allowing you access to services and allowing you to leave and enter the country.
My wife has been unable to travel since early January because of this mistake by UKBA. We are hoping no family emergencies occur before UKBA get around to returning her passport and ID card.
I still have a slight worry that if we complain publicly then someone within UKBA may have the power to vindictively sabotage my wife's future leave to remain in the UK ... not something I have ever feared before in this country. I also don't want my wife to end up being deported to Samoa by mistake!
I reproduce this story at length because it captures the anger and helplessness experienced when you become ensnared in a system that is flawed, contemptuous of individual needs and entirely pointless.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited