A further blow for ID cards?


2:20 pm - December 12th 2009

by Sunder Katwala    


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Could you keep a £61 billion secret? Its not always easy, says Chancellor Alistair Darling in his interview with Mary Riddell for the forthcoming Fabian Review, extracted in today’s Telegraph.

He was, he says, “living on the edge for a while. There were many days when I knew that unless the Bank was making [covert] interventions [such as the secret loans of £61.6 billion to HBOS and the Royal Bank of Scotland], then literally banks would have had to shut their doors and cash machines would have been switched off.

People should be in no doubt that the world banking system was on the brink of collapse in October 2008 … It was [irksome] to have people sniping at the edges, saying: ‘You should have done this or that’ when I couldn’t disclose what I was doing. I couldn’t have said: ‘By the way, the banks are about to collapse, but I’m doing something about it’, because the very act of saying that would have been disastrous.

The interview was conducted just before the pre-budget repot. The newspaper finds enough significance in a passing comment on ID cards to make a ‘Darling signals death of ID cards‘ news story of it.

This is the entirety of Darling’s discussion of the issue.

Most of the expenditure is on biometric passports which you and I are going to require shortly to get into the US. Do we need to go further than that? Well, probably not.

This would be good news if true. The Treasury say that did not go beyond restating existing government policy, so I am rather less convinced that it was intended as a particularly significant policy intervention by the Chancellor in the run-up to his PBR.

The comment does seem go with the grain of the recent direction of travel, which we have chronicled from time to time over on Next Left.

Compulsory ID cards for all seem to have been dying a slow and lingering death: one could even stretch a point and trace ebbing support inside government back four years, given Tony McNulty’s widely reported comments to the Fabians in 2005, though Home Secretary Blunkett strongly took a strongly different view at that time.

There might have been both good policy reasons and some political sense, a year or two ago, in putting them out of their misery more swiftly.

Perhaps there might still be. But I expect that would be more likely to be news from AJ than AD.

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Economy ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


1. Richard Blogger

No ID cards, what a relief.

Has anyone else noticed that Labour is gently dropping contentious policies where the Tories have taken a lead (like scrapping the odious ID cards, and scrapping the incompetent NHS IT system)? It looks like the battlefield for the next election is being cleared by Labour.

A further blow for ID cards?

Good. Slowly Labour is getting rid of some of it’s Neo Conservative rubbish that Blair and Murdoch gave them.

So nice to see Murdoch advising the Tories now. No doubt they will soon do another U turn and be in favour of such rubbish.

They used to be in favour of ID cards because you know their old mantra “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”

Don’t be too quick to celebrate the demise of national ID. It isn’t a done deal, and then we have the privacy threat of biometric passports. Apart from my aged mum, I don’t think that I know anyone who doesn’t own a valid passport.

This is rubbish from the Telegraph. The cards, the national identity register and e-borders are all firmly in place. We must not let ourselves be fooled by this.

A fact of life is that I’m quite often asked to prove my identity.

Not having an ID card often causes me much personal inconvenience and trouble. My passport (an ID card by another name) has long since expired and as I don’t travel abroad I’ve not bothered to renew it.

Early this year I was asked to prove entitlement to the NHS to access medical advice from a consultant at my local hospital. Despite having an NHS number and a hospital number, I needed to dig out my birth certificate to show place of birth (London) and show evidence of recent residency.

If I need to collect a parcel from the local Royal Mail sorting office because I wasn’t at home when the postman called, I again need to prove identity and place of residence, an entirely reasonal requirement given the number of addresses in multiple occupation.

My bus pass is up for renewal so I will again need to collect together documents to prove identity and place of recent residence for that.

It really would be very convenient to have a secure ID card, with biometrics, so I shall be sorry to learn that the whole project is to be abandoned for very practical reasons. It’s all very curious how those who so vehemently object to ID cards don’t object to Passports as well.

Btw I have been a victim of identity theft: nearly 5 years ago someone fraudulently sold computer memory chips on eBay using my name, address and telephone number as the vendor reference. I wasn’t out of pocket but the guy who bought the chips had to jump through a lot of hoops before he could get his money back. The first I knew of it was when he phoned to ask why hadn’t I sent the chips he had bought from me.

@5 Bob B: “Not having an ID card often causes me much personal inconvenience and trouble.”

But that is the good thing about identity. It is deliberately difficult to prove who you are and requires confirmation from multiple sources. Creating a new ID, for which there are many legitimate reasons, is possible but requires effort.

National ID cards theoretically provide a one stop identity check. But when the NID database is corrupted, which we should accept as a certainty from history, NID becomes a 99.9% accurate check and 0.1%, the people we should be worried about, pass through.

Security and convenience are inimical concepts.

Bob – I’m surprised – in 40 years of admittedly infrequent use of the NHS I’ve never once been asked to prove an entitlement. WRT to ID theft, I can’t see how ID cards would solve the problem, if anything they’d make it worse as a fake/stolen/lost ID card would be taken as close to irrefutable evidence of ID.
I’ve experienced the opposite of ID theft, that is aquiring the ID of a stranger. A couple of years ago, following a routine security check at work it eventually transpired that I had aquired someone elses criminal record (a south London fence with the same name but a different DOB) it took 18 months, a load of hassle and some expense to sort that out, a cock up with ID cards would probably be even worse.

I do wonder where Bob B is coming from. My local sorting office accepts my bank card to pick up parcels. When I was stopped by the police for avoiding potholes in the road, they accepted my bank card and presumably ran my number plate through their systems and it came up clean. I’ve never been asked for any ID when accessing the NHS, and all it took to change Dr’s was filling out the antiquated card thingy and handing it to the receptionist.

I’ve needed proof of address once or twice, I can’t quite recall what for now, and all I needed was my gas bill and credit card bill, or something like that.

Is there a parallel state I don’t know about?

I’m deeply puzzled about why Passports are evidently OK but not ID cards.

” in 40 years of admittedly infrequent use of the NHS I’ve never once been asked to prove an entitlement”

The requirement by the local hospital upon me to prove entitlement to NHS treatment was put in writing so I’m not making this up. When I phoned to seek an explanation for this extraordinary request – especially since I already had a hospital number and was receiving out-patient treatment from a different part of the same hospital at this time – I was told that it would take too long to refer to hospital records and yet, presumably, those same records would have to be retrieved by the administrative support for the consultant whom I needed to see on the advice of my GP through whom the appointment was booked.

“WRT to ID theft, I can’t see how ID cards would solve the problem”

The money paid by the purchaser for the fraudulent sale of computer memory chips (supposedly by me) was paid into a particular PayPal account and I didn’t and don’t have a PayPal account. With ID cards, it would have presumably been easier to establish to whom that PayPal account really belonged.

Curiously, on thinking back, prior to this I had received a succession of emails inviting me to open a PayPal account, all of which I had ignored. I suspect someone was trying to set me up and, for them, it was inconvenient that I didn’t have a PayPal account.

“I’ve experienced the opposite of ID theft, that is aquiring the ID of a stranger. ”

That could have been part of a criminal attempt by the other party to switch identities.

An obvious point: the arguments made against biometric ID cards also apply to biometric passports but by some strange twist of logic passports are acceptable whereas ID cards aren’t.

The problem with using passports as ID cards is that for many identity purposes proof is sought of recent residency and passports don’t do that. The strange thing is that a recently paid utility bill is often taken as sufficient proof of recent residency and that may not be too difficult to fraudulently obtain at addresses in multiple occupation.

All identity record systems are potentially open to some abuse but biometric ID cards increase the odds against fraudulent corruption and identity theft. Several west European countries – such as France – have long had national ID card schemes without that being condemned as a gross infringement of personal liberty and we had ID cards during WW2 – I can still remember mine. Frankly, much of the campaign against ID cards strikes me as absurd and hysterical.

It’s the database, it’s the database, it’s the database. The National Identity Register. National ID cards are objectionable in themselves but this particular aspect of our nation’s scheme, the National Identity Register, is what we should be really concerned about. It still exists. We don’t need it. Passport systems don’t need it.

Bob B, you may get your wish. Our Government wants ID cards to become an essential part of everyday life. What a wonderful idea!

Jebus.

As for what Darling said,
“Most of the expenditure is on biometric passports which you and I are going to require shortly to get into the US. Do we need to go further than that? Well, probably not.”

In that case why are we going further than that (to the tune of over £1.5bn*)? Why are we getting this ridiculously bloated database, the National Identity Register? Why are we infringing liberty when according to Darling it is neither proportionate nor necessary?

(* this is 30% of £5bn, the Government’s estimate of what it will cost to setup and run the ID scheme over ten years. Note: this does not include the cost to everyone else, whether it’s the individual or an organisation, to use it. There are no official public estimates of that cost – the Government says it can’t estimate that cost because it is up to organisations how they use the scheme…)

Bob B,

With ID cards, it would have presumably been easier to establish to whom that PayPal account really belonged.

Why?

All identity record systems are potentially open to some abuse but biometric ID cards increase the odds against fraudulent corruption and identity theft. Several west European countries – such as France – have long had national ID card schemes without that being condemned as a gross infringement of personal liberty and we had ID cards during WW2 – I can still remember mine

Eh? You might want to look at Willcock vs. Muckle and what happened after that.

As for Johnny Foreigner,

27. We were told that the principle of the population register and the personal number is universally accepted in Sweden, because people have been familiar with it throughout their lives. However, there has been opposition on grounds of individual rights to a linkage between the new card and the population register. Accordingly, the card will not be linked to the register. Information will be stored in the chip on the card but not in a central database. …

29. Because of concerns about individual rights, and the memory of abuses during the Nazi period, there is no central database of identity card information, and the scheme is organised at regional (Länder) level, rather than the federal level. – HoC Home Affairs Committee.

I’d like to argue that Bob B shouldn’t be expected to jump through any hoops whatsoever by the state. If oor Bob says who he is then, absent strong contrary evidence, the state should simply accept that.

It is frankly outrageous that we, the citizens, have to prove that we are citizens. The boot should be firmly on the other foot. It should be up to the state to prove the contrary.

“It is frankly outrageous that we, the citizens, have to prove that we are citizens.”

One regular means of social security benefit fraud is through multiple identities – which should be easier to track through ID cards instead of having to prove by individual surveillance and/or collecting documentation that one individual recipient of benefit has assumed multiple identities and thereby collected multiple benefit incomes.

As an early and persistent critic of the £12.7 bn NHS scheme for a national database of personal medical records, I’ve never understood why that national database is an acceptable intrusion into personal information and identity while personal ID cards aren’t but passports are. The logic puzzles me.

It was foreseeable that all sorts of developers would gain access to personal health information with a national database. There is nothing particularly untoward about my medical records but more than a few people could become vulnerable to blackmail or workplace or neighbourhood bullying because of information on their records. Women are especially vulnerable. Insurance companies, employers and workplace colleagues competing for promotion could all potentially benefit from unauthorised access to personal medical records. How is it that while many countries have ID card schemes, few (to my knowledge) have national databases of personal medical records?

Remember this?

“A woman was spied on by her council 21 times to find out whether she lived in the catchment area of a school, a tribunal has heard.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/dorset/8343865.stm

And this?

“Councils in England have been urged to review the way they use surveillance powers to investigate suspected crime. Under laws brought in to help fight terrorism, councils can access phone and e-mail records and use surveillance to detect or stop a criminal offence.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7468430.stm

We should not assume state and local bureaucracies are all benign. By comparison, ID cards are very minimalist and tame intrusions into personal liberty.

I don’t give a flying fuck if Bob B can’t prove his identity – why should I have to carry an ID card for his conveniance?

‘One regular means of social security benefit fraud is through multiple identities’

The vast majority of benefit fraud is due to people lying about their CIRCUMSTANCES, not their identity: people living together or working on the side.

ID cards won’t stop that.

“why should I have to carry an ID card for his conveniance?”

Naturally, you refuse to carry a passport on the same principle but have no objections to a national database of personal medical records or to surveillance of personal emails and personal telephone calls by local bureaucrats.

“The vast majority of benefit fraud is due to people lying about their CIRCUMSTANCES, not their identity: people living together or working on the side.”

Really?

Try instead this from the Crown Prosecution Service:

“Professional fraudsters who target the benefit system who operate carefully organised frauds on a large scale in which considerable sums of money are obtained, often by means of frequent changes of name or address or of forged or stolen documents. The length of the custodial sentence will depend in the first instance on the scope of the fraud. 2 years imprisonment and upwards.”
http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/sentencing_manual/obtaining_benefit_fraud_theft_act/

But what would they know?

The difficulty – and cost – is in proving use of multiple identitites to commit benefit fraud for purposes of prosecution.

I must say that the quality of the argument mounted here against ID cards is fully up to my earlier expectations.

Bob B,

As an early and persistent critic of the £12.7 bn NHS scheme for a national database of personal medical records, I’ve never understood why that national database is an acceptable intrusion into personal information and identity while personal ID cards aren’t but passports are. The logic puzzles me.

Who said the NHS scheme is an acceptable intrusion? Who said passports are an acceptable intrusion?

Do note though that we have passports already.

What we didn’t have is the National Identity Register, or ID cards.

Nor are passports an “essential part of everyday life”.

And just because the French or Germans have ID cards, I don’t see that as a good reason for us to have them. (Note: I think it is Cyprus that is the only common law country that has them.)

“The vast majority of benefit fraud is due to people lying about their CIRCUMSTANCES, not their identity: people living together or working on the side.”

Really?

Try instead this from the Crown Prosecution Service:

No, try this from the DWP: “Now, together we would estimate that at the moment about £50 million is lost to the taxpayer in identity fraud. Now, in the context of the overall benefits budget and in the context of £2 billion which we lose in fraud each year and which we are reducing quite effectively, that is a relatively small amount currently…”

And benefit claimants won’t be asked for ID cards anyway (see here too).

I must say that the quality of the argument mounted here against ID cards is fully up to my earlier expectations.

And what’s your argument for them Bob? Just because on occasion some idiot has required you to prove your identity to his satisfaction? Or because the French have them? Or because Meg Hillier finds it difficult to get a drink in Manchester? Well, marvelous – here’s 5 billion quid.

There has been no cost-benefit analysis for this particular scheme. It is neither proportionate nor necessary. Ergo it shouldn’t be happening.

“And what’s your argument for them Bob? Just because on occasion some idiot has required you to prove your identity to his satisfaction?”

Idiots, are they?

If the Royal Mail sorting office didn’t require proof of identity from those asking to collect undelivered parcels, anyone could turn up from addresses in multiple occupation and request the parcels for which a postman had left a card. Identity proof from callers at the sorting office is a basic prudential requirement to prevent theft of parcel mail. As it happens, I live in one of the largest post codes in Britain where there are many thousands of addresses in multiple occupation. The sorting office rule makes good sense.

ID cards – or other means of identity checks – could ensure that holders of credit card and online payment cards are who they claim to be. ID cards would reduce the costs of tracking – and thereby preventing – online fraud. Btw I’ve been careful to ensure that all my cards relate only to my bank.

The CPS evidently regard use of multiple identities as a significant potential source of large scale benefit fraud and it is costly to prove in prosecutions.

As for my local hospital, its requirement to produce identity and residency proof as proof of treatment entitlement was obviously misguided as both were on file in my hospital records anyway. But then some are pressing the NHS to become more proactive in charging foreign visitors for treatment – I’m told by a local hospital insider that a recent women foreign visitor to the hospital had quads, all paid for by the NHS. Most hospitals are simply not geared up to charging foreign visitors for treatment.

Bring on ID cards.

Bob,

The CPS evidently regard use of multiple identities as a significant potential source of large scale benefit fraud and it is costly to prove in prosecutions.

Sure. But the DWP estimates it to make up 2.5% of benefit fraud. If we’re going to play “what would they know?” I think the DWP trumps the CPS here.

ID cards – or other means of identity checks – could ensure that holders of credit card and online payment cards are who they claim to be. ID cards would reduce the costs of tracking – and thereby preventing – online fraud.

What’s the mechanism here? I’m interested to know as the Government hasn’t described it (AFAIK), they’ve merely asserted it.

As for the Post Office, I’m quite happy that my local accepted my bank card the other day as sufficient evidence of my identity. They glanced at the name just as they would glance at the name on an identity card. That’s about as secure as we are going to get.

As for the NHS, some people are indeed pressing the NHS to reduce the costs of ‘health tourism’… despite the admission that we don’t know the scale of the problem. There is an guesstimate of some £200m a year.

So you’re saying, let’s spend more than £5bn to try to prevent £200m + £50m. Er…

“So you’re saying, let’s spend more than £5bn to try to prevent £200m + £50m. Er…”

That is not the relevant Cost-Benefit calculation. The question is whether the present value of the accumulated advantages of ID cards over the whole range of prospective annual benefits is worth a capital outlay of £5bn+. My guess is that it is for a population of 61 million and growing.

Bank credit/debit cards don’t show residential addresses and besides there’s a huge international business in frabicating fraudulent bank cards – which is why banks keep cautioning about keeping PIN numbers secret even after holograms were added to (most) bank cards. This is why the local Royal Mail sorting office, servicing one of the largest post code areas in Britain, very sensibly insists on proof of residence as well as proof of identity – no proof, no parcel.

I omitted to mention renewal of my (pensioners’) bus pass where – very sensibly – there are pretty steep requirements for proof of personal identity and residency.

The question is whether the present value of the accumulated advantages of ID cards over the whole range of prospective annual benefits is worth a capital outlay of £5bn+. My guess is that it is for a population of 61 million and growing.

Your “guess”? Here, have 5 billion quid…

“Not having an ID card often causes me much personal inconvenience and trouble.”

Oh I am very sorry to hear that. I tell you what, why don’t YOU buy an ID card or if you must, renew your passport. If we allowed a market in ID cards, you could even pick the one with the best reputation for not losing your private data. For myself, I am getting by fine with a provisional driving license so I think I will pass.

We don’t have to force everyone to have the same ID for YOUR personal convenience.

25. Richard Blogger

@5

I am sympathetic with what you say, but I do not agree that an ID card is needed.

Early this year I was asked to prove entitlement to the NHS to access medical advice from a consultant at my local hospital. Despite having an NHS number and a hospital number, I needed to dig out my birth certificate to show place of birth (London) and show evidence of recent residency.

Gosh, what part of the country are you in? In the last 4 years I have had several operations, three cases of day surgery (cataracts, skin cancer) and one case of eye surgery under general anaesthetic. In addition I have had many hospital appointments to see consultants, and very rarely with one who has seen me before. Yet not once have I been asked to show proof of my identity. Sure I was asked to confirm verbally details like my address and data of birth before having treatment, but that was to make sure that they treated the right person, and nothing to do with “entitlement”.

I live in the Midlands. Do you live in an area with a history of excessive “health tourism”?

As to your other identity comments. Sure, if you want to have an ID card then you should be able to get one. Me, personally, I have a driver’s licence and my union membership card, both have my name and photo. They are always in my wallet, so why should I need anything else? I object to the compulsory aspect implied in a national ID card: I do not need a piece of plastic to be alive.

As to ID theft, I was subject to that earlier this year. However, the fraud would not have been stopped by ID cards since it involved someone pretending to be me in a purchase over the telephone (a mobile phone contract, but their fraud department caught that before I was ever sent a bill). In the last 5 years my credit card has been stopped twice because of out of character usage (ie someone in a foriegn country making a purchase that I do not usually make).

I do not think that ID cards will make much of a dent into ID theft since most vendors are all too keen to sell their stuff and processing ID cards would be too costly for them. For example, much of the fraud over access of bank accounts over the internet would be almost completely removed if everyone had a smart card reader to read the chip on their debit card – a device that only costs a tenner. This will mean that people accessing your account would have to fulfil two important criteria in cryptography: “something you know” (the password) and “something you have” (the smart card). But banks have presumably outweighed the cost of a £10 device to every customer against the cost of compensating for fraud, and have found the latter to be less. So the banks stick with internet banking being merely protected by “something you know”.

26. Richard Blogger

@9 Bob B

An obvious point: the arguments made against biometric ID cards also apply to biometric passports but by some strange twist of logic passports are acceptable whereas ID cards aren’t.

No, it is not the case that biometric passports are considered acceptable.

The only reason for a biometric passport is entry into the US: this was one of Bush’s repressive diktats. Personally I think the UK government should have simply pulled out of the reciprocal visa waiver programme at that point, telling the US that the US embassy should have the responsibility of determining passenger identity through its visa system. With a threat like that – of seriously increasing the State Department’s workload – the DHS would have had to re-think. This is yet another case (the unequal extradition treaty is another) where Blair was all too keen to do whatever Bush told him to do.

27. Richard Blogger

@22 Bob B

Bank credit/debit cards don’t show residential addresses

They don’t need them. The point of a chip-and-pin card (or even the older ones that relied on a magnetic stripe) is to have a number that identifies your account. Once your account is identified then the other information (address, bank balance) can be obtained from the computer. (In the case of the magnetic stripe the information is encrypted and all ATM readers have a hardware decryption device, in the case of chip-and-pin card the information is on the chip but it uses a vastly more secure form of security; in both cases the information is “protected” by the 4 digit PIN).

The ID card will be the same – it is essentially a “key” into your information in the national ID computer. Is it safe to have your address on a card? I am in two minds on this. My mother keeps her house key in her purse along with her cards. If her purse is stolen then it is not only the cash in her purse that could be stolen, but everything in her house too.

and besides there’s a huge international business in frabicating fraudulent bank cards – which is why banks keep cautioning about keeping PIN numbers secret even after holograms were added to (most) bank cards.

The problem here is complete idiocy by the banks. Cloning a chip-and-pin card is difficult, cloning a card with a magnetic stripe is child’s play. But the idiots in the banks put the two things on one card and “protected” them with the same PIN. So my credit card can be skimmed by a rogue vendor to get the information on the stripe, and if he can also record my key presses when typing my PIN in the chip-and-pin card reader then he can clone my credit card and use it in a country that does not have chip-and-pin. The simple solution would be to offer people cards without the stripe (preferably), or to allow them to set the stripe to a different PIN (only a partial solution, but offering the full “flexibility” of the stripe).

Bank credit/debit cards don’t show residential addresses

Nor do ID cards.

@ Bob, if you don’t have a drivers licence or passport then why don’t you go buy yourself an ID Card, they’ve been widely available for years. Although how you’ll prove who you are to get one I don’t know.

Other countries may have a form of ID Card but no other country in the world has or is attempting to have 52 pieces of information of every person in the country held on a central government database, not even in communist China. In fact, in most democratic countries with a written constitution it would be illegal.


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