Here is another article praising New Labour's vague ID Card plans, written in a major UK newspaper, by a columnist who seems to support the Tories, unlike the New Labour supporting David Aaronovitch's Guardian article
Despite their differing political views, both of them are still so very wrong on ID Cards !
Why is it that the political commentator/journalist/chattering classes are so fundamentally ignorant about the practical limits and feasability of technology and its effects on society ?
It is very annoying to have to disagree with nearly every paragraph in an article !
Our analysis of the current flawed ID card proposals can be found at
October 05, 2003
Comment: Minette Marrin: Identity cards: passport to better public services
Different times, different customs. There was a time when it was entirely reasonable to fear and resist the idea of identity cards.
That time to fear and resist is right now - when did the leopard change its spots ?
For many years there was absolutely no need for them. Besides, we have in Britain deep-rooted folk memories, some of them from old movies about occupied Europe and bullies in uniform barking demands at the defenceless for their papers.
Just look around the world today, these evils are still being inflicted on a large part of the world population, from Communist China, North Korea, all of the Middle East etc. Even under the most repressive regimes, ID cards have not been successful in preventing terrorism, serious crime or illegal immigration.
Furthermore, the traditional Anglo-Saxon attitude has been one of intense objection to being interrupted by some state functionary demanding ? as of right ? to know who you are and what you are about. That has always been considered dismally continental and illiberal. Not the way we do things here.
"Anglo-Saxons" are not the only people who object to this. ID Cards are hated and resented by law abiding people in every country where thay have been implemented. Where in the world are they universally loved, rather than, at best, grudgingly tolerated ?
But times have changed and the way we do things here has changed. So have the arguments. The case against ID cards is now largely emotional.
The case for ID cards is hardly logical and seems to require religous/communist faith and trust in the purity of remote , unnacountable centralised red tape and petty officials.
British society has changed so radically and so fast that we are confronted with an entirely different collection of needs and risks.
Which changes in British society have crept up on the author unnoticed and suprised her ?
Risk analysis sounds promising, - will this article actually try to match the technical and organisational security barriers against various apparent levels of risk and attack ?
Most obviously, the struggle to keep our details to ourselves was lost long ago. Big Brother and his host of incarnations who run supermarkets, telephone companies, credit agencies, schools and hospitals have all our personal details. They are already manipulating them and us, and there is very little we can do about it. Civil libertarians have lost their honourable battle to the superior forces of commerce and technology. Data protection has become a pious myth.
Thanks to commercial competition and the rivalry and empire building between and within government departments, we do not actually yet live in a police state panopticon surveillance society that works efficiently.
We are, however, building automated surveillance infrastructures, with no effective checks and balances, of the type which are currently used as tools of oppression, racism and genocide, and which could so easily be turned against us in the future.
It is very wrong to suggest that the there is no point in campaigning for civil liberties - if it were not for such campaigners, the Home Office would now, for example, have given away the power to snoop on any UK phone and internet communications traffic data (e.g. itemised phone bills, but a whole lot more besides) to any local Parish Council dominated by unpopular parties such as Sinn Fein or the British National Party.
The need for Data Protection is well understood and widely accepted, it is just that the Data Protection Act is effectively crippled by government policy, and needs to be strengthened and enforced properly.
Meanwhile, there is, rather suddenly, a genuine need for ID cards.
Even a Labour home secretary is admitting that we have a grave problem with immigration. The entire system is inefficient and unsystematic, and being efficiently and systematically abused. David Blunkett has admitted that he hasn?t ?got a clue? how many illegal immigrants are here.
There is nothing sudden or new about the problems of illegal immigration, it has been around for as long as there have been borders. No previous Tory or Labour government could state how many illegal immigrants there were either.
The worst problem with this mass influx is that social services, the public services generally and the taxpayer cannot cope with the overwhelming extra demands put upon them.
The National Health Service cannot cope with people who come here specifically for long-term free NHS treatment.
How many seriously ill people cling on to Channel Tunnel trains or hide in lorries ? Most of the "healthcare tourists" come in on perfectly legal visas. If the Home Office does not know how many illegal immigrants there are, then neither does the National Health Service know how many such "health tourists" there are. Remember, that many "foreigners" being treated under the NHS are citizens or resedents of other EU countries, which operate reciprocal arrangements for the treatment of UK nationals abroad. Is the author proposing that the hundreds of thousands of Britons who have retired abroad to say Spain, should no longer be treated for free by the Spanish health service ?
Inner-city schools cannot cope with the extra burden of a Babel of foreign languages ? 160 different mother tongues at my local comprehensive, for instance. There are those who say let everyone come here, and welcome ? everyone else must admit that we urgently need some system of entitlement.
Is this article claiming that the majority of the people who contribute to our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society are illegal immigrants ?
ID cards are the obvious solution,
You cannot have a solution, especially a highly technical , complicated and expensive one like Biometric Smart ID Cards, without a clear statement of the problems that it is supposed to address in very fine detail. The statements by David Blunkett and other Home Office Ministers have all been media soundbites, which raise the very real probability of Yet Another Government IT Project Disaster.
It is obvious that there are many other possible solutions to immigration problems, and that unless ID Cards are used in a brutal police state manner, they have no positive impact on terrorism, crime or illegal immigration.
and the home secretary has just announced that he plans to put an ID card proposal to parliament in the autumn, no matter what protests there are in cabinet. What he proposes are in effect ?entitlement cards?, which make perfect sense. You would have to produce an ID card to prove your entitlement to schools, hospitals and social services.
About the only bit of feedback that David Blunkett seems to have taken notice of from the flawed consultation process, is to drop the words "Entitlement card" and stick to "Compulsory ID card" instead.
Critics have been quick to call this a ?disentitlement card?, as if that were a knockdown argument against it. On the contrary. Of course it has to do with disentitlement. Entitlement for some necessarily means disentitlement for others. That is the point of it. ID cards would protect our entitlements.
Given the massive logistical problems in securely issuing Biometric Smart Card IDs, there will be millions of people who are entitled to public services and benefits, who will not have been issued with the ID card. These unlucky "ID Card registration lottery" losers will not be able to get one for several years. Are these people to be "disentitled" as well, or will the existing systems have to be run in parallel, therefore saving no money at all, and contributing to extra stress and delay for all those concerned ?
Blunkett?s plan, so far, is not for some continental kind of stop and search. It would not be compulsory under his proposals to carry and produce an ID card at any time. There would be fierce resistance against that.
If ID cards are so wonderful and will never be abused, why does the author of this article not like the idea of having to produce them on demand ?
You would simply need to produce one to prove your entitlement to services and benefits. This would be a powerful deterrent to illegal immigrants. It would be almost impossible to live here without ever needing to apply for some sort of public service, at which point your lack of official identity would emerge.
The author obviously knows very little of the exploitation of illegal immigrant workers in the "black" and criminal economies. It is perfectly possible to live amongst an ethnic community without official documentation if one is being shielded by relatives, or is being exploited by criminals.
People with children are legally obliged to have them educated, for instance.
Children borne in this country have a right to citizenship and the right to be educated, even if one or both of their parents is abroad or is an illegal immigrant.
And people from elsewhere who are simply trying to get a free elective operation, in competition with all the long-suffering British taxpayers in the queue, would either have to pay for it or go away.
Equally obviously, ID cards would deter some criminals and terrorists, however imperfectly. Miscreants need the right kind of sea to swim in ? cloudy, calm and camouflaged, with easy, anonymous access to free necessities. ID cards would clear up these muddy waters and the piranhas and scavengers would suddenly be very visible. Although ID cards cannot deter all fraud, it doesn?t mean they would not deter a great deal.
This is all that Blunkett is proposing, so far at least. It goes against the grain to quote Tony Blair with faint approval, but he did say at Labour?s party conference: ?In a world of mass migration, with cheaper air travel, and all the problems of fraud, it makes sense to ask whether now, in the early 21st century, ID cards are no longer an affront to civil liberties but may be the way of protecting them.?
That is a bit weaselly, as ever. What he should have said is that ID cards need not threaten civil liberties and would protect some of our entitlements. That is a fair trade. However, the government is roughly on the right track.
It is true that some types of ID Cards need not threaten civil liberties, but the current government proposals do seem to do so. The Government may be on the right track, but if it is, this is unlear, as the Consultation Document covers many many tracks at once, and the Cabinet has not yet come off the fence in favour of any of the myriad of potential options.
Passionate opponents of ID cards have now moved away from questions of principle to practicality ? usually a sign of losing the argument.
But earlier the author was arguing that "The case against ID cards is now largely emotional" . Questioning the practicality and the cost of the vague schemes being proposed is not an emotional process, which has been true from the very first day of the announcement of Blunkett's proposals, and also of the previous Tory schemes, which were announced and then dropped.
Their first and best point is that the government couldn?t be trusted to put a minimum of information on the card?s microchip, but would bring together a collection of personal details to monitor and micromanage us better.
The answer is we should have entirely independent ID card scanning services, which can tell you exactly what is on your card.
Who would you trust to run such a "scanning service" - Public Finance Initiative IT contractors like Capita or EDS ?
And there should be nothing more on it than the most basic details of identity, nationality and National Insurance number. Medical records and criminal records, for instance, should certainly not be there. These cards must be nothing more than passports to public services.
If a Biometric Smart Card linked to a central online database is chosen (no actual specific detailed design has been proposed), then only the minimum amount of data needs to be stored on the card chip itself, i.e. just a unique identifier number and the Biometric Identifiers (which, again, have not actually been chosen from the list of iris scans, full set of fingerprints, single thumb print, facial reconition pattern, digitised photgraph etc). All the privacy abusing databases can be stored and linked to centrally, without giving the holder of the ID Card access to them all.
Then there?s the question of fakes. As I understand it, it is impossible to fake ID cards with unique biomarkers on them, such as the shape of your iris. When you try to use your card, your body in person with your unique biomarker has to match the unique biomarker in the plastic, as read by the screen that is checking as you stand there. Even the wildest forensic thriller writers haven?t come up with a way round this.
The author is completely misinformed about the risks of forgery. Biometric Identifiers are not unique The technology uses effectively a digital camera or scanner to take an approximate image of your iris or thumb print or face. Computer software then processes this image further to produce a characteristic number pattern which is what is stored on the Smart Card. If you present your iris/thumb/face to such a Biometric Reader, the process is repeated and the number pattern is compared with the one which is stored on the Smart Card.
It is almost impossible to present your iris/thumb/face to a camera with exactly the same lighting conditions and in exactly the same position as when the original scan was produced and stored on the Smart Card. Therefore, unlike a normal computer password, which, if it is say 8 characters long, needs each and every of the characters to be typed in exactly, presenting your Biometric Identifier is not as precise, and say an 85% or 95% match is sufficient to pass the Biometric Identifier test. So any forgeries do not even have to be good forgeries in order to fool the system.
To argue that Biometric Identifiers are somehow "unique" is wrong.
To suggest that it is impossible to forge ID Cards with Biometric Identifiers them is wishful thinking with no basis in fact. Not even the people with a commercial interest in selling such systems claim that this is true, but it seems to be a popular fallacy amongst politicians, civil servants and journalists.
Then there?s the cost argument. Nobody seems to agree on what the cost will be. But in any event, it seems almost self-evident that the cost of ID cards, however sophisticated, would quickly be paid for by the enormous savings to the health service alone, quite apart from the savings in social services and schools, both in cash and staff. An unentitled Aids patient costs the NHS about ?50,000 a year, for instance.
If the Health Service does not know how many "health tourists " there are, then it is by no means obvious that a large amount of money could potentially be saved. On the cost side, the Home Office proposals cover such a wide variety of possible systems and technologies, that there are no cost estimates either, apart from the estimated costs of the blank smart cards themselves, without including scanner/reader and central database infrastructure costs etc.
If Victoria Climbi頡nd Marie Therese Kouao had had to produce unique ID cards when they went to social services for help, Victoria would be alive today. It would have emerged, instantly, that Kouao was lying and Victoria was not the fake daughter on her faked passport. Without cards they would have been sent back to their two different homes abroad.
Anyone who can obtain a forged passport, will be able to get a forged ID Card, through the same techniques of lying on the application papers or buying them from organised crime forgers.
Alternatively, had they stayed, Victoria would not have got disastrously lost between the five separate ?unique identification numbers? she was, amazingly, given by overburdened social workers. The arguments against ID cards were once very powerful; they are now out of date and irrelevant.
So how exactly would adding a sixth ID card "unique" number have helped ? All the relevant social services departments seemed to know her name and address, so how would an ID Card have helped (N.B. the Home Office proposals do not deal with children under 16 years of age)
The arguements against David Blunketts specific range of options for a Compulsory ID Card are still powerful, and neither he, nor Minnette Marin have presented any detailed case which shows that there is even a marginal benefit to society which might justify the huge cost and inconvenience of ID Cards, and the massive potential dangers in creating yet another surveillance infrastructure.
The author has concentrated on one of the alleged reasons for introducing Compulsory ID cards, i.e. illegal immigration. The Home Office have been spinning other possible problems in search of a solution e.g. to counter terrorists, criminals, social security frudsters, credit card fraudsters and identity thieves. Even the Home Office's own official Consultation Document rejected most of these.
What is not mentioned is the pressure being brought by the United States post Sept 11th 2001 law which will force foreigners (i.e. United Kingdom citizens) to get Biometric Identifier Passports after October 2004.