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Honest, It’s Me Gov

'Many men feel that they should act according to the time or the moment they are facing, and thus are in confusion when something goes beyond this and some difficulty arises'. - Shiba Yoshimasa (1350-1410)

It’s been a long time coming but a leaked government document suggests that the arrival of national identity card is just around the corner.

I have been in two minds about the value of such a card for a long time now. There is of course that natural suspicion of government motives, after all, as a society we trust our own government less than any of our European neighbours and mostly for good reason. Can we trust them to use a comprehensive citizens database in a way that protects our dwindling civil rights or will such information, as the privacy lobby fears, be used as one more tool in an inevitable march towards a more tightly controlled and even Stalinist society?

- David Blunkett

That’s one argument and it’s not one that appears to worry the majority of the population. What does worry people is that there are a third more National Insurance numbers in circulation than there should be and that there is no longer any form of identification, which even partly guarantees that you happen to be John Smith and not Osama Bin Laden.

The technologists quite correctly point out that any identity card is only as good as the information given by a trusted-third party, that validates the owner of the card, so it remains to be seen how government is going to tackle this problem. After all, a National Insurance number, a driving license and a passport are less reliable than a letter from your mother and consequently tackling the question of identity in 21st century Britain presents a real problem.

When I attended the Digital Identity Forum in London at the end of last year, the audience, which represented banks, vendors and government, were struggling to arrive at a useful solution to the identity dilemma. After all, as one presentation from an inner London council illustrated, not everyone today has a ‘Christian name’, a middle name, and a surname. A Mr Mohammed Abdullah Osama could appear as any combination of these names on a local authority database and there have been numerous examples, we were told of families being given more than one home as a consequence of errors creeping into the system.

There is another reason why identity cards have taken so long to arrive. Government is also faced with a dilemma of its own. If everyone is issued with an identity card or a stronger form of identity to cross-check against National Insurance numbers, then it becomes much simpler, over time to determine how many people are present in this country illegally. This is a statistic that they would rather not face.

When they appear, these cards will apparently cost each of us £40.00 and it won’t be long before there’s a roaring trade in counterfeiting the new gold standard of British identity. Let’s be honest, investigative reporting has demonstrated that the passport, driving license and National Insurance system are hopelessly compromised, so why should this be any different?

While the Home Office appears to be convinced by the technology at its disposal, I’m not convinced by the Home Office and I very much doubt that many of our readers are either. People may worry about the limited information on an identity card being made freely available across government departments but Mr average citizen has nothing to worry about and the Police will have a more efficient means of checking the identity of fans before a Millwall game. As for anything more sophisticated, we have to remember that this will be a massive and expensive government IT project and I for one, can’t think of a single massive and expensive government IT project and especially one involving security of any kind, that has worked without being dogged by massive and expensive failure. Over to you then Mr Blunkett.

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