Jun 06 2010

UK government admits it was becoming authoritarian. Can the USA do the same?

The new UK coalition government has announced its initial Programme for Government, including a plan of action on civil liberties including, “We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.”  Talk is cheap, but Bill 1 (text, explanatory notes) already introduced by the new government would repeal the UK national ID card scheme in mid-rollout.

It’s an important precedent even though, as some have already noted, the repeal would be limited to UK citizens.  Foreigners residing in the UK — including citizens of other members of the European Union, who have the right by treaty to live and work anywhere in the EU — would remain subject to a similar ID card requirement under a separate law that is not (yet) proposed for repeal.

Two aspects of the new UK government’s action seem especially significant as examples for the USA:

One, the government is making this plank of its platform a priority for action only because they perceived it as an issue that citizens and voters were prepared to act on, through noncompliance with orders to enroll in the national ID scheme and/or at the ballot box.  The government is following, not leading, UK public opinion and votes. The US government is unlikely to abandon its national ID schemes — in whatever guise they are cloaked — unless US citizens and voters demonstrate a similar commitment to direct action against them.

Two, the new UK government has admitted much more than that “mistakes were made” or that policies need to be changed:

The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.

If the closest allies of the USA can make such an admission, and act on it, is there still a chance for the Obama Administration to make the same bravely honest admission, and take the same sort of straightforward action to scrap authoritarian measures like REAL-ID and the whole system of travel surveillance and control?

We aren’t holding our breath for fundamental change, either in the UK or the USA.  At least in principle, however, the new UK government has paved the way for what needs to be done.  It’s up to the people to see that they follow through, and that the US government follows suit.