Sunday, December 03, 2006

Response to an Earlier comment

In one of my earlier posts, I recieved the following comment, i've repuduced it in italics, with my responses as appropriate.

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.

As you might guess, the principle really doesn't trouble me. I don't believe the remit of the ID card will extend much beyond what existing documentation does. What hassle is caused would seem to be fairly minor.

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?

The government has thousands of computer schemes all over the country, a number of high profile ones have had problems but the complexity of the ID cards scheme is overstated. In terms of size and complexity, it is still well behind a number of private sector systems.

The chances of a bureaucrat entering data incorrectly are low, in a previous job I held in the marketing industry, our data entry pool achieved over 99% accuracy despite the fact that they were aiming for volume over accuracy. Even when mistakes were made, they were generally simply typos rather than incorrect addresses. The entry of data in the case of the ID card scheme will focus heavily on accuracy and is likely to have an extremly low level of mistakes.

When your card is lost, it will take time to replace, granted but I don't believe that it will cause any more problems then with the loss of any other official document.

As for the Criminal records bueau, the 2700 people who were falsly accused were accused because of inaccurate identity data, something the ID card scheme is designed to fix.

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.

I accept that there will be new crimes and some new bureaucracy, but I will already be fined £1,000 if I fail to do the same with my car's V5 Log Book or my driving licence. This just seems to be the standard fines associated with not keeping ID information up to date. As for the bureaucracy, it's will be judged on the benefits it gives.

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.


I don't want to address thgis in too much detail here, since I've covered it earlier in my blog. ID cards are no panacea for terrorism, but they will be a valulable tool in the identification and detection of terrorists.

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.

The cost of £5.4 billion is described as the set up and running of the scheme over 5 years. If we factor in £50m from ID fraud, and say £200m from health tourism we're halfway there. If we add the little of the total £1.3bn to the mix we're not far off.

"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.


I believe the information has been witheld since media scutiny might affect the results of the review. The £100 cost is pricey, but it's not miles above the existing cost of renewing a passport. Being fingerprinted is cause for a little trepidation, personally I think that any police access to these fingerprints will have to be very strictly limited.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Andreas
I also have a technology background as you but have worked in both defence and private sector. Unlike you I don't believe the technology will fully work as I'm aware of some of the issues certain firms have seen using biometrics as physical security for access to highly sensitive areas. But I don't want to argue the technology as if you spend enough money with NuLabs friends in the IT vendor and consulting spaces I'm sure it will eventually and many billions later be made to work. My two issues are practicality and principle.
Practicality
The cards will have to be mass-produceable and will by skilled criminals be relatively easily faked and possibly cloned if the biometic technology becomes more commonplace. The issue is that for ID verification the card will have to verify the biometric i.e. fingerprint or retinal scan. I find it unlikely that when buying e.g. petrol and fags with a cheque that the mom n'pop garage will have a biometic scanner (forget fingerprints as they are not strong enough) to verify id, so your criminal can easily steal your identity to defraud your credit cards in the simple example.
Unless biometric scanners become ubiquitous (great business for Symbol or Siemens, I wonder if they are Labour contributors? EDS strangely funds the Smith institute (G Browns slush fund) I wonder why?) then identify verification provided by the card is in my view little better than a credit card.
Principle
I object in absolute principle to the idea that the state can compel me to carry an ID card to prove my identity under any circumstances. I am not a subject of the state I am a free citizen and If I choose not to subscribe my ID to some huge database when the government will collect a vast amount of data about me that is my free and democratic choice. It is a freedom I'm not prepared to give up.
Andreas, you are a Labour supporter - do you think it right that the Labour manifesto at the 2005 election stated "We will introduce ID cards including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports" but in execution from 2008 the issuance of an ID card (at your cost, another stealth tax) is directly liked to the issuance of a passport. No ID card, no passport. That doesn't sound very voluntary to me, unless you intend never to travel abroad?
I'm not quite sure why the government wants to introduce them now. What has changed to warrant them? They would have no impact on terrorism, the issue is intent not identity. The US faces a similar terrorist threat to the UK but is not introducing ID cards. We faced a dire terrorist threat from the IRA in the 70's and 80's but didn't need ID card then, so why now?
I suggest to you that it is political. The government has to be seen to do something about terrorism, illegal immigration, benefit fraud. Those issues I suggest to you will not be solved by ID cards, but are infact a direct consequence of this apalling governments misguided policies. The invasion of Iraq has caused the increased terrorist threat. The loss of border control (EU directed) and loss of political will and schelrotic immigration bureacracy has caused the illegal immigration problem. Increased benefits fraud is a direct consequence of Gordon Browns mass extension of means testing.
I put it to you that ID cards are a political football to differentiate NuLab from the Tories & Lib Dems. "NuLab is strong on crime and terrorism as they want to introduce ID cards, the tories and LibDems are weak on crime and terrorism because they oppose ID cards."
I do hope you lose the next election

Oliver_Coombes said...

I curse the day I voted Labour back in 1997, and pray they lose.

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