A question of identity

A review of the Home Office and Liberty websites for PR Week Worldwire

Dateline 27 June 2005

On the day before the House of Commons voted on the ID cards bill, the question of identity cards did not figure on the front page of the Home Office’s website. Nor did identity theft – one of the problems which the introduction of identity cards is supposed to solve. The operation of current anti-terrorism legislation (the 2000 Act) does make it to the front page, but none of the government’s plans for dealing with terrorism, nor even legislation introduced since 9/11, are as significant as the announcement that the Home Office is to relaunch its website this summer. In fact, of the problems the government claims will be solved by ID cards, only illegal migrant working makes it to page one of the website.

Indeed, to track down the benefits of the government’s flagship legislation, I had to use the site’s internal search engine. The website editor has classified ID cards as a matter of ‘Community and Race’ and not one of ‘Crime and Policing’, which is presumably how Charles Clarke would classify it. This seems a rather odd choice, as groups representing ethnic minorities are among the most vocal opposing the plan.

The Home Office FAQ on ID cards is low key, and designed to be reassuring. But you would think the editor of the Home Office’s website would be aware of the Department’s Parliamentary agenda, including the fact that the ID cards issue was sure to be in the news this week.

Liberty – the former National Council for Civil Liberties – of which Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt was once the Director and Minister of State for Constitutional Affairs, Harriet Harman was once the legal officer – is under no such confusion about the importance of the issue. It is clearly flagged as the number two issue on the front page, after the group’s stance opposing the bill to outlaw incitement to religious hatred.

The group’s more detailed pages (which it classifies under ‘Privacy’) reveal a wide range of news about the campaign, including successes in securing the support of other groups, as well as detailed critiques of the government’s claims.

If you view a press release on ID cards on the Liberty site the side bar automatically generates links to Parliamentary briefings and campaign news on the same subject. There is no indication of a named press officer to speak to, but there is at least a phone number and an e-mail address. Even this is an improvement on the Home Office site, where the archive of press releases contains no contact information at all.

http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/comrace/identitycards/index.html

http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/privacy/id-cards.shtml

Copyright (C) Quentin Langley June 2005

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