Despite the Home Office press release, the details and cost estimates of their controversial ID Card and Compulsory Centralised Biometric Database scheme is still shrouded in vagueness and secrecy.
In general, the Home Office's response (.pdf) to the Home Affairs Committee report on ID Cards the Home Office has simply ignored any of the criticisms and cherry picked any words of support in the report, in classical Sir Humphrey Appleby ("Yes Minister") style.
To be fair to the Home Office, they have slightly modified the scheme, but not to any great extent. They do seem to have dropped the stupid idea of having a combined Driving lIcence and ID card or a combined Passport and ID Card, something which would negate any compliance with international standards for either Driving Licences or Passports. We did point this out in our reponses to the Home Office and the Home Affairs Committee - "told you so".
The role of the the National Identity Scheme Commissioner is promised to be widened slightly, to cover the whole operation of the scheme rather than just the narrow part regarding the data, but there are no promises of any actual enforcement powers or a budget for invesigatory staff etc. Presumably the Commissioner will still only subit an annual report, the "sensitive" bits of which will be censored as proposed under the Draft ID Card Bill.
The Government is promising a defence of reasonableness, on the face of the Bill, to the offences in clause 13 dealing with lost or stolen or damaged ID cards.
There is talk of various scientific and technical panels to oversee the progress of the project, although the names of those who are to provide such scrutiny have either not yet been selected or are still secret.
The Government has rejected calls for more transparency in the procurement process and is still trying to claim that Office of Government Commerce Gateway reviews, the details of which are still to be kept secret, will somehow magically ensure that the project will achieve its stated aims on time and under budget - this has not been the case for any other large Government IT project, why should we believe this now ?
The Government claims that
"However, there would be no question of other users of the Register, such as the police, being allowed routine access to medical records."
Which rather begs the question what about non-routine access and trawling of the National Identity Register for the usual "national security, serious crime or terrorism" reasons ?
At first glance, the Government seems to have killed part of the Treasury's Citizen Information Project which might have overlapped with the National Identity Register
"In the light of developments to the NIR, CIP is no longer actively exploring plans to develop a separate population register but rather will be exploring options to improve the quality and effectiveness of existing registers, including the possible use of personal reference numbers."
Presumably what this means is that the National Identity Register system will get bloated with extra Birth, Marriage and Death register datafields, but not run by the people at the Office of National Statistics who have a culture of data protection of census records from the prying eyes of other Government departments and the police etc.
The Government is promising to make available
"non-biometric cards for some categories of frail or elderly residents."
This idea was in the original "Entitlement Card" document, but not in the subseequent Draft ID card Bill.
If non-biometric cards are available for some people, and the systems are in place to make use of them, then why are they not available for everyone, especially in the "Voluntary" phase ?
Then there are various half truths, political spin, and actual lies:
""There has been extensive public debate since the Government first consulted on identity cards."
No there has not. Even the Government's own focus group surveys carried out in June and July 2004 showed that most people have no idea what "Biometric Identifier" means, so how they can have been a fully informed public debate ?
Two of the often repeated propaganda statements used by Ministers (David Blunkett, Des Browne and Tony Blair) to justify the scheme have been repeated yet again, namely the fictious "?1.3 billion a year cost of identity fraud", and the claim that "35% of terrorists use false identities" conflated with the idea that this can be tackled by the British ID card scheme.
""The ability to register and demonstrate one?s identity securely will be of
significant benefit in combating identity fraud and theft. It is estimated that this
costs the economy ?1.3bn per annum, and this does not of course take account of the full effect on an individual whose identity is stolen."
The ?1.3 billion per annum cost to the economy is taken from the appendix to a Cabinet Office report
Identity Fraud: a study (.pdf) published in July 2002. i.e. the figures, such as they are are probably over 3 years old. This figure was not compiled from actual crime statistics about identity fraud and theft, it is based on "finger in the air" gusesstimates e.g. "10%" or "up to a quarter" culled from interviews with unnamed sources in various Government departments. There is no such thing as "identity fraud" on the statute books. Credit Card or Cheque Fraud are not Identity Fraud.
Even this unscientific exercise was only a one off event, and has not been repeated in annually since 2002.
The estimate for Benefit fraud involving false identities as opposed to real identities with false claims about circumstances, was estimated by the Department for Workl and Pensions to be less than ?5 million a year, out of total payments of over ?100 billion. The amount by which this sort of fraud would be reduced even with a perfect ID Card system was estimated to be less than ?1 million a year, hardly the justification for spending several billions of pounds on the ID card scheme.
Hence the "?1.3 billion" claim is totally bogus.
The other often repeated claim is that
"It is known that many people involved in serious organised crime and terrorism use fraudulent or multiple identities."
"It is known that around 35% of those involved in serious organised
crime and terrorism routinely use false or multiple identities.The use of a secure
and unique biometric identifier will disrupt their activities by making it
impossible for them to enrol more than once on the Register."
What is the sample size on which this MI5 Security Service guesstimate is based ?
How many of those in the sample have legitimate dual nationalities ?
Presumably 65% of terrorists use their real names, (like most of the Sept 11th 2001 suicide hijackers.
If 35% of all serious organised criminals and terrorists, worldwide, use false BRITISH identity papers, presumably passports, then the Ministers responsible for the security of UK Passports should be forced to resign.
If , as we suspect, the number of false British passports used by terrorists is closer to 1% than to 35%, then even a perfect UK ID Card system will have virtually no effect on the activities of terrorists.
Hence the implication that the proposed Biometric ID Card and Register scheme will somehow prevent terrorism is also bogus.