Monday, December 15, 2008

A Criticism of NO2ID's "Take Jane"

For those who haven't seen it, it is a very moving video featuring a young woman who lives in fear that her violent ex-husband will catch up to her and take away her daughter Jane. The husband has in the past managed to track her down by bribing an official for information on the national identity register.

There is a legitimate criticism here, there is no real official process for changing your name in this country, you can change it by deed poll but you can simply choose a new name and start using it. The introduction of the national identity register will change all that since because it will actually store name changes against a record. The consequence for this is that you could look up someone by their old name and address and track back to their new address.

There is also the potential danger of the identity reference number (IRN) this is likely to be shared among government agencies and private sector companies. This could then potentially mean that name changes could be available to a large number of civil servants and private sector employees.

For example say Janet's IRN was 123456, for whatever reason she changes her name to Jennifer. She closes her bank account as Janet and opens a new one as Jennifer however when she opens it her IRN is checked and stored against her bank account records. A potential thief could use the 123456 number to track down Janet's new name and details.

Although this is potentially a problem, it is possible to implement the national identity register in such a way that these problems can be prevented. The key is to minimize the number of people who have access to the data pertaining to the name history and taking steps to tackle the problem of an IRN being publicly known.

The first can be done quite easily, nearly all Civil Servants have no reason to access name history since the ID card itself can be used to obtain the identity, the key is to restrict this access to only the staff who maintain the register (maintaining the register itself is unlikely to be staff intensive) and those with the job of changing names.

The second could be done by making it possible to change the IRN, this would potentially allow a person to cut all ties with a previous identity in all systems except the main national identity register. This would nullify the danger of an external system being used to look up someones details.

The point of these measures is that they minimize the number of staff with access to the potentially dangerous data, if every civil servant could look up name changes it would indeed be dangerous since it would present a wealth of potential people to bribe, if this was extended to the private sector it would expand the potential for leaks even further. No2ID have identified a potential danger with a national identity register, although in this case it is one that can be prevented with the right measures and is therfore not sufficient to justify abandoning the national identity register.

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