Tuesday, June 28, 2005

No IDea

So, the bill's through the second reading. Top marks to those Labour MPs who voted against the government, even though this was a manifesto issue. MPs like Lynne Jones, Clare Short and David Winnick (and John Hemming, saints preserve us) did the right thing tonight, even if the rest of their brethren failed us today.

I fail to understand why the government still think this is a good idea - polls indicate that support is starting to drift from the much-quoted 83% in favour, with the latest polls suggesting that just over half of the population now back the idea. Mention that the card could cost you as much as £300 and support drops to around 4%. I doubt that the government could ever hope to charge that for a card - costs will have to be trimmed, hidden and passed on to external users.

Although the government moved swiftly to rubbish the report from the LSE, bear in mind that it comes from a respected institution and was created with the help of IT and business experts from around the world. It is also backed by the Information Commissioner himself - who has jumped squarely into the political debate. You can read the executive summary or the full 300-page report, but the condensed version is that while a system might have benefits, the current proposals will drain the public purse for a system that won't work. The press release contains a summary of the summary and glancing through the list of best/worse case scenarios, the worst case scenario seems a damn sight more likely than the best option on almost every occasion. Top marks to Talk Politics for another thorough critique of this albatross of a proposal.

Identity theft is undoubtably a problem, but will the card resolve it? Probably not - and it could make it worse. NO2ID point out that identity theft is significantly more of a problem in the US and Australia, where they each have a single identifier (Social Security number and Tax File Number, respectively) which has become the unique reference used for most contacts with government and business. Our evolved system of multiple proofs of identity offers a touch more security - thieves may get hold of a telephone bill of yours, but a single document is of limited use. Get hold of the ID card identifying number or, worse, the actual biometric data and that's game over - identity thieves can steal your whole life and proving otherwise will be more of a nightmare than it is now.

Will it be secure? Of course not - part of the plan is to allow access to private sector companies for various reasons. If you want to hire a car or get credit or open a bank account, they'll want to see your card and to check the biometric data therein. All this will require the mother of all computer networks with huge numbers of points where it might be attacked and compromised. I doubt that the government will need to make the card compulsory - before long you will find your life impossible without it.

Another point which hasn't been discussed - how much access will foreign governments have to the database? This is being brought in on the back of the US withdrawing the visa waiver for all foreign nationals without biometrically-verifiable passports - so are the US going to be allowed to cross-check your ID with the UK database? (The answer will be 'Yes', of course.)

This proposal is ill-judged and won't work - the time is right for the bill to be quietly put away before it becomes even more of an embarrassment to the government. Labour's Poll Tax? Nope. The poll tax will come to be seen as the Tories' ID Card scheme and will look like a well-implemented and well-thought out programme in comparison.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Would Lord Goodman, if he were still alive, support your anti-ID card campaign?