Some questions about ID cards

28 April 2004

So the ID Cards Draft Bill has been released. I have multiple concerns, but I’ll boil them to as few as possible. The Home Office ID Card Site says that an ID card system will help fight terrorism, identity-related fraud, illegal working and public service abuse. I’m going to voice my (very condensed) thoughts on each of those, and tack a couple more on the end.

1. In what way will a national ID card system reduce the threat of terrorism? Terrorists tend to use tourist visas (which will be checked with less stringent verification under the new legislation), or they are people with genuine ID with no previous history of terrorist activity (in which case knowing their identity is of no use). Most of the 9/11 hijackers were unknowns, and many had legitimate ID papers. Neither the draft bill nor the consultation document mention any study detailing evidence where a national ID card had a definite effect on reducing terrorist activity. A draft report by Privacy International disputes the Government’s anti-terrorism claims. Wouldn’t the money on ID cards be better spent on proven methods like better intelligence and policing?

2. The Home Office claim that identity fraud costs the nation £1.3bn a year. However the document estimating this is based largely on guesswork (see Annex B) and most of this estimated cost is borne by the private sector. And out of this cost, a large proportion of this figure (£370m) is due to stolen and lost credit cards, but these are forms of fraud which an ID card system could not necessarily prevent. The amount of ID-related insurance fraud (£250m) is taken as an estimated 50% of an estimated 50% of all insurance fraud – these figures seem to have been plucked out of the air. Furthermore, there is no differentiation between identity fraud due to deficiencies in current systems of identification, and fraud thanks to incompetence or negligence by the parties involved in verifying the ID, and thus we don’t know exactly how much of the estimated fraud will be stopped with a new national identity card. The cost of such a scehem is at least £3bn and possibly a lot more (see later) – are the savings on ID fraud worth it?

3. Illegal workers are beneath the system as it is, they have no National Insurance number or anything like that. If their employers are willing to employ an illegal without an NI number, then they are not going to worry about someone without a valid ID card.

4. As pointed out in (2) above, there are no concrete figures for the scale of public service abuse. Most claims of “health tourism” and the like by ineligible people are based on anecdotal evidence. Nobody knows what the cost is, as the Department of Health has admitted. How can a sensible cost and benefit analysis of the ID scheme be carried out if we don’t know how much it’s meant to save?

5. How are the Government going to guarantee the security of the new National Identity Register? This will be built from scratch and supposedly will not be tainted by the bad data on existing, compromised systems. But either we will be using our passports and birth certificates as proof of ID to get the new cards, in which case compromised data is bound to be introduced, or the NIR will have to fully verify the identity of every single one of the 60 million people in the UK.

6. The biometric verification systens proposed are taken as 100% foolproof and a major component in ensuring the security of the system. However, fingerprints can be convincingly faked (and there has been little rigorous scientific scrutiny on whether actually are unique), and face recognition is still very unreliable. Only iris scans come out with any integrity, but these are expensive and intrusive, and have not been proven as practical on a wide scale yet.

7. The latest estimate of the cost of this project is £3 billion. Recent Government projects on assembling databases of people’s identities, such as the Criminal Records Bureau and Passport Agency have been costly, late and don’t even work properly. In fact many other Government IT projects could be described as having been similarly botched. With so much at stake here – a very secure register of every citizen in the country, how has the Government changed its practices (if at all) to take into account the lessons of past failures?

Right, no more. In very short summary, I don’t believe it will be totally secure, the marginal benefits will outweight the costs, and I expect them to escalate. And I haven’t even started on the erosion of civil liberties. But I’ll stop writing, else I’ll be here all night. All thoughts welcome.


3 Responses

Alexander

Firstly, I think this is just a distraction from Blair’s Euro referendum. He’s in the shit with that one, so encouraging the rather dense Blunko to follow through with his hobby horse is a good way of diverting the attention of the media and critics.

But I doubt this Bill will in fact come to much. The trials will no doubt be a shambles, the committee stage will further dilute the bill, the commons may see yet another rebellion (remember that most of the cabinet does not want the poxy things either) and the Lords will no doubt throw it out. It simply won’t be worth Bliar’s time and effort to push on with it – he’ll be too busy worrying about the Euro elections, the referendum – and another General Election. He could wheel out the Parliament Act – but if he’s not willing to do that on the fox hunt ban, which would no doubt be ‘popular, he’s hardly going to use it to push through a bill that has seriously pissed off a small but vocal minority. Having yet another constitutional showdown with the Lords is not in Blair’s interest, and besides it’s not as if he’s serious about it. As I have said, he’s just trying to distract us for a while. Blunkett’s loss of face, and perhaps job, is hardly going to make Tony weep, at least in private.

And that’s if this scheme DOES go any further. It’s becoming clear that ID cards won’t work, and if the dozy British public don’t realise this, there are a lot of influential people who will. Blunko’s scheme may well whither on the vine, but that’s not really the point…

…The point is, we have a Home Secretary who’s willing to impose sinister, intrusive measures on the British people on a national scale, and not for the first time. Sometimes I really do think I should do a runner to Canada, because this country seems hellbent on fucking itself and all who dwell within it. And since so many of us don’t mind living in an increasingly authoritarian society, it seems we’ve got the government we deserve. We’re drowning in stupidity, apathy and masochism, ID cards or no ID cards.

Your right, you know. You would have been up all night if you’d carried on writing about this. I was…

(By which I mean, I gone and done a response which is waaay to long to fit in here, but can be read over there. Contains rambling and tangents.)

<german accent>”Papers, pleasea”</german accent>