Yesterday's Prime Minister's Monthly Press Conference had several questions on ID Cards, which Tony Blair answered in a very misleading, or perhaps, self deluded manner.
PM holds monthly press conference
27 June 2005
Prime Minister's opening statement:
Good Morning everyone. And first of all let me apologise, I gather there has been some new system put in place this morning for signing in, or something through the Data Protection Act, anyway I am sorry about that, it has caused the delay.
There is a specific Question about this later on.
Right, I am going to talk to you about identity cards, because the Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons. I am confident we can get the Bill on the statute book, and I am also confident that in principle we have public support for this measure. People recognise the benefits of a scheme that will allow us to tackle identity fraud more effectively, bear down on illegal working, illegal immigration, abuse of our public services and help in the fight against organised crime and terrorism, and these are all strong arguments for moving forward with identity cards.
The usual assertions, but with no details of exactly how the proposed ID Card / Database scheme would actually address any of these "statutory purposes", and no quantitative estimates of by how much the scheme would do so in each category.
However, there is in addition, and this is what I want to focus some time on, a very compelling and unique argument in favour of this as a result of the changes both in technology and then consequential changes in practice right round the world, and this is I think the most important part of answering the Question, well why now are we saying it is important to introduce this measure? There is now the technology to move to a biometric passport, that is a document with fingerprint and facial recognition of the holder, and to move to that biometric passport will require an interview and then obviously getting the facial and fingerprint biometrics.
Why choose the worst performing biometric identifiers first ? Even the concept of "fingerprints" is still unclear, after over three years, - do they mean one thumb print or 10 digits plus both palmprints ? No wonder they have no clues aboutt the costs of the scheme.
In a time also of intense global insecurity, there is now an unstoppable political momentum across the developed world for countries to use the opportunity of the new technology to make their borders more secure.
If Tony Blair was half the world statesman that he fancies himself as, then he would have already stopped this Biometric Passport policy laundering . The countries pressing for Biometric Passports are a tiny minority of the 188 countries in the ICAO, and are even a minority within the EU or the G8.
That is why in May 2003 the International Civil Aviation Organisation said that facial biometrics should become standard practice in the 188 countries that belong to the ICA. All G8 member states, for example, are now committed to issuing biometric passports, all have programmes in place to issue biometric passports, and most will have done so by 2006. Australia and New Zealand will issue biometric passports this year, Canada will start next year. The USA passed legislation, post-9/11 that countries whose citizens do not currently need visas to holiday in the States must begin issuing biometric passports by the end of October 2006, or risk facing visa restrictions. And nearly 4 million UK citizens, as you know, visit the US every year and obviously we don't want them to have to have the inconvenience of what is a £60 tourist visa every time they holiday in the US.
The USA must bear the economic cost to tourism and business travel if they persist in treating innocent citizens from former "Visa Waiver" countries i.e. their former friends and allies , as if they were all terrorist suspects.
That is no justification for a compulsory UK biometric Identity database scheme.
The European Union has also agreed that member states' passports should start containing facial biometrics from mid-2006 and fingerprints from 2008, and that visas and residents permits for non-EU nationals should also be issued with biometrics.
Except, of course, the technical expert advisors have pointed out that their plan to use contactless RFID chips will inevitably mean that multiple biometric visas will interfere with the radio signals in the RFID biometric Passports, making both useless. Therfore each "visa" is going to end up as a separate smart card !
So the impact of all this - and this is the essential first step in this argument - is that we are going to be in a position where we have to make our passports here in the UK biometric if UK citizens are to continue to enjoy the right to travel freely around the world, and equally we need other countries to move ahead with biometrics if we are to have the most modern border controls here in Britain. And as we tighten our immigration and asylum controls we will have an electronic border system that will allow computerised embarkation checks from 2008.
All of which has got nothing to do with justifying a UK centralised biometric database - this is not a requirement for international biometric passports. Is Tony Blair planning to share the UK National Identity Register with 188 countries ?
In short, as we start issuing biometric passports for the first time, we will develop a sophisticated identity register. 80% of the population have passports which will all need replacing over the next 10 years. Now the whole point about this is that it is for a relatively small additional cost to the biometric cost, and the additional cost is estimated at under £30, not £300, never mind £100 - under £30 - for that small additional cost we can build on the biometric passport and incorporate into that an identity card which gives us all the benefits that we know we need for identity checks in the modern world.
Why not publish the detailed technical specification of what is planned for the ID scheme, and then people will be able to give accurate cost estimates for it.
Until then, the public must assume the worst case scenarios and look to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's incompetence in managing large information technology projects as a guide.
So the next few years are going to see therefore effectively a visa and passport revolution across the European Union and developed world, we have the chance to use this opportunity to get ahead in this change, and the move therefore to biometric passports makes identity cards an idea whose time has come.
Why do we have to be the guinea pigs for this unproven technology ?
Why have there been no questions about the obvious dangers to British Passport holders of the new RFID "contactless" chip technology which the Prime Minister waved a sample British Biometric passport at the news conference ?
What about the dangers of remote radio snooping of the personal Passport details and the dangers of UK citizen specific or even person specific terrorist bombs detonated when an RFID Biometric passport comes into range ?
So I just wanted to set out, before answering Questions on this issue, for you just what is the background and the context which has led us to the decision that now it is right to move forward and get these biometric identity cards in place.
Question and answer session:
I wonder if you could just explain a little bit more of the logic of your opening statement on ID cards, because it seems to me one could accept everything you said about passports, and still not see the connection to why you would need to change that system into ID cards, even if you accepted the deadlines which you said, which I think you would agree on technology and costs are already slipping, for example the American deadline has already slipped, hasn't it? But if people want to travel, if people want to cross borders, there are going to be systems in place, and really they haven't got any choice about that, but why then go the extra step and have essentially an internal ID card system?
No, well I think that is exactly the point. Look, where do I think people are, and let me just explain something, you know people sometimes describe this as a flagship programme of the government. I don't regard this as a party political issue, any government in power would have to look at this issue again, because of the changes that have happened, and actually the last government, before biometric technology, looked at it. The issue is this, if you could get a more secure identity system there is no doubt it would save large sums of money and open up new opportunities for people, because there is identity fraud that impacts on social security, use of public services, illegal immigration, illegal working and so on. The lack of proper identity means that for example in the use of the Health Service and other services it can be more difficult to access those services because you don't have a secure identity, if you could do this it would be right to do.
Tony Blair is mixing up "identity" with "entitlement" !
The Question is, you know is the cost going to be disproportionate, and I think it is not so much on civil liberty grounds, but is it a real benefit to add this in.
How much benefi, exactly, or even approximately ?
Well this is the point, but my point is this, if you take - this would be a biometric passport, where the chip here is the information it has got at the moment, facial imaging, will add fingerprint biometrics and in the end could have the iris scan in it as well. Now essentially, because everywhere else around the world is doing this, we are going to have to reissue passports which are this type of passport, with biometric technology.
No they are not ! Other countries are abandoning mass biometrics as too unwieldy and expensive.
Now the point is that for a small additional cost, as I say under £30, not these wild figures that have been talked about, we are going to be able to give ourselves an identity card that then has these other benefits internally.
The full UK Passport cost £33 only last October 2003. n extra £30 is a huge percentage increase in the cost of a Passport, even at the current price of £42.
Give us some real detailed Home Office figures to discuss !
What are the timescales for the introduction of three or more different biometic indicators ? If the technology is so wonderful, why not make use of it right now ?
The USA are not using iris scans in their passports, primarily, because it is a "not invented in the USA" technology, even though it seems to be the most accurate compared with fingerprints and facial recognition.
That is only 80% of people, that is only those people who have got passports.
Yes, but as you build up over time, then you are able to use this as a basis for people making the enquiries as to identity and people will find it is a lot easier to gain access.
Just in case you thought that Orwellian NewSpeak was fiction, here is an example of Tony Blair's NuLabour NuSpeak !
Surely he really means that the people without Passports will find it more difficult to "gain access" to Government services ?
Just to give you another example, for the Criminal Records Bureau, which after all hundreds of thousands of people have to go through the whole time, it takes something like four weeks to do an identity check, it would take three days with an identity card.
We have begged the Government for even "back of the enevelope" walk throughs of examples of wexactly how the ID card could be used to enhance the delivery of public services, and for any savings that might result.
This is the only example of such an alleged "efficiency saving" claim by the Government which we can recall. Where are all the rest of them ?
Obviously we have our doubts that this is, in fact, a viable example of such a Governmentt Service, transformed by the ID card scheme.
How is a Biometric ID Card meant to work when the Criminal Records Bureau is sety up to work via the Post or via a telephone call centre or via online Internet service, none of which are suitable for Biometric verification ?
Is Tony Blair proposing that future Criminal Records Bureau checks will involve queueing up for a personal face to face visit (with associated travel and loss of earnings costs) to the CRB offices ?
There is something very wrong if the vast majority of the processing time for a CRB Disclosure is wasted on the alleged "identification" and not taken up by actuually examining any criminal records or intelligence databases and blacklists.
Now all I say to people at the moment is keep an open mind on this, right. We are introducing tomorrow what is essentially enabling legislation, it enables us to go out and get the details of procurement and the precise way we could do this would be, it allows us to establish the foundation for the system.
Why has this not already been doe over the past 3 years, given the tens of millions of pounds spent on consultants so far ?
There is plenty of time for this debate to develop,
So why was the previous Identity Cards Bill guillotined through Parliament ? What is the rush with the current Identity Cards Bill ? Why can't it be postponed until a proper technology feasability study and detailed project costing exercise, including all the integration costs with other Government departments and the private sector has been conducted and reviewed ?
all I am trying to say to people is understand why the government is thinking of this at the moment, it is not because I have just decided to give myself another political headache, it is because there is biometric technology which is new secure identity technology,
The proposed biometric technologies are not secure or flexible or capabale of being used by all of the population equally, and do not scale to a system with tens of millions of people to be registered.
we are going to have to fork out for the passports in any event, so isn't it sensible for a small additional cost, and it is small, on present estimates as I say under £30, to go the whole hog and have an identity card that we can build up over time to a secure way of transacting business in the UK.
Prime Minister, you say a proportionate cost, but why should anyone who doesn't have a passport have to fork out something like £100 for an identity card, and if it becomes compulsory, isn't it effectively a back door tax?
There has got to be a vote before it becomes compulsory for everybody. For the passport holders, you are renewing your passport and you are getting the identity card with it. But we are talking about this several years down the line, but you see I think people in the country think identity cards are in principle a good idea, but obviously if they are reading in the media it is going to cost you £300, well not surprisingly they are saying well that is a bit steep.
But why should they pay at all, what benefit do they get as an individual?
The benefit that you get as an individual is that you are able to access services, you are able to get around more easily, for example at the moment if you want to get your medical records online, you can't because of the worries over identity. You would be able to do that.
The Home Office has given "assurances" that medical records would not be linked to the national Identity Register. There is an entirely separate national Health Service card/number project and the multi-billion pound NHS Data Spine which are meantt to solve any "identity" problems regarding your medical records.
Is Tony Blair now claiming some ddifferent use or abuse of the ID Card / Database ?
There are a lot of private sector operations that people do as part of their daily lives, with secure identity would be easy. You know I can't tell exactly how this will develop in time to come, but people are already looking at, for example, whether it is not possible to get some of the information you need for your driving licence and this type of thing by use of the identity card. Other countries now are looking not just at the biometric passport, but I think other countries who have got identity cards are going to be switching into this biometric technology. So all I am saying to people is look, keep an open mind at the moment, some of these figures bandied around about cost are absolutely absurd,
The figures are not absurd at all, the LSE produced a low, a median and a high estimate of overall costs. Unless and until the Government publishes a specification of exactly what is intends that the ID card will be used for precisely, and by whom, then accurate costings are impossible, and nobody can believe the Government's alleged figures either.
I mean no government is going to start introducing something that is going to cost hundreds of pounds for people, that would be ridiculous. But there are genuine good reasons for doing this now, because of the change of technology, the fact that we will all have to pay for the biometric passport, and the identity card part of it is a very small additional cost. And the only thing I would say to you is look, some things in government you raise because you believe in them as a matter of conviction, you know Health Service reform, or education reform, or the minimum wage, that is the politics of conviction, but this is simply a measure that I think it is responsible for us to introduce as a government. But let the debate continue, and I think people when they see it, and particularly when they get behind some of the sort of headline things about the figures, I think that people will understand that their original instinct, which is yes it is sensible in today's world to have secure forms of identity, will be proved right.
Havinng a "secure form of identitity" presumably he means "identification", may well be desirable, but that does not imply that the Government's proposed scheme is the only or the best way of achieving this.
Prime Minister, can you just respond if possible to the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, who this morning described the information that will be required of people to provide for identity cards as "unwarranted, intrusive and excessively disproportionate"? And secondly if I may on a completely different subject, when did the government first consider placing Railtrack into administration?
I think on the second part, since it is subject to a court case, I won't comment. In respect of the first part, well I just hope he studies what will be happening. When you go along to get your passport in the future, the biometric passport, there will be certain information requested of you, you will have to give facial imaging and finger prints. Is that OK or is this the part where I am cast in dark shadow to answer this particular Question? So a lot of this information is there in any event.
Iris scans, fingerprints, facial recognition scans etc. are not "tthere in any event". Neither is the lifelong audit trail of every time that the ID card is used, which will betray sensitive personal data, by inference.
I don't think the public's problem with this at all is going to be identity cards, most people carry forms of identity around with them,
They carry voluntary identification, which is compartmentalised from abuse by commercial rivalries, and which provide less of a "single point of failure" than the proposed National Identity register does.
it is really to do with the issue of cost and I think that is what will concern people. And I would just point out that some of those people who are now campaigning on grounds of cost, you know they are actually people who are in fact opposed to identity cards on civil liberties grounds, and I think that is a pretty minority view actually of the public.
It is not illogical to oppose this particular Governmentr ID database scheme on principle, practicality and cost. It seems perfectly sensible to argue that if the scheme is too big and too complicated and therefore too expensive to secure to the highest possible standards against insider attack etc., then this also has a civil liberties impact on one's right to privacy, especially since one of the alleged purposes of the scheme is to reduce "identity theft".
According to the opinion polls, more people (40 to 90 per cent of the population) object to the cost of the ID cards, than actually voted for Tony Blair's NuLabour government at the General Election (22% of the electorate), so his is actually the minority view.
Question: [European Union]
Question: [Uganda corruption]
Question: [Olympics or CAP]
Prime Minister, we came in this morning and we were a quarter of an hour late starting, as you know, because in the security shed our names were taken and our dates of birth were taken, now we were told under the Prevention of Terrorism Act
Control Orders, house arrest, bans on mobile phones, the internet, meeting nomionated people, curfews setc. ?
For senior international journalists ?
Just like Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe then ?
because we were being scrutinised, but you said it might have been something to do with the Data Protection Act, maybe they are getting together in some kind of legalistic alliance. The thing is it was a legalistic procedure with absolutely no operational significance, and it had a small but significant impact on our day. When the machinery of the state, when we interact with the machinery of the state it becomes then these maddening little pin pricks, and at some point there is going to be a tipping point. Is there any sort of mechanism in government that members of the public can approach to try and change some of these things that drive them nuts.
Well first of all I am really sorry. Look, whoever is responsible will be flogged obviously later today,
Is this a jest, or will there be severe penalties meted out to some low level official ?
and I really am sorry, and I may have been giving you wrong information that it was the Data Protection Act, I don't know because it is not a decision I took and I am sorry it was taken this morning, I really don't know what it was for.
So has the surveillance state got a momentum of its own, which even the Prime Minister does not understand ?
Why does he now go back to Identity Cards in his "answer" about the "security" delays caused to the Press Conference start ?
But of course there are worries about these things, but I think the British have a fairly common sense view, which is that I don't think anybody minds on identity cards, I think you would win the civil liberties argument over 90%. I think people will expect to know: one, that this technology actually works; and two, that it can be done at reasonable cost to them, the citizens, and it is our job to make sure that people realise that. And the only thing I say is that this is one of these issues, there are long term issues that face the country which are issues to do with change, and this is one of them, where all I am trying to do is do the right thing. You know I didn't come into politics to introduce identity cards, but it is there, it is an issue, and what I can see is biometric passports being issued in the next few years, and people turning round at a later time and saying well why on earth didn't you take the opportunity of binding in identity cards at the same time, for a fraction of the cost. It honestly does make sense, to me anyway, but we will wait and see how other people view it.
Question: [Nuclear Energy Policy]
Question: [Northern Ireland]
On ID cards, if you are really confident in your own figures, then why not cap the cost of the ID cards and say that beyond a certain point then a subsidy would kick in?
I think there are a whole series of things that at a later point you can think about, depending on how it develops, but remember you don't get your procurement back probably for another couple of years, your procurement bids. So you have got a process which you are only at the very beginning of now, but it stands to reason, no government is going to be introducing ID cards if the cost to the public is seen by them as unreasonable. The point is, what everybody is missing about the cost at the moment, and we try saying this but at the moment we are sort of beating our heads against a brick wall, is that the bulk of any cost of an identity card under our proposal comes, not with the ID card, but with the biometric passport. The actual amount of the identity card part of that is, as I say, on the estimates now under £30. And OK obviously things can change over time, but they can change either way over time, but it stands to reason that nobody is going to introduce it, if you can get acceptance by people that identity cards are in principle a sensible idea, then no-one is going to end up wrecking the scheme because of the cost, it would just be foolish to do that.
You know you are always in this difficult situation where if you rule something out then everyone says well that is it, it can never happen, and if you don't rule it out they say ah it is about to happen. I am just saying you are not actually at the stage where you even have to make a decision about that. I am simply stating the common sense to you of the whole identity card thing, which is that in the end there is no point in doing this in any other way than that which takes public support with you.
Question: [European Union and Rebate]
Question: [Iraq Insurgency]
Question: [Iraq Bombing]
On ID cards, how do you retain the common travel area between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, which is a virtual passport free zone, hundreds of thousands of people travel each way between the two countries without passports every year. How do you retain that, and at the same time retain the integrity of an identity card scheme within the UK? And can you confirm that the Home Secretary has been talking to the Irish government about similar plans in Ireland?
I can't confirm the second point I am afraid because I am unsighted on it. I can try and get you an answer on it, but I don't know anything about that myself. In respect of the first point, I am not sure of the technical answer to it, and perhaps I can get that answer to you, but obviously there will be situations in which even if people are coming from other countries in the EU there will be people without identity cards, the Question is does it give us a benefit inside the UK as a whole, and I think it does. And the issue I think to do with identity cards as well is that it is not that every single problem is going to be resolved by identity cards, that would be a ludicrous exaggeration the other way, but the point about this biometric technology is that it does give us for the first time a far more secure form of identification. You can, apparently with enormous difficulty and a lot of resource, and a lot of sophistication, you can get your way round even a biometric scheme, but it is very, very hard.
An interesting change from the previous "not just difficult to forge, but impossible to forge" statements about biometrics from NuLabour Ministers.
And I wouldn't be proposing identity cards but for the change in technology and the consequent change in passports, those are the two things that for me have completely altered the balance of the argument. And as I say I think that as the argument progresses people will see that.
Question: [Wimbledon Tennis]
Question: [Nurses poached from Africa]
Question: [EU Budget]
Question: [Mobile Phone Bullying in Schools]
Question: [Taoiseach Bertie Ahern]