9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN22 Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Terror - Security II Building I, 2E3

Risky Identities and the UK Biometric ID Cards

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in NY and London the strengthening of internal and external security continues to be a priority of the European Union. A common and enhanced security policy plays a strategic role in the attempt to create a cohesive European Society.
In the United Kingdom the need to enhance security and manage the risks and uncertainties associated with terrorism has been intertwined with old concerns about immigration flows and border control. Security threats have also been linked to the new or increased risks associated with identity theft and fraud, particularly in an age of internet banking and other on-line transactions.
This paper looks at the new National Identity Scheme that the UK Government is seeking to implement, which will involve the creation of a database - the National Identity Register - and the collection of biometric details and other citizen personal data. The Scheme will keep a record of all the encounters that require the verification of the id token (a card), and access to citizens' information will be shared across government departments and some private partners.
The paper is based on a project conducted at the ESRC National Centre for e-Social Science (2008-2009) that analysed the UK national newspaper over several months in 2008 to identify and appraise the arguments mobilised to create momentum behind the Scheme and the perceived need to verify and authenticate one's identity. The Scheme, which has proven very unpopular both in parliament and in public opinion, will be discussed against the backdrop of enhanced surveillance in the UK, the collection of personal data and the pervasive use of monitoring and profiling technologies
Through the analysis of newspaper coverage I will focus on the fragmentation of citizens into groups, as operated by the UK Government's plans and its rhetoric for differential enrolment in the Scheme. I will problematise the construction of risky identities and this fragmentation, which results in different levels of risk and uncertainty being associated with each group, and different steps for coerced enrolment in the Scheme.