There has been a lot of discussion about the Lords allowing the legisaltion on national ID cards to be pushed through, bringing this ill-conceived system closer to being imposed on the British citizens. This isn’t some simple photo card with your address on it and it is time the bulk of the population woke up to this fact. Here is a summary from the No2ID site of what this system will bring upon our heads if we allow it (you may well say they are biased, but that does not invalidate this information – besides, do you trust the government with this?):
- The proposed identity management system has multiple layers:
- The NIR (National Identity Register) — individual checking and numbering of the population — marking many personal details as “registrable facts” to be disclosed and constantly updated — collection and checking of biometrics (e.g. fingerprints) — the card itself — a widespread scanner network and secure (one hopes) infrastructure connecting it to the central database — provision for use across the private and public sectors — data-sharing between organisations on an unprecedented scale.
- Massive accumulation of personal data:
- 50 categories of registrable fact are set out in the Bill, though they could be added to. Effectively an index to all other official and quasi-official records, through cross-references and an audit trail of all checks on the Register, the NIR would be the key to a total life history of every individual, to be retained even after death.
- Lifelong surveillance and the meta-database:
- Every registered individual will be under an obligation to notify any change in registrable facts. It is a clear aim of the system to require identity verification for many more civil transactions, the occasions to be stored in the audit trail. Information verified and indexed by numbers from the NIR would be easily cross-referenced in any database or set of databases. The “meta-database” of all the thousands of databases cross-referenced is much more powerful and much less secure than the NIR itself.
- Overseas ID cards are not comparable:
- Many western countries that have ID cards do not have a shared register. Mostly ID cards have been limited in use, with strong legal privacy protections. In Germany centralisation is forbidden for historical reasons, and when cards are replaced, the records are not linked. Belgium has made use of modern encryption methods and local storage to protect privacy and prevent data-sharing, an approach opposite to the Home Office’s. The UK scheme is closest to those of some Middle Eastern countries and of the People’s Republic of China—though the latter has largely given up on biometrics.
- ID does not establish intention. Competent criminals and terrorists will be able to subvert the identity system. Random outrages by individuals can’t be stopped. Ministers agree that ID cards will not prevent atrocities. A blank assertion that the department would find it helpful is not an argument that would be entertained for fundamental change in any other sphere of government but national security. Where is the evidence? Research suggests there is no link between the use of identity cards and the prevalence of terrorism, and in no instance has the presence of an identity card system been shown a significant deterrent to terrorist activity. Experts attest that ID unjustifiably presumed secure actually diminishes security.
- Illegal immigration and working:
- People will still enter Britain using foreign documents—genuine or forged—and ID cards offer no more deterrent to people smugglers than passports and visas. Employers already face substantial penalties for failing to obtain proof of entitlement to work, yet there are only a handful of prosecutions a year.
- Benefit fraud and abuse of public services:
- Identity is “only a tiny part of the problem in the benefit system.” Figures for claims under false identity are estimated at £50 million (2.5%) of an (estimated) £2 billion per year in fraudulent claims.
- “Identity fraud”:
- Both Australia and the USA have far worse problems of identity theft than Britain, precisely because of general reliance on a single reference source. Costs usually cited for of identity-related crime here include much fraud not susceptible to an ID system. Nominally “secure”, trusted, ID is more useful to the fraudster. The Home Office has not explained how it will stop registration by identity thieves in the personae of innocent others. Coherent collection of all sensitive personal data by government, and its easy transmission between departments, will create vast new opportunities for data-theft.
- Computer system:
- IT providers find that identity systems work best when limited in design. The Home Office scheme combines untested technologies on an unparalleled scale. Its many inchoate purposes create innumerable points for failure. The government record with computer projects is poor, and the ID system is likely to end up a broken mess.
- Not all biometrics will work for all people. Plenty are missing digits, or eyes, or have physical conditions that render one or more biometrics unstable or hard to read. All systems have error. Deployment on a vast scale, with variably trained operators and variably maintained and calibrated equipment, will produce vast numbers of mismatches, leading to potentially gross inconvenience to millions.
- No ceiling:
- The Government has not ventured figures for the cost to the country as whole of the identity management scheme. That makes evaluation difficult. Civil Service IT experience suggests current projections are likely to be seriously underestimated. Home Office figures are for internal costs only, and have risen sharply—where they are not utterly obscure. Industry estimates suggest that public and private sector compliance costs could easily be double whatever is spent centrally.
- Opportunity costs:
- The Government has not even tried to show that national ID management will be more cost-effective than less spectacular alternative, targeted, solutions to the same problems (whether tried and tested or novel). We are to trust to luck that it is.
- Taxpayer pain:
- Even at current Home Office estimates, the additional tax burden of setting up the scheme will be of the order of £200 per person. The direct cost to individuals (of a combined passport and ID card package) is quoted as £93. The impact on other departmental and local authority budgets is unknown. The scope and impact of arbitrary penalties would make speed cameras trivial by comparison.
- Broad delegated power:
- The Home Office seeks wide discretion over the future shape of the scheme. There are more than 30 types of regulatory power for future Secretaries of State that would change the functions and content of the system ad lib. The scope, application and possible extension are extra-parliamentary decisions, even if nominally subject to approval.
- Presumption of accuracy:
- Data entered onto the National Identity Register (NIR) is arbitrarily presumed to be accurate, and the Home Secretary made a judge of accuracy of information provided to him. Meanwhile, the Home Office gets the power to enter information without informing the individual. But theres no duty to ensure that such data is accurate, or criterion of accuracy. Personal identity is implicitly made wholly subject to state control.
- Compulsion by stealth:
- Even during the so-called “voluntary phase”, the Home Secretary can add any person to the Register without their consent, and categories of individuals might be compelled selectively to register using powers under any future legislation. Anyone newly applying for a passport or other “designated document”, or renewing an existing one, will automatically have to be interviewed and submit all required details. This is less a phased introduction than a clandestine one. There is to be no choice. And the minimum of notice to the public about the change in the handling of their registrable information.
- Limited oversight:
- As proposed, the National Identity Scheme Commissioner would have very limited powers and is excluded from considering a number of key issues. He does not even report directly to Parliament. The reliance on administrative penalties means severe punishments may be inflicted without judicial process. The onus is on the individual to seek relief from the courts, at a civil standard of proof. Those who most require the protection of a fair trial are the least likely to be able to resort to legal action.
- Individuals managed by executive order:
- Without reference to the courts or any appeals process, the Home Secretary may cancel or require surrender of an identity card, without a right of appeal, at any time. Given that the object of the scheme is that an ID card will be eventually required to exercise any ordinary civil function, this amounts to granting the Home Secretary the power of civic life and death.
- Discrimination—no guarantees:
- There have been vapid “assurances” made to some minority groups. That underlines the potential for threat. The system offers a ready-made police-state tool for a future government less trustworthy than the current one. A Home Secretary could create classifications of individuals to be registered as he sees fit, introducing onerous duties backed by severe penalties for fractions of the population. Religious or ethnic affiliation, for example, could be added to the Register by regulation—or be inferred by cross-referencing other information using a National Identity Register Number or associated data.
- “Papers, please”:
- ID cards in practice would provide a pretext for those in authority—public or private—to question individuals who stand out for reasons of personal appearance or demeanour. This is likely to exacerbate divisions in society. The Chairman of the Bar Council has asked, “is there not a great risk that those who feel at the margins of society—the somewhat disaffected—will be driven into the arms of extremists?”
- Third party abuse:
- The requirement that all those registered notify all changes in details risks creating the means of tracking and persecution through improper use of the database. A variety of persons have good reason to conceal their identity and whereabouts; for example: those fleeing domestic abuse; victims of “honour” crimes; witnesses in criminal cases; those at risk of kidnapping; undercover investigators; refugees from oppressive regimes overseas; those pursued by the press; those who may be terrorist targets. The seizure of ID cards (like benefit-books and passports now) will become a means for extortion by gangsters.
- Lost identity, becoming an un-person:
- By making ordinary life dependent on the reliability of a complex administrative system, the scheme makes myriad small errors potentially catastrophic. There’s no hint from the government how it will deal with inevitably large numbers of mis-identifications and errors, or deliberate attacks on or corruption of what would become a critical piece of national infrastructure. A failure in any part of the system at a check might deny a person access to his or her rights or property or to public services, with no immediate solution or redress—”license to live” withdrawn.
Scary, isn’t it? This isn’t going to do one damned thing to improve our national security or prevent credit fraud or identity theft. It will however allow all sorts of government departments, from the security services to the social services to intrude upon and monitor your life in a detailed manner which would make the dictators of Orwell’s 1984 orgasm in delight. No government should have this level of information and power over citizens and I can see no good excuse for a democrati state to bring this in – and even better, to make us pay for it as well. And this is assuming the system works – such a vast database is unlikely to prove terribly secure, especially as it will be shared with so many government departments and other institutions which must make it more vulnerable to unauthorised access – and with the track record of government implementing huge IT projects who thinks for a moment this will work? Or that it will come in on time and budget and not be full of flaws which the taxpayer will keep on shelling out to fix? Think on all that personal, financial, health, tax, judicial and biometric data on you being held in this database.
Plus the nice fact we will have to pay to buy one of these ridiculous cards – and despite being told we will not be forced to take them if we do not wish, it is increasingly clear the government is planning to make sure so many people will be forced to do just that (for instance you will have to get an ID card when you renew your pasport in a few years) until it will become the norm to have one and we will all find we cannot function without one because even opening a new bank account will require the card. Add in the unchecked growth of the police’s DNA database which continues to hold samples on many thousands of people who have never committed or even been charged with any crime (including many under the age of 16) and this represents a frankly terrifying growth in the government’s ability to track and interfere in the private life of law-abiding citizens in a supposedly free society.
I wrote the brief letter below to my MP, the government minister Alastair Darling, who has a strong record of supporting this legislation. If like me you live in his constituency then I urge you to let him know how you feel – he is there after all to represent the people of this constituency, not Tony Blair’s latest ‘legacy’ project. For other UK residents you can go to the Parliament website and find your local MP’s details and an email contact form (unfortunately Mr Darling hasn’t seen fit to invest in even a basic website) you can use to communicate your concerns to them with. This is a real threat to civil liberties in the UK and unless people wake up to this and make it damned clear to their MPs how they feel and the fact that those same MPs will be out of a job because we won’t vote for them if they don’t listen to us then we will end up with it being imposed on us. Take responsibility and write to your MP about this now.
My email to my local MP is below and is briefer than I would like because the email form doesn’t allow for many characters – if Alastair Darling had a proper website and email address (as you would expect a representative to have in 2006 for goodness sake, especially given the government he is a part of has spent a lot of money trying to convince us all to go broadband) I would have been able to expand on it:
I am writing to you to express my alarm and dismay at the ongoing attempt to inflict the National ID Card system upon the citizens of this country, something I believe you have been strong in supporting, much to my disappointment.
I would like you to explain to me exactly how you think this imposed system will make my life as one of your constituents safer and better. The government has used the Fear card once more, telling us that this system is essential to help combat terrorism, but appears unable to offer concrete evidence to prove this assertion. I cannot conceive how this system would have helped to present the atrocities in London for example, or how ID cards would prevent further terrorism from home-grown sources. If, heaven forbid, a Scottish person decided to stand next to the Scott Monument and blow themselves up for a political or religious act, exactly how would ID cards help to stop this? As a citizen this person would presumably have a valid ID card, so please explain to me how this helps counter terrorism? And if it is a terrorist from abroad it seems more than likely that fake identification can be used and I fail to see how this national system will really stop that.
The government has also played the spectre of identity theft, yet countries such as the USA which rely more on single ‘trusted’ sources of identification suffer a higher rate of crime in this sphere than we do. Won’t this centralised system exacerbate the problem you claim it will help solve?
I am also extremely alarmed at the rather misleading claims that we will not be forced to take ID cards if we do not wish to, yet it is becoming increasingly clear that this is exactly what we will be forced to do. Add to this the enormous amount of investment this system will require from the public purse (and given past government debacles in implementing large IT projects this will rise and rise no doubt as well as running beyond the target date for completion and be full of flaws) and the fact that I will also be required to then pay for an ID card I do not approve of and which represents an intolerable intrusion by the state into my personal life and you have a complete mess of a system being put together and forced upon the public at huge cost, with enormous potential risk to civil liberties and data security and no great gain.
Again I cannot understand why you consider this to be a good thing and why the government seems so determined to force this legislation upon citizens, many of whom do not want it and why statements are made that they will not me mandatory, yet the system will be set up in such a way that most citizens will be forced to pay for a card (on top of the cost to the taxpayer for the system) by the back door when they take out a new passport?