Alasdair Palmer is wrong, wrong, wrong

In the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, I was saddened to see that Public Policy Editor, Alasdair Palmer, had written a particularly wretched article decrying the scrapping of ID cards and innocent DNA retention.

The article – with its delightfully understated title 'Why the coalition is set to bring us a rise in crime' – has numerous flaws which require urgent correction:

Most of us think that a top priority of any effective government should be to have clear and coherent policies on cutting crime. So it’s surprising to discover that the deal between the Tories and the Lib Dems says nothing about it.

The closest it gets is a statement that “the parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government and roll back state intrusion” – which means, among other things, abolishing ID cards and “adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database”.

But getting rid of ID cards and making it harder for the police to retain DNA records is not going to reduce crime: if anything, it will increase it, by making crime harder to detect and criminals more difficult to apprehend.

Urgh! Before reminding Mr Palmer of the piddling issues of personal privacy and habeas corpus, let's consider the statistics, shall we?

AlasdairPalmer As was revealed earlier this year, just 0.3% of solved crimes in Britain are due to the DNA database. The research shows that – despite the massive expansion in the Government database – only 3,666 crimes are detected every year with links to an existing DNA profile. The Scottish model, which Alasdair seems so opposed to, simply reduces the length of time innocent DNA profiles (around a third of the current database) can be retained from 6 to 3 years. 

I would love to ask Mr Palmer how he thinks ID cards would facilitate crime prevention? Is his ideal world one in which every UK citizen carries identification that the Police can order to see at any time; to paraphrase our new PM's infamous gaffe – "ver are your papers?"  Not even our overbearing previous government were ready to go that far! 

But the greater point is that, given the very minor crime fighting benefit – and we are yet to be convinced by any case in which a previously innocent person's DNA profile has helped solve a crime – is Alasdair Palmer really prepared to spend billions on an ID card scheme and enormous state DNA database that puts our identity and biometric data in the hands of countless thousands of government bureaucrats?

Government rates of data loss, abuse of data, and the very simple fact that liberty is ours to keep, not the state's to take, should be enough. But Mr Palmer seems ready to sacrifice all of this simply to appear tough on crime. Shameful.

By Dylan Sharpe

Posted by on May 17, 2010 in DNA database, ID cards | 4 Comments


  1. David Richardson
    17th May 2010

    You just don’t get it.
    That telegraph article was put there by one of the contractors that is about to lose it’s contract. They paid a PR firm to plant it in that newspaper. You need to research who the PR firms are that are in the employ of the contractors so that you can track this nefarious campaign.
    The argument against NIR/ ID Cards has been won from the logicical, practical and moral positions. Now it is a pure propaganda excercise to try and salvage it. Don’t get distracted by these articles; go straight to the cause of them if you want to be effective in blocking this corruption.

  2. guy herbert
    17th May 2010

    Alisdair Palmer has a history of striking tough-guy practical-man attitudes against civil liberties, e.g.:

  3. Purlieu
    17th May 2010

    And, how exactly does DNA retention of innocents REDUCE crime ??
    We want to hear it.

  4. alastair
    18th May 2010

    To be fair, there *is* one way that ID cards *could* reduce crime, if they were done right, namely they *could* cut down on so-called identity theft (which is really just fraud). Maybe even on credit/debit card fraud (again, if done right).
    They won’t help with terrorism or any of the other things though, and there’s no reason why an ID card should be separate from a passport (which is, after all, just an ID card), or indeed from your driving license (another state-issued ID card). Having three separate documents is needlessly duplicative and wasteful, and in practice we all have a plethora of other identity cards (bank cards and the like) that represent further duplication and waste.
    I was never in favour of the ID cards envisaged by New Labour, but the notion of having one isn’t entirely a bad idea, provided the result is that we carry and require *fewer* separate forms of identification, and provided it also results in us getting rid of the ridiculous and fraud-friendly use of bills and bank statements for identity purposes.