Well, Orwell is still spinning in his grave. Despite some apparently premature optimism, it seems that ID cards are very much on the government’s agenda. Today’s news headlines have been very much about the “ID Card Rethink [bbc as example]” and how we are all going to end up with one.
This is all despite the House of Lords “setback” and the massive online YouGov poll that showed a significant percentage of the population were against the idea. To me, in addition to the hateful ideas of forced identity documents, the fact the government is able and willing to completely ignore over a million of the electorate’s opinions speaks volumes for how modern democracy works…
In a token gesture to people’s opinions, the government is planning to bring ID card
by stealth in a phased manner. I assume the thinking is target the least popular / most vulnerable parts of society then, in a few years everyone will have come round to the idea and we will all carry one. Distasteful is an understatement.
In her speech announcing the new Identity Card plans, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith made the following statements:
I start from the premise that the National Identity Scheme is a public good.
Starting from a false premise is never going to lead to anything of value… This is largely, Smith saying the assumption was always we were going to have Identity Cards, like it or not.
As citizens, it will offer us a new, secure and convenient way to protect and prove our identity.
What is new about it? How is it more secure than, say, a passport or driving licence? Equally, how the **** does the existence of an ID card protect your identity?
And it will provide us with the reassurance we need that others who occupy positions of trust in our society are who they say they are as well.
This is odd, and the radio news made a big deal about this. What people who occupy positions of trust don’t already carry a form of ID? Lots of news sources go on about how Airport staff will be early ones to get them – oddly, you already need to have an ID card to get airside at an airport. What will have actually changed? Are the current procedures flawed?
Now, at this point I was going to do a line by line rebuttal of her claims but as they are all insane it will take much too long. Nearly every sentence she utters in her speech contains falsehoods and spin to trick people into thinking ID Cards will solve the worlds problems. They wont.
In an effort to be brief, I will try to address her main points.
Firstly, ID cards are supposed to be brought in to prevent crime and terrorism. Wow. If having to carry an ID card would prevent someone from being a terrorist, why are there still terrorists in the world? Same with crime. Neither activity will be deterred simply by the existence of a voluntary ID scheme. The best that could possibly be hoped for would be for a compulsory ID card, with fingerprint data, that may enable the police to catch people after a crime(*). In years gone by crazy ideas were often supported with a “wont anyone think of the children” (as parodied by the Simpsons), now we have Prevent Terrorism as the buzzword. If the government want to pass laws people will hate it is always linked to prevention of terrorism. Didn’t anyone watch “In the Name of the Father?”
Secondly they are supposed to prevent Identity Fraud. How this happens is never, ever, mentioned and, frankly, defies even the most cursory examination. Again reading through Ms Smith’s speech is an exercise in logical fallacies, there are more appeals to fear than I care to count. The phrases basically go along the lines of criminals steal identities so get an ID card. This sounds good and there is a half-hearted example of one person who defrauded the state out of £2.5m over five years. Compare this to Northern Rock who have taken over £100billion from the state in as many months. Who is the worse criminal? On a more personal level, ID theft is a terrible thing and I genuinely feel for anyone it happens to. Would the national ID card prevent it? Ninety nine times out of a hundred the answer is no, and in the other one is it a maybe.
For example, if some one hacks your Ebay account and runs up charges would an ID card have protected you? Same with anything online (where most ID theft apparently takes place) and in the offline world it only works when it interacts with the government. Someone can steal your ID and apply for credit cards, loans etc., and unless the issuing authority has access to the central database there is no way to find out.
This leads to the other problem. The database itself becomes a single point of failure. All a person needs to do is attack that to gain a legitimate, but false, identity. As recent months (and years) have shown, the Government is a largely inept organisation when it comes to protecting the data it holds. The news has covered dozens of “accidents” where huge amounts of personal data have been lost into the public domain. Do you feel safe thinking that a group with this track record will hold the gold standard of data about your identity?
Ms Smith has considered this and some reassurance is given:
Private firms will be encouraged to set-up “biometric enrolment centres” where passport and ID card applicants will be fingerprinted. [BBC news]
WTF! To make matters worse, this personal and private data will be collected by non-accountable organisations who have, by definition, their primary goal of making profit. By Toutatis this is madness. Here we will have the situation where staff on a minimum wage will be responsible for inputting your ID details and making sure no one else can get access to them. People who can be bribed with the price of a pint down the pub. Terrifying.
When Ms Smith talks about how they will protect the data the ID system will store, she manages to confuse me as to how it will work:
The way in which we are designing the National Identity Register, with separate databases holding personal biographic details physically and technologically separately from biometric fingerprints and photographs, will greatly reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosures of information being used to damaging effect. …(followed by)… I should make it clear that none of the databases will be online, so it won’t be possible to hack into them. [BBC transcript]
Now call me an old fashioned security professional, but there is a bit here that makes sense. By preventing people from getting access to the data you really do reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosure. However, and this shows more madness, if huge segments of society can’t access the data it is useless. The idea as I see it is that you go into the bank to open an account and show them your ID card. They scan it and compare it to the record of you. If it matches you get account. Seems easy, except now it looks like the bank wont have access and even if they did there is an air gap between the two technologies.
How is it supposed to work?
Lastly (phew, I hear you cry), the introduction by stealth. This shows the government KNOW this is an unpopular idea and it would never get off the ground if they tried to roll it out now. Instead they are going to play on the “white working class fear” of the Evil Immigrants by making them carry ID cards (why not force them to carry a sign round…(**)). What effect this will have is beyond me because if I was an immigrant and challenged by “authority” I would simply say I wasn’t an immigrant. Prove me wrong. Next come the “UK citizens and EU nationals who work in ‘sensitive’ airport jobs” who already carry ID cards and aren’t likely to complain, but again the question is “why?” Finally in 2011 it will be an opt-out option on passport renewals. Passports already have biometric data and are acceptable as proof of ID the world over. Why do we need another form of ID?
That is it in a nutshell, though. Why on Earth do we need another form of ID?
(*) remembering to account for the error bars of partial fingerprint matches when you have a database of 60+ million entries, and hoping the criminals are too stupid to wear gloves…
(**) Hmm. This seems familiar. I wonder why…