Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The British Identity Card Scheme...

Aftermath of 7/7


In the wake of the London bombings on 7/7, the British Government now stands accused of reintroducing the identity cards scheme, by stealth as it were. But the ID cards scheme however, was announced in the Queen's Speech on 17 May 2005, after careful and very lengthy consultations.

The mention of identity cards has the same effect on the British public as waving a red flag in front of a bull.

In this post I’m going to try and dispel some of the irrational arguments used against the idea of identity cards.

ID cards curtail civil liberties


The privacy argument. In this country one has to be armed with at least two, often three forms proof of identity and increasingly also photo ID, to carry out something as basic as opening a bank account. Personally, I find having to show a utility bill more of an intrusion into my privacy than showing one, uniform document such as an ID card. How much I spend on my phone calls is really only my business.

ID cards would also increase “stop and search” by police officers, opponents say. In this country, like in any other civilised one, the police of course has powers to apprehend people who may be suspected of having committed, committing or planning to commit a crime. These persons will during their arrest have to prove their identity in one way or another. Where is the problem?

The police take fingerprints and DNA of any suspect in their custody, even without any charges being brought. These data go directly into the national crime database (whether you turn out to be a criminal or not). An intrusion into a suspect’s privacy? You bet! But no one bats an eyelid and I don’t either. After all, it’s for the greater good, isn’t it?

ID cards can’t help fight crime


This is usually illustrated by a sad little joke that pulls a few drunken laughs in the pub. Here’s one version I found on a blog post recently:

I wonder at what point exactly the terrorists may have been asked for their ID cards? While they were making the bomb? Maybe as they boarded the bus that blew up? Or maybe indeed as they descended into the underground? Total rubbish.

Total rubbish indeed.

No single measure can eradicate crime or terrorism but an entire arsenal of methods can certainly contribute to the “war on terror” or crime in general. ID cards can certainly contribute as well. The British public seem to have forgotten that during WW II (and for some time after) ID cards in Britain were compulsory, as a security measure? No one had any doubts back then…

ID cards will cause a wave of crime themselves


This is based on the idea that once the cards have been introduced, an industry of forgers will emerge, to supply aspiring wrong doers with false identification.

Forging goes on all the time and no doubt some will attempt (and some will succeed) to produce forgeries in the same way passports and banknotes continue to be forged.

It’ll be easy to produce counterfeit ID cards


Let me illustrate the point as follows. I could very easily forge the current forms of indentification such as a utility bill, using my scanner and image manipulation software. But I’d only have to do that if I didn’t want to get want to get my hands dirty by rummaging through someone else’s rubbish bin…

In contrast, the ID cards the Government have their eye on, are state of the art and amongst the most difficult to forge documents available.

We all have passports anyway


Wrong. Passports are only required for those wishing to travel abroad.

And let’s face it: compulsory passports would undoubtedly meet with the same illogical resistance to something that's been effectively in place for decades in most European member states.

ID cards will be horrendously expensive


This is of course based on the recent “findings” of a group of “independent” researchers who hadn’t really done their sums. According to their “calculations” the ID cards would clock in at over a £1,000 each. That’s preposterous. Even when taking into account the considerable initial costs of setting up the infrastructure and producing the data, the cost per card wouldn’t be anywhere near that number.

But cheap it will never be. Neither will the
2012 Olympics though.

Accepting the ID card scheme means the terrorists win


This is perhaps the most warped argument of them all. In the aftermath of 7/7 many expensive and sometimes intrusive security measures will be put in place, in an attempt to prevent another attack. Does that mean the terrorists have won? Quite the contrary, it only means we’re fighting back. Or does anyone suggest we do nothing at all?

Final word


The reality is that most members of the British public aren’t in favour of the scheme because it is perceived as something inherently “European” and hence by definition deeply suspicious. This perception blurs all opinion into a “we just don’t want them, alright?” kind of argument.

Further reading on
identity cards, No to ID cards site and discussion forum

Keywords:
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Addendum


This entry was written from the perspective of a UK resident, not a UK citizen. Where I’m from ID cards are compulsory and we do have a National Identity Register as well. The proposed ID cards Bill appears to be much more far reaching and potentially far more intrusive than anything we have regards identity registration in our country.

After reading the bill, I can only say that in its present form I don’t support the ID cards bill either. You can read a little more about my thoughts on ID cards
on this forum thread where I’m logged in as guest “blogfast”.

7 Comments:

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Dave Gould said...

Rebuttal:
The main civil liberties threat is about unnecessary data held centrally on citizens. And yes we're very concerned about the DNA database.

As far as supposed plausibility of preventing crime or terrorism, in almost a year, I've yet to find anyone who can explain HOW.

Passports were originally introduced as ID Cards, believe it or not. That's what function creep does.

The costs of ID cards produced by 2 independent studies (LSE & Kable) puts them around the £15bn mark. Try and persuade us that a university department is somehow less trustworthy than the Government.

 
At 4:01 AM, Anonymous Ross Little said...

Along the same lines as your argument "I've also been carrying a National Identity card for thirty years. Guess what? No side effects so far..." is another argument I hear: "I've been smoking for thirty years. Guess what? No side effects so far..." Once case alone is far from proof I'm afraid.

Quite frankly, ID cards are a ridiculous idea:

Argument A: They will help cut out benefit fraud! How exactly? In order to claim benefits, you are given a cheque by the Benefits Office that you then place in your bank account. An ID Card would allow you to open a bank account faster and prove your identity quicker at the Benefits Office. The vast majority of fraud occurs where people are claiming, illegally, invalidity benefit or a carer's allowance, or who are signed on whilst working cash in hand. How exactly would an ID card stop this? Fraud in this context simply doesn't occur as ID theft.

Argument B: ID Cards will stop terrorists. By US definition, terrorists are now classified as "Illegal Combatants" because they fall outwith the scope of the Geneva Convention as they are part of no recognised armed force... Hold on, that would make them civilians. Yep, ID Cards would have helped those involved in 9/11 board the flights that were downed that day. Those terrorists were in the country legally. The real issue with terrorism is that those involved ARE legitimately resident in the country they plan to strike. By giving them an ID card you simply allow them to go about their terrorist business better. And, Gert, to say that "an entire arsenal of methods can certainly contribute to the "war on terror"" without actually stating how, in real and practical terms, is a cop out. How exactly would a British Citizen who learns how to make a bomb on the internet, then purchases the items he needs from his local Pharmacy and Hardware Store, shortly before blowing himself and a carriage full of people up on the Tube be hindered by having an ID Card? How exactly - I'm asking you to tell me in real terms.. (Let's just remember that during WWII that the ID cards carried then were not databased, had no biometric information, were not linked with credit reference agencies, ISPs and other communications providers... come on - they were a piece of cardboard without even a picture... probably just as much use though!)

Argument C: ID Cards will stop illegal immigrants. Hold on... illegal immigrants don't go through customs so how will this stop them. As far as I'm aware there are no plans to make ID Card ownership a prerequisite to gaining health care, however, this fear alone is enough to drive the estimate 500,000 illegal immigrants away from seeking health care. Great - so no drain on that resource... well, actually, customs also performs a very important function in screening those visitors from countries with highly infectious diseases such as TB. By denying health care to those who need it most, we risk a widespread pandemic of both TB and HIV.

Lastly, the cost. Gert, with experience in Project Management within the public sector I have absolutely no doubt that the cost estimate by the indepent committee will certainly be reached and exceeded if ID Cards are implemented.

I suppose, you're right in saying that the Olympics will cost more than ID Cards, however, the revenues generated for the UK as a result of hosting the Olympics will be more than profitable. ID Cards on the other hand...

Perhaps, a more effective way of spending the money that is otherwise ear-marked for ID Cards would be on increasing policing and intelligence. Quite clearly, the arguments for ID Cards are erroneous however, we do know that both policing and intelligence gathering do work in thwarting terrorist attacks.

You are also correct in saying that the police can take both DNA and fingerprints from 'suspected' criminals but you are wrong in claiming that these are kept and databased. This is only the case where a suspect is subsequently found to be guilty. For those released without charge or subsequently found not guilty, it is their legal right to witness the destruction of an DNA or fingerprint evidence that the police may hold.

Gert, I find you rather blindly trust the Government we now have. I'm guessing that by your tone you are also a supporter of the war against Iraq and the Home Offices 'House Arrest' legislation both of which I view with abject derision. Our trust as a nation has been eroded - all I need to mention is Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction, BSE, Belmarsh Prison, Extradition Orders to Guantanamo Bay, UK war propaganda (did you notice how our initional reason for invasion was the "immediate threat of weapons of mass destruction" and as none were found we were slowly brainwashed into thinking "regime change" was what Bush and Blair were really after... erm... can I just mention Zimbabwe as a more fitting cause if we're taking a utilitarian stand point on these things!)

Perhaps, Gert, it would be better if you took a rather more open minded view of the situation and perhaps asked yourself why this might be happening. By your own admission, there can be no single panacea to this problem but should we stubbornly stand by our 'we don't engage with terrorists' motto whilst our people die. And let me, let you, into a little secret - if you want to turn an entire nation against you the quickest way to do it is bomb their cities, kill their women and children, destroy their water, electricity and communications infrastructre, take over their palaces and treat the place like the carcass the US vultures hoped it would be. That's not so PC but not far off the truth - I know, my partner served their.

So, the long and short of a rather long winded and enjoyable rant.

ID Cards = Great way of wasting money and fucking up your civil liberties.

 
At 4:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erm, so, we're calling it 7/7 now. Don't you think this is all a little self indulgent? I mean, all respects to the families and loved ones of those involved, but I don't see this fascination as particularly healthy. In fact, I see it as an extension of the morbid fascination that was 'The Death Toll' by the media that day... All sense of decency and taste was neglected whilst the cameras zoomed in on the bloodied and wounded whilst newsreaders asked 'if there was much screaming?'. I really do offer my heart felt condolences to anyone who has lost a loved one but, quite frankly, what we experienced then was not news but a deeply disturbing market driven news frenzy.

On a light note, 132 people have just died in a train crash in Pakistan - shall we be referring to that as 13/7 and having a two minute silence too. No, thought not. Or what about even a dash of remorse for the estimated 22,000 (minimum) to 100,000 ( The Lancet Medical Journal) civilian casualties as a result of the war on Iraq? No, didn't happen on your doorstep, right?

 
At 2:27 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Ross Little said:

"I'm guessing that by your tone you are also a supporter of the war against Iraq and the Home Offices 'House Arrest' legislation both of which I view with abject derision."

Wow, slow down Ross!! I was and still am completeley against the war in Iraq from day one. Don't throw me in with the war mongerers camp: I really don't belong there and don't deserve that accusation. I'm actually completely on your side when it comes to Iraq.

I also believe there is a clear link between the atrocities in London and this country's decision to follow the Americans into what will turn out to be a kind of Vietnam, both in Iraq and at home.

It's not PC to make that link and many will gladly lynch me for making it, as it implies that this country carries some of the blame for this attack and probably more to come.

You're making a dangerous connection between being in favour of ID cards and being in favour of the war in Iraq, be careful jumping to such conclusions: the link was clearly in your mind, not in my text.

As regards Anonymous:

I didn't coin that phrase 7/7 which is a gratuitous term, I agree. I won't be using it again.

Reporting on the bombings by many channels including the BBC took a real turn for the worse. It shows that commercialisation of the news, turning news into a commodity, doesn't improve the quality of reporting at all: the amount of experts that clearly know nothing at all and are simply surmising like everyone else makes you think of a pack of scavengers.

You also said:

"Or what about even a dash of remorse for the estimated 22,000 (minimum) to 100,000 ( The Lancet Medical Journal) civilian casualties as a result of the war on Iraq? No, didn't happen on your doorstep, right?"

Hey, what about a whole big dollop of remorse for the massive civilian casualties? Personally, I feel President Blair should enter the history books as the first British war criminal.

Never mind the blatant lies about WMD, manipulation of "intelligence", the "dossier" etc. That was all just a little prelude. Now we have an Iraq that's in bloody turmoil, a quagmire we may never be able to extricate ourselves from, God knows how many dead service men and women and a small army of irate islamic fundamentalists wanting our blood...

Thanks, Tony!

 
At 2:46 PM, Blogger Gert said...

At the heart of the ID card debate lies a crucial word “identity”, or rather the need for a private person to be able to, quite literally, prove he/she is who he/she claims to be.

Identity is the core of most property law, taxation and criminal law. Without clearly defined identities of society’s members there can be no organised society. Anybody denying that must be an extremist anarchist (“property is theft!”)

So, what’s needed to be able to prove a citizen’s identity?

1. An official document (or documents) held by the citizen proving his/her identity, which can be produced when proof of identity is needed.
2. Registration of the citizen’s identity by the state. Without registration, any document held by the citizen is by definition null and void. Registration starts at birth with the issuing of a birth certificate. Without a birth certificate you do not exist as a legal person. Originals of birth certificates are held in registries. Anyone objecting so far?

My question to anyone commenting here is simply: which type of document (or documents) would you like to be used? Call it a poll.

As regards centrally held information, such as birth registries, if we agree that that’s also unavoidable as the basis for most law of all democratic states, then it remains to be decided which physical form such “databases” should take.

Paper based filing systems have very serious drawbacks, are bulky and expensive and don’t offer much protection against abuse either.

Electronic (or “virtual”, a complete misnomer) means of record storage are comparatively cheap and can be protected very adequately. Abuse can never be ruled out completely, whatever the means of storage.

But the fear of centrally managed electronic records doesn’t really come from cost or security concerns. It comes from the Orwellian idea that the government will be able to stuff these databases with all kinds of data that we don’t want to be recorded. Biometric data, DNA, criminal record, credit history and more are all kinds of data which opponents to ID cards fear will be recorded in “Big Brother’s” database.

It would be much more effective to argue the debate on what kind of data should be recorded, rather than the sheep principle of recording identity related data, which is unavoidable if we’re to have identities at all.

Where I’m from everybody carries an ID card (yes, it’s compulsory from the age of twelve) and no, there are no plans to start microchipping our citizens. We wouldn’t allow it, trust me. Our civil rights haven’t been endangered in any way by our ID cards. And we don’t need to show a utility bill to open a bank account or get a mortgage. Nor do we need a futile “prove it” card to prove our age...

 
At 3:17 AM, Blogger Ian said...

Gert

I've found this a much more stimulating debate than much of the slanging matches that go on between pros and antis on the NO2ID forum, so thanks for that.

You asked "At the heart of the ID card debate lies a crucial word “identity”, or rather the need for a private person to be able to, quite literally, prove he/she is who he/she claims to be."

How often, in practice, do we need to do this? If I need to prove I am entitled to ride my motorbike, I present my driving licence (DVLA managed not to lose my entitlement...); To travel abroad, I show my passport; to get my money from the bank, I show (more often use in an ATM) my bank card, etc, etc.

In each case, the document I use shows my entitlement to perform that particular act, but, crucially, nothing more. I need not, for example, worry that my employer might see my medical records. In each context, I am a rider, or a traveller, or a bank customer, and that is the aspect of my life that is relevant at the time.

There is no need, let alone the technical capacity (c. 60 million detailed records?), for a single document/database that could capture all of that. The various documents I have are already sufficient. So why waste the money, or run the risk of data leakage/theft/inaccuracy? The case simply has not been made.

Incidentally, my in-laws also come from a country where ID cards are compulsory. There is no centralised database, but their civil liberties are regularly abused by police officers who use the cards as a pretext to harass them and demand money. My relatives happen not to be white...

 
At 2:15 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Ian,

Let firstly emphasise that I’m not in favour of the current bill either, it’s potentially far too intrusive, with far too much emphasis on security, crime, immigration and fraud.

You say:
“How often, in practice, do we need to do this? If I need to prove I am entitled to ride my motorbike, I present my driving licence (DVLA managed not to lose my entitlement...); To travel abroad, I show my passport; to get my money from the bank, I show (more often use in an ATM) my bank card, etc, etc.”

You’ve actually mentioned quite a few occasions already and it’s easy to name a few more. In itself that doesn’t prove ID cards are necessary, though, I’ll concede that.

You said:
“In each case, the document I use shows my entitlement to perform that particular act, but, crucially, nothing more. I need not, for example, worry that my employer might see my medical records. In each context, I am a rider, or a traveller, or a bank customer, and that is the aspect of my life that is relevant at the time. “

With the type of card I carry, I needn’t worry about what my employer might see either. That worry comes from what is contained in the card/NIR. In its present form (the bill), that’s rather a lot, potentially at least. Fingerprints e.g. have no place on an ID card, in most instances of crime fighting the police will obtain these anyway, once a suspect is in custody. The same goes for iris and DNA.

You said:
“So why waste the money, or run the risk of data leakage/theft/inaccuracy? The case simply has not been made.”

Leakage, data mining and data abuse occur also without a centralised database. You can easily argue the merits of central v. multiple low level databases either way, till the cows come home. Vulnerability will always exist when it comes to data. The DVLA incident is but one example.

You said:
“There is no centralised database, but their civil liberties are regularly abused by police officers who use the cards as a pretext to harass them and demand money. My relatives happen not to be white...”

Again, civil rights abuse isn’t linked to ID cards/no ID cards. Unlawful, questionable, unnecessary arrests are made also in this country, as well as in mine. The answer to that isn’t ID cards/no ID cards, it lies in “us watching them watching us”. Only vigilance on our part regarding civil rights is an effective tool in safeguarding these liberties, which personally I hold very, very dear.

As regards, NO2ID, if you dig a little there’s plenty of decent debate going on there. It’s a drawback of the anonymity of online forums that people resort to mudslinging more easily than when confronted with an actual, live person. You can’t get your nose out joint on an online forum!

Thanks for your comment.

 

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