Skip to main content
Mistaken Identity

The Proposed National Identity Card

“An extraordinary situation". The opening words of Simon Davies from Privacy International, apologising to the audience at The London School of Economics for the absence of David Blunkett at a public meeting to discuss the proposed national identity card.

“In fact”, said Simon Davies, “It’s quite unprecedented. We have no agency, no Minister, no official and this meeting is quite unrecognised, even though it had attracted the Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, MP, David Cameron, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, Liberty, Statewatch, The Law Society, Ross Anderson, The Assistant Information Commissioner, The Muslim Council of Great Britain and many more leading figures in the privacy and identity space.

Never, I thought, as I took my notes during the meeting, have I seen a pillar of Government policy look so demonstrably fragile and flawed. Neatly dissected by the opening arguments of the Shadow Home Secretary and then buried alive by the experts who followed, we were offered little or no reason to believe that an identity card would be proportionate, cost effective or even capable of addressing the problems surrounding terrorism or illegal immigration.

A YouGov opinion poll of two thousand electors, commissioned last month by Privacy International, has discovered that only 61% of the population support compulsory identity cards and not 80% as suggested by the government. While this still represents a substantial majority in favour of the measure, 28% of those opposing compulsory cards said they were prepared to take to the streets to participate in demonstrations and 6% indicated that they were prepared to go to prison rather than carry one. Conservative voters were particularly opposed, with 24% polled prepared to participate in a campaign of civil disobedience.

David Davis expressed concern that the government’s track record in respect to the protection of confidential information has been poor. Over time, he pointed out there has been an increasing exchange of data between departments without legislation and authorised instead by a Ministerial decision, which has permitted information to flow sideways among agencies. “The Government”, said Davis, “Has been careless or mischievous or worse in its handling of information”, and in illustration, he pointed at the examples of Martin Sixsmith, Pam Warren and Dr David Kelly. Echoing Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw’s own concerns, Davis said that an ID card work well in identifying people from a well-established background who present no threat but doesn’t work at all for others. Simply claiming that our own will be ‘More sophisticated’ than anyone else’s fail to make the case as a deterrent to terrorists, in that since 1986, twenty of the twenty five countries who experienced terrorist outrages have a national identity card scheme and five of these use biometrics.

The Government failed to find even a word of comfort from David Winnick MP, a member of Labour’s Home Affairs Committee, who was at pains to add that his views were very much his own. He and Lord Philips of Sudbury reinforced the message that identity cards might work in countries which had the benefit of a written constitution and a Bill of Rights but we don’t and the measure demands a much wider national debate on the nature of democracy and our own increasingly fragile-looking constitution. Winnick was particularly worried over ‘Function Creep’, in that a voluntary scheme would very soon become a compulsory scheme.

If there was any good news, then we were told, was that Government success rate for large IT projects has doubled in the last four years to 34% so we have every reason to expect ID cards to carry through with equal success.

Once again then, the Home Office is so convinced by the strength of its case that nobody was prepared or perhaps able to defend its position in public. Opponents are now focusing on shifting their attack to the registry or in other words, the details that Government wishes to cross reference and keep on each citizen in a central database, which is quite frightening once you read what they are asking for.

The population has high expectations of identity cards, driven by fears over illegal immigration and terrorism. Sadly, the facts of the matter are that given an avalanche of facts and figures to the contrary delivered by experts from all sides at the LSE’s public meeting last week, the Mr Blunkett’s ID card argument is specious and not worth the plastic it may be printed on.


Popular posts from this blog

Mainframe to Mobile

Not one of us has a clue what the world will look like in five years’ time, yet we are all preparing for that future – As  computing power has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, technological complexity has eclipsed our ability to comprehend it’s bigger picture impact on the shape of tomorrow.

Our intuition has been formed by a set of experiences and ideas about how things worked during a time when changes were incremental and somewhat predictable. In March 1953. there were only 53 kilobytes of high-speed RAM on the entire planet.

Today, more than 80 per cent of the value of FTSE 500* firms is ‘now dark matter’: the intangible secret recipe of success; the physical stuff companies own and their wages bill accounts for less than 20 per cent: a reversal of the pattern that once prevailed in the 1970s. Very soon, Everything at scale in this world will be managed by algorithms and data and there’s a need for effective platforms for ma…

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.

In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The Big Steal

I’m not here to predict the future;” quipped the novelist, Ray Bradbury. “I’m here to prevent it.” And the future looks much like one where giant corporations who hold the most data, the fastest servers, and the greatest processing power will drive all economic growth into the second half of the century.

We live in an unprecedented time. This in the sense that nobody knows what the world will look like in twenty years; one where making confident forecasts in the face of new technologies becomes a real challenge. Before this decade is over, business leaders will face regular and complex decisions about protecting their critical information and systems as more of the existing solutions they have relied upon are exposed as inadequate.

The few real certainties we have available surround the uninterrupted march of Moore’s Law - the notion that the number of transistors in the top-of-the-line processors doubles approximately every two years - and the unpredictability of human nature. Exper…