Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In response....

Many thanks to the poster who commented on my previous post, as promised, here is my response.

1) Why should I prove my ID? You say that ID cards are supported by iris recognition/finger prints etc and while chips can be cloned, body parts cannot. I have two thoughts on this matter. The first being Dolly the sheep. The second being science can do amazing things these days - anything can be transplanted and/or cloned from an iris to a face.
Firstly, on the subject of whether we should need an ID card to prove our identity, this I feel is part of the very large debate on the relationship between the state and the individual. From a practical point of view, I feel it makes sense that an individual should have to prove their identity and therfore their entitlement to be genuine when making use of services provided by the state.

On the subject of the possibilities of technology and cloning, I feel that what needs to be considered here is the amount of effort required to somehow make use of the technology in order to subvert an identity check. Attempting to fake an identity check requires a considerable amount of expertise and resources. Weighing this against the potential gains to be made from subverting an ID check, and it means that only small selection of high yield identity fraud based crimes remain viable.
2) They didn't stop Madrid. No they did not. This IS a reasonable arguement. Surely any bombing that falls through the cracks of "security" and is allowed to occur is one bombing too many. A simplistic view I grant you, but one that is still valid.
On this point, I feel that I should clarify my thoughts on this. The statement "ID cards did not stop the Madrid bombings" validates the statement "ID cards are not guaranteed to pervent terroist attacks". I don't feel that it validates the statement "ID cards will not prevent terroist attacks" because I feel that ID cards and the NIR will be a valulable tool for the intelligence services (I'll try and expand on this at some point). One terrorist attack is too many, but every terrorist attack prevented is a good thing.
3)The only way of stopping benefit fraud is by creating a system that doesn't allow defrauding in the first place. Either by being more severe with the culprits or by having a system that is not worth defrauding in the first place and therefore only aides the deserving. ID cards still wouldn't help with this problem - I refer you to the leaps in science/iris transplant scenario. After all if they are able to screw the system for millions, the small matter of an iris transplant is a mere drop in the ocean. Especially with the NHS in it's current state. I should know - I work for them.
On the subject of benefit fraud I feel that ID cards would increase the chance a fraudster being caught out, I belive that this increased chance of getting caught would act as an additional deterrent. On the subject of punishments, I see this as problematic since often benefit fraudsters might not be able to afford fines and jail as problematic since benefit fraudsters can not really be considered a danger to society and prison places are in short supply.

On the subject of getting millions out of the system, this is again a technical issue. In the recent tax credit fiasco, the thieves used the data (from Network Rail I believe) of some 15,000 people to claim tax credits, these tax credits were then sent to the thieves bank accounts. The thieves in effect posed as each of these 15,000 people and claimed tax credit for each one. In this kind of theft, faking 15,000 sets of fingerprints, or irises would be far more difficult.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Monday, January 29, 2007

An important point from yesterday's interview with the Prime Minister

Although yesterdays interview with the prime minister on the Politics Show could have been describes as something of an unenthusiastic performance, I feel that one particular point was made very well and could do with being repeated.
TONY BLAIR: We've built twenty thousand extra and we've got another eight thousand coming. But you've also got a situation, where today, people are in prison for longer and you've got of course the new indeterminate sentences where people can be kept in for indeterminate period, if they remain a danger to the public. Now I'm not saying that there haven't been big problems in the Home Office, but let's be clear, some of these things like foreign prisoners, or these offences that have been committed abroad by British people who then return back home, the reason we're dealing with these now is that for the first time there is a system in place to deal with them. You take asylum, right, when we came to office, it - the backlog of asylum claims was over 50,000. It took eighteen months to process a claim.

We removed one in five of failed asylum seekers. Today, you've got the backlog down to a few thousand, it takes most claims are actually done within two months and for the first time we're actually removing more unfounded claims than we're taking in.
I think the message is clear, the Tories made a hash of the Home Office when they were in power. When the Tories throw their accusations at John Reid and the Labour government it is worth remembering the state it was in in 1997. The Tories really are the last people to be telling us how to run the home office.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Friday, January 26, 2007

Conservative Cllr Lisa Rutter and ID Cards

Cllr Lisa Rutter is a conservative councillor recently taken to task by Recess Monkey and Mark Clarke for an article on ID cards where she wrote something that could be considered racist. Unlike Recess Monkey I prefer giving people the benefit of the doubt in cases of where something written (or drawn, created photoshopped etc) could be interpreted as racist. Instead I'm going to criticise the key points of her arguments against ID cards.
RFID Chips have been cloned
This is true, but the implication that this is a problem shows a serious misunderstanding of the technical issues involved here. The ID card is intended to work in combination with a biometic (either a thumb print or an iris scan). You need to provide both to verify your identity, you may clone the chip and the card, but you will also need to clone the fingerprint.

It is possible to alter the chip, but assuming that like the chip in the new ePassport it is digitally signed, a change would invalidate the digital signature. In order to change and alter an RFID chip, a potential ID criminal would have to obtain the private key used to sign the chip.
They didn't stop the Madrid Bombings, Dame Stella Rimington (former MI5 Chief) is against them.
Holding up a specific attack as an example misunderstands how ID cards will be used to fight terrorism. The key to prevention is identifying potential terrorists before an attack begins, the national identity register with it's audit trail can provide vital data that could be used to this effect.

As for Dame Stella, i'll see her Dame Stella and raise her a Dame Eliza
Only £50m a year's worth of benefit fraud is Identity Related
The first problem with this argument lies in a misunderstanding of the statistic, this statistic refers to case where a person has posed as a different person in order to claim benefit. It is wrong to assume that ID cards will only help fight this kind of fraud, the more coherent approach to identity management will make it far harder for people to get away with providing false details of their cirumstances (the vast majority of benefit fraud).

The second problem with the argument is that benefit fraud is simply one area where costs due to identity theft are a problem. The Home Office's estimate of the cost of identity fraud estimates a total loss £1.73billion a year due to ID fraud across the public and private sectors, far larger than the single figure she quotes.

The additional problem with this argument is the assumption that this £50m figure will remain constant. Identity theft is a growing problem, and identity based benefit fraud is likely to become a bigger problem in future.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Monday, January 22, 2007

Splitting the Home Office

John Reid has announced plans to split of the home office into separate entities, one handling Security issues (terrorism, policing and immigration), the other handling the justice system (prisons, probation, courts etc).

As someone who has been the victim of botched restructurings, with the accompanying structural diagrams, I have a healthy amount of cynicism about such ideas. An explicit separation such as this is likely to weaken communication links accross the divide (between Justice and Sercurity). The important thing to consider is how much communication across this divide occurs and whether the strategic advantages of a smaller, easier to manage department offset these communications difficulties.

My worry is that this plan, rather then being designed to do something about the problems at the home office is actually designed more to simply look like something is being done. I have an intense dislike of the media dictating the Home Office's agenda, and I hope this planned reform is not simply for the benefit of the media.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Nick Cohen on the Anti War Left

I greatly admire Nick Cohen as a very thoughtful left wing writer. His reasoning for his support for the Iraq war has well thought out and very convincing. He takes a lot of flak in his Observer columns from people who seem determined to take him to task on the subject of the Iraq war.

In response to his critics it appears he's written a whole book on the subject, including some rather good extracts in today's Observer.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Nice one Harriet!

The website launch of Deputy Leadership candidate, Harriet Harman has caused some not inconsiderable buzz on the net. The reason? A controversial post on the subject of prostitution, where Harriet appears to advocate that it becomes a crime for a man to pay for sex contains a misspelling of the word "heroin" (the drug) spelt "heroine". Picked up on by may favourite conservative thinker's favourite pedant, a wave of traffic, trackback and comment has ensued.

As a blogger who seldom gets the chance to boast about the size of his comments thread, I have to congradulate Harriet on a fantastic bit of blog marketing.

Well done Harriet.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Response From the Home Office

Just before New Years, I suggested that journalists at the Telegraph were creating something of a storm in a teacup over the £1,000 fine that could be imposed for failing to inform the national identity register of a change of details. I suggested that there may be a danger if a charge was imposed on every single change of details.

The response I recieved from the Home Office (I'm not sure if I'm allowed to publish it in full) is that any change that does not require a reissue of the ID card will be free of charge . In the situation where details on the card change (a change of name is the most likely reason for this), a fee is planned although the size of the fee cannot be determined at this time (I would assume it would be no more than the planned £30 application charge).

I would therefore suggest that the Telegraph is guilty of scaremongering and misleading it's readers.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Road Pricing

Bloggers4Labour has written a very interesting post on the subject of road pricing. On first reading it would appear to be anti car user, but I don't believe this was his intention. When someone starts using phrases like "cost to society of an individual's driving experience" it's easy to get that impression though.

A few thoughts from this citizen..

Big Brother
I'm quite keen on the whole ID cards thing, but I feel it's important to point out how in combination with road pricing it could give the government a significant amount of information on an individual. It would certainly be possible to join a car travel record to it's owners NIR record, I would hope that legislation would be put in place to ensure strict limits on who had access to these travel logs.

Stealth Taxes
Ministers have generally suggested that such a scheme would be revenue neutral, they might not be able to get the numbers exactly on, but I don't really think this is another excuse for the government to take money out of our pockets. For reasons I'll explain below, I'd like to see the cost offset with a reduction in fuel duty.

B4L suggests that the information gathered from such a scheme would allow the government to better assess the full cost of motoring, I would agree, but I also think there are some far simpler market based benefits.

Tax on fuel is a very simple way to discourage motoring, but I believe it disproportionately hurts poorer car users. First, the biggest single use of a car is for commuting, everyone, rich or poor needs to get to work. Second, most cars generally fall somewhere within the 1-2 litre band, those who are less well off tend to have older cars rather than smaller more economical ones.

With those assumptions in mind, I'll take a couple of examples based on my own experiences.

  • A couple of years ago, I worked at a company based in a small village in Suffolk, miles from anywhere. It was a 40 mile commute from Norwich and as a result my monthly fuel bill was around £200 (a pretty big chunk of your pay packet).
  • Now, I work in Norwich city centre, I am 30 minute walk or a 10 minute drive away. I try to walk although often laziness gets the better of me, so I use the car.

If we assume that a congestion charge is offset by a fuel tax reduction, the result would be the following.

  • My commute through the Suffolk country lanes would become cheaper, since the obscure country lanes would not carry much in the way of congestion charge.
  • My laziness would all of a sudden become far more expensive, since city centre roads in the rush hour will carry a pretty hefty charge.

And in Conclusion..
Road charging could be a far fairer way of assessing the costs of motoring, it could provide valuable information on transport usage in the country, ensure that people are not penalized for car use when there is no public transport available and provide incentive to use public transport where it is available. Assuming the civil liberties issues are addressed, I think that road pricing could be a really good idea.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

UK Offenders in foreign countries, a quick example

A recent story to do with UK citizens commiting criminal offences abroad has inspired me to put together a quick example.

The Situation
Criminal is caught in foreign country, goes to jail for a sexual offence, is released, returns to the UK.

Scenario 1
He shows his passport, gives his address it is noted down. This data is sent to the home office, the criminal records bureau (CRB) note down his passport number, name and address.

He returns to the UK, moves to a new house and applies for a new passport. He applies for a job at a local school. Gives over his passport and driving licence for a background check. CRB perform a detailed search and find nothing (his passport number is new, his driving licence was never noted, his addresss has changed) since there is no way of tyeing this person back to the crime abroad. He gets the job.

Scenario 2
He shows his passport, gives his address it is noted down. This data is sent to the home office, the criminal records bureau note down his passport number, name and address. They track down his identity record in the National Identity record, the CRB record his national identity number.

He returns to the UK, moves to a new house and applies for a new passport. He applies for a job at a local school. Gives over his ID card for a background check. CRB perform a quick search, find the record of the crime abroad. He is refused the job.

ID cards, keeping citizens safe.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

What's happened to Harry Perkins?

The figment of Chris Mullin's imagination who runs this rather entertaining blog. Outspoken on many subjects, always entertaining and with some very sensible opinions on Michael Meacher's leadership bid.*

It seems, however, that despite his vow to keep the red flag flying, the red flag has not flown since Christmas Eve and may possibly not be flying any longer. I hope this isn't the case.

*Something along the lines of "Nothing short of an act of god should allow him to be successful."

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Thoughts from a leading Conservative Thinker

There has been some entertaining discussion recently on the subject of how to annoy lefties and how to annoy righties. Annoying the right seems a little thin on the ground at the moment, so my own little contribution to the irritation of the black hearted Tories will be to refer to Polly Toynbee as a "leading conservative thinker".

Starting things off...

Leading Conservative thinker, Polly Toynbee is today making a full on attack religous opposition to the new equality act. The clause the religous leaders want inserted, that "Nothing in these regulations shall force an individual to act against their conscience or strongly held religious beliefs." will wreck the protection based on sexual orientation part of the bill, leaving it fairly pointless.

The best argument I've read against these laws is that there is little point in implementing since the homosexual community are not really that discriminated against. Personally, I think the attitude of the religious opposition to the bill shows exactly why this kind of law is still necessary.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ditching a single ID Card database

Reported here and here. I'm thinking I probably should have covered this story a good deal earlier, although the delay has allowed me to gather my thoughts a little on the subject.

Essentially, all these stories were based on the release of the Home Office's ID cards action plan. On the same day, NO2ID put out a different press release also relating to this document. Having read through it, I now think I'm a little clearer on things.

Key points of the scheme are:
  • Data for the national identity scheme held across three government departments, the Deparment of Work and Pensions (DWP), the Home Office and the Immigration and passport service.
  • The ID scheme will still implement a single biographical record that will be associated with a set biometrics and essentially form a persons unique identity ticket.
  • Existing data held by the DWP and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) will be used to validate a person's details when they first apply for an ID card.
Whether this should be considered a U-Turn is debatable, personally it seems a sensible clarification of the practical details. Rather than have a separately built system and then integrating it with other government departments, ensuring that the departments likely to make the most use of system are involved in the implementation from the beginning seems like a sensible move.

One of the main criticsms of the ideas laid out in the action plan is that the data in the existing databases is likely to be incorrect, and this might cause difficulty compared to constructing a new clean database from scratch. I belive this criticism misunderstands the way the process will work. Most of the bad data comes in the form of duplicate or false details (records for people who don't exist) rather than incorrect or missing details. As applications for ID cards are processed they will essentially be bound to existing records, duplicate and false records will become orphaned. Due to the checks involved in registration for ID cards, this would mean that implementing the NIR would assist in cleaning up the existing data belonging to the other departments.

From my point of view, the action plan indicates the government are moving forward on the scheme and have got some clear ideas of how the implementation will work.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Apparently..Gordon Brown's silence on the Iraq War is deafening..

Gordon Brown has a column in the Guardian today championing the rather admirable aim of providing global, free education. I think there are very few people who could object to the thrust of his arguments.

The CiF'ers still manage more than just a little criticism though, bringing up their favourite subject of the Iraq war. It irritates me, it really does.

There is a contingent of posters on CiF who really get on my nerves. They throw about impressive sounding terms like "intellectualy bankrupt" without having a clue what it means and like to invoke the Iraq war at the drop of a hat as way of stifling legitimate debate. I can't stand them.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

The racist card..

Yesterday there was something of an online disagreement on the blog of PragueTory, a Tory Blogger who I actually quite like (so far, anyway). It revolved around the campaign of John McDonnell and suggesting that some of his policies bore a similar resemblance to those of another far more distasteful party.

Antonia Bance and Don Paskini, were somewhat irritated at the original post. Prague Tory later issued something that could be considered an apology. He stands by the idea that that there is some overlap, I agree and don't think it's that all that surprising. A political party needs to have policies to address all the issues facing the country, not all of it's policies follow a racist agenda. What the BNP is that when you scratch below the surface, it reveals a far more sinister, far more hateful set of opinions. In conclusion then, John McDonnell is most certainly not a racist, there is nothing sinister about his policies.

I dislike engaging in this kind of politics, although there was never any direct association made between John McDonnell and the BNP, it could have been implied that there was. The point is noted that both sides can engage in this kind of politics, those us on the left have been lucky that the BNP's politics have often been referred to as the "far right".

I believe the message is clear, we shouldn't engage in this kind of politics, if we do, we can expect it to bite us on the arse.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk