Wednesday, October 1, 2014

In case you forget who you are

In Spain everyone has to carry identity. The most usual way for Spanish nationals to do this is to carry their DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad), an identity card.

The Spanish identity card was introduced by Franco. He got card number one and he left the numbers up to one hundred for his family and for the Royals. The old King, Juan Carlos I, has number ten and Felipe VI has fifteen. Franco, you may remember, was a dictator and he introduced all the paraphernalia of a totalitarian state from summary executions to secret police.

Organic Law 4/2000 is unambiguous. Foreign nationals in Spain must carry identity documents issued by their country of citizenship. The important word is carry. There is no grace period and basically if you're British and you don't have your passport when the police ask you for it you can be detained and ultimately fined. Usually of course the police officer simply tells you off or accepts your driving licence or home made identity card. But the law is clear.

Foreigners who are resident in Spain have to apply for an identity number as does anyone who wishes to carry out any financial transactions here whether they are resident or not. This number is the NIE or número de identidad de extranjero.

The DNI, has eight figures and just one control letter whilst the NIE, has a letter at both the beginning and the end with seven numbers in the middle. Spaniards are always surprised, nay shocked, to find that UK passport numbers change from issue to issue. Spanish ID numbers follow Spaniards through life appearing on passports, driving licences etc.

Youngsters don't have to hold a card until they are over 14 but it is usual to apply for a DNI for a child as soon as their birth is registered. If a family decides not to then the details of the minor have to be entered in the family book. Actually the family book, which details the relationship between a couple and any family children, has recently changed form and gone digital but the idea is the same.

The Spanish ID card carries simple details like a photo, name, date of birth, place of birth, address, names of parents etc. Until recently it also carried a finger print but the current cards carry the characteristics of that print in electronic form on a chip and also provide a digital signature for electronic transactions. So every Spaniard is fingerprinted - something currently reserved for criminals or suspected criminals in the UK.

Britons too had to carry ID cards between 29 September 1939 and 1952. The reason or excuse for the card was national security. When the police stopped Harry Willcock in 1950 he refused to show his card and was fined 10 shillings as a result. Harry got uppity and went to court to appeal. Acting Lord Chief Justice Lord Goddard upheld the fine but in his summing up basically agreed with Harry that ID cards had no place in peace time. As a result the days of the ID card were numbered and, in February 1952, the Minister for Health, Harry Crookshank, bowing to public pressure announced that national identity cards were to be scrapped even though the police and security services wanted them retained.

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