Thursday, November 09, 2006

The mission statement...

A favourite subject for discussion today is the subject of the Governments new ID cards program. Like most things the government decides to do it is viewed with a fair degree of suspicion.

To hear some people talk you might think that we'll become some kind of distopian police state on their introduction.

Personally, this strikes me as misleding and hysterical. Having read quite a lot of the arguments against ID cards, it strikes me that a lot of commonly held beliefs about ID cards and its associated technologies are incorrect.

I'm a Labour party member, so I tend to be reflexively defensive of the current government I don't blindly agree with every single policy, but I'll stand by them when I think they're in the right.

On the subject of ID cards I'm not convinced that the government is particularly in the wrong. My main intention with this blog is to investigate whether I'm right or wrong, to put the subject under a the microscope a little more and to try and expand peoples understanding of the subject.

My professional background is in IT, so I think I should be able to examine the arguments from a fairly thorough and professional point of view.

Go in peace citizen.


Oliver_Coombes said...

Why I will never carry an ID card

Make no mistake about this: whether you are for or against, the introduction of ID cards marks an unprecedented shift, for peacetime, in the relationship between the British citizen and the state.

Every one of us will effectively have to apply to the government for permission to exist, or at least exist in any way which involves using public services. And even if the principle does not trouble you, the practical effect will be to create an entirely new layer of hassle.

The innocent, we are told, have nothing to fear. But the lesson of the Family Tax Credit and Child Support Agency fiascos is that no government computer scheme ever avoided massive inconvenience to the innocent. Those schemes were a fraction of this one's complexity and size. Even if the technology works, what if some bureaucrat enters your data wrongly -- as in the case of the 2700 innocent people falsely accused by the Criminal Records Bureau, many of whom were consequently turned down by universities and employers? If your card is lost, damaged or stolen, how many hours of Greensleeves on the call-centre hotline will it take to replace it?

In an age when everyone agrees on the need to reduce red tape, ID cards will require an enormous and expensive new bureaucracy, complete with a dozen new crimes and offences for the citizen. Did you know that you will be required to tell (and pay) the police every time you move house -- with a £1000 fine if you forget? Did you know that your friends and neighbours can be forced to give information about you? Do you think the constabulary and courts have better things to do? The justification for all this needs to be very strong, but it is not. ID cards are a solution looking for a problem.

In all the years of debate and argument, no one has yet explained how exactly the cards will reduce terrorism or crime. Will muggers be obliged to show you their ID before they hit you over the head? Did Spain's compulsory ID system prevent the Madrid bombings? French and Japanese identity cards do not stop illegal immigration to those countries, nor have Italian ones defeated the Mafia.

The government claimed that 35% of terrorists use false or multiple identities: which means, by my reckoning, that 65% of terrorists use their own identities. They do so because they are not known to the authorities as terrorists, a factor which can only increase. ID cards may be able to reduce the use of false and multiple identity among British citizens; but the vast majority of Islamic terrorists are not British citizens.

ID cards might, it is true, help reduce certain types of fraud. But even by the government's own reckoning, identity-related benefit fraud amounts to no more than £50 million a year; NHS tourism to "a few hundred million"; and all identity-related fraud, public and private sector, to a total of £1.3 billion. An ID card scheme would cost at least £6 billion.

"If you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear," the goverment insists -- but why then is it hiding its estimate of the true budget despite the orders of the Freedom of Information Commissioner?

Identity cards may seem popular now -- but the more people learn more about it, the the more resentment will build. Making law-abiding citizens pay £100 to take a day off work and report to the police station to be fingerprinted like common criminals will not be quite the vote-winner that Labour thinks.

(Based on an article in The Evening Standard)

Paulie said...
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