New Arguments for ID Cards


7:00 pm - March 15th 2010

by Robert Sharp    


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This afternoon, I attended a speech by the Minister for Identity, Meg Hillier MP, hosted by the Social Market Foundation. The address was titled “Building a national identity service for all” and presented much softer case for identity cards, compared to the terror-focused arguments of a few years back. (I will link to the full text of the speech when it is published).

The new reasoning centres around access to public services. Many people, the poorest people, don’t have any form of identification at all: no passport, credit card, driving licence, or even household bills in their name. ID cards, says Hillier, will provide a solution for these people, guaranteeing that they can quickly access the public services they need. The idea that a robust and trusted form of identification can be a tool for empowerment is something that the liberal left, instinctively against ID cards, needs to consider.

The approach is not without problems. Hillier says that people may miss out on a job, because employers are legally required to check you have the right to work in the UK, and inadequate identification might hinder this process. Likewise, she says people may miss out on renting a flat, or be refused a bank account, due to lack of ID. This may be so, but the hurdles that ID cards are designed to solve are actually regulations put in place by the government! Why not lower the hurdles? Why not create a new, entry-level type of bank account, with less overdraft and laundering possibilities? That way, ID barriers and credit checks could be safely reduced (perhaps some economists amongst our readers could comment on the practicalities of this, or whether such accounts already exist).

Discussing the technicalities of the new card, Hillier mentioned the ubiquity of the iPhone and other modern gadgets that can run any number of applications. “Why not put a chip in the phone?” she asked. After all, it is the chip that is the important bit, not the waterproof plastic. Quite right… but the wags will soon ask why we can’t put chips in our foreheads, too.


During the Q&A, I made a point about the tension between efficiency (which Hillier was keen to trumpet) and privacy. Perhaps privacy lies somewhere in the inefficiency of systems talking to each other? If it is actually a bit inconvenient to check someone’s identity, then those in a position of power over us are less likely to do so on a whim or a prejudice. David Eastman has a beautiful short essay on this point:

If someone is trying to track me down, then someone must think I really am worth the effort. Its when computers talk to other computers that liberty disappears. Because a computer can correlate countless bits of data and create new records that would take many humans exponentially longer to do. And that gap, or grace period, is actually where anonymity lies, or did.

Unfortunately, the Minister said this view was “bonkers”. I fear this attitude has more to do with the inarticulacy of the person making the philosophical point, than with the underlying idea. Anti-ID card campaigners are genuinely concerned that the system will be abused by officious and power-hungry government officials. They are concerned that companies will start accepting only ID cards as suitable identification for giving people work. If I was refused entry to a nightclub because I wasn’t on Facebook, or if I was refused employment because I was not on LinkedIn, then I would be rightly indignant. If ID cards become so efficient as to be ubiquitous, and opting out becomes ever more impractical, then we do have a civil liberties issue on our hands. It is a very specific point, and pedantic, perhaps, so I can see why the Minister would get a bit exhasperated. But still, Meg, “bonkers” is not enough of an answer. Those arguing for ID cards need to address this issue, or risk the anti-card campaigners making this inference: That ID cards are designed to be ubiquitous, and designed to become so essential that opting out becomes a practical impossibility. If this is the underlying motive, then the government should at least be honest with us.

The other hardy perennial in the case for ID cards, is that since we already have Oyster Cards, Nectar Cards, PayPal and Amazon accounts, we have already surrendered a lot more information about ourselves than would be stored on a database. This argument is fundamentally weak – We can choose to completely opt-out of the Nectar card or Oyster system if we wish. Facebook has privacy issues of its own, of course, but you can delete all your friends, tags, apps and photos if you want. Can you opt out of the ID card system, once you have signed up for it?

“No” says The Minister. Once you’ve tied your finger prints to your name and identity, its on the system forever. This ensures that no-one else can put their finger-prints to your name and steal your identity, Jackal-style. This seems sensible… but it is nevertheless a fundamentally different process to signing up for any number of user accounts. Ministers should stop using the Nectar Card example as an argument for why ID cards are benign.

Hillier acknowledged throughout that the government has presented a “muddled message” on ID cards and that Labour should “take responsibility” for not putting out better arguments for the new system. A case made on empowering the poor is a much better approach than one based on fear and xenophobia… but the government needs to do more – a lot more – to convince skeptics that it is not trying to introduce something much more comprehensive and far-reaching in the long term.

Update 16th March 2010 – I am told the Minister spoke from notes, so there is no published version to link to. Y’all have to take my word for it that what I reported is an accurate reflection of what was said.

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Reader comments


Is it just me who think a “Minister for Identity” sounds a bit Orwellian?
And imo I think that we should wait to see how the future gov is formed before any new arguments are made in favour of ID cards – both LibDems and Tories are opposed and one or the other will no doubt have a pivitol role in forming policy for the next five years…

Good article though. I’m still against for all the reasons mentioned, despite having to rely on utility bills myself at the moment to prove I exist!

Thanks, Mr P. Hillier also made some points about how 80% of the costs of the database are actually allocated against updating the passport side of things.

The EU seemed to think ID cards were inevitable. I have an instinctive horror of such things, but if we are to have anything of the sort, such as the chips in our new passports, then we need to agree a position on them. For example, who owns the data on the cards? Who has access to them and who can add, remove or modify data?

As it stands what is on our chips is unknown to us. We therefore have no way of knowing how it may affect us or even whether it is true. Also the government will own the database and all the information provided by the card. I think we should all be concerned, not just because the government seems to habitually lose laptops with our data on them, but because government cannot be trusted with so much power over us.

Are you trying to revitalise the liberal-left here? Or just trying to recruit the liberal-left into the illiberal left?

5. Shatterface

‘Perhaps privacy lies somewhere in the inefficiency of systems talking to each other?’

You mean those of us wanting any kind of privacy will have to live like rats in the walls of the global village.

I think that Meg Hillier has missed the point of proving your identity. The process is deliberately difficult — to open a bank account, for example, requires a passport or birth certificate, plus correspondence to confirm address. It is this complexity that makes identity useful. It is very unfortunate that those who wish to change identity for legitimate reasons find it difficult to prove their new ID, but national ID cards would make it even worse for them.

If you follow Hillier’s argument to its logical conclusion, the only proof of ID that people will require will be the national card. However, most organisations that will be accepting the card as proof will not be connected to the national database. They won’t (thankfully) have access to the biometric information that validates the card and will rely on a photo and a few words of text. There’ll be an industry in creating fake ID cards that pass casual scrutiny but which fail the biometric test (cf US driving licences). And it will make life less secure if NID is accepted as proof without secondary corroboration.

The massive IT infrastructure that is required to support NID raises its own problems. When an organisation that is able to access biometric data wishes to confirm ID, the database has to be available. 24/7/365. Google don’t achieve that level of uptime for their services, and they are able to distribute authentication data across servers in different continents in order to keep running.

7. Just Visiting

Charlieman.

some good points.

Possibly weakened by the 24/7/365 argument.

In this age of the internet, many organisations run online 24/7/365 quite happily – and HMRC already do 24/7/365 for their staff at customs etc – so they must already have IT staff contracts on that basis too

2£ Yurrzem!: “For example, who owns the data on the cards? Who has access to them and who can add, remove or modify data?”

Alternative schema have been proposed that would allow the identified individual to own the data on an ID card.

Under the national ID that is proposed, UK government will hold the key that decrypts data stored on a card. Organisations that are allowed access biometric data will be permitted access to the key to decrypt a card that is physically present (ie resides in their card reader at the time of request).

The alternative schema suggest that the individual should be the key. The data would be encrypted using biometric information. In theory, data on the card could only be accessed if the owner is present. This is not a complete solution; fingerprints can be faked, or you could just cut somebody’s hand off.

@7 Just Visiting: My understanding is that systems owned by HMRC, UK Border Agency etc do not run 24/7/365. Their data is used by staff that they employ, on devices that they own and data is cached locally. A list of discontinued passports can be usefully cached locally during system maintenance without seriously compromising the controls.

No no no no no no no.

This is NOT a new argument, the government has been trying to shill the POS idea through the idea that it will make our lives easier and so that is ok to offset a) the huge cost of implementation and b) the civil liberties issues.

I cannot believe in the slightest that this site of all sites is carrying articles that even remotely promotes the idea of ID cards. What else will this site carry while Sunny is away? “Maybe 90 days isn’t so bad after all”?

The address was titled “Building a national identity service for all” and presented much softer casefor identity cards, compared to the terror-focused arguments of a few years back. …

The new reasoning centres around access to public services.

This isn’t new reasoning at all. It has been present since the inception of the scheme. Basically they churn out different excuses reasons depending on what’s in the news, what people are concerned about, etc. So one week it’s terrorism, another week illegal immigration, another week public services…

Remember the (fraudulent) estimates of the cost of ID fraud they publish from time to time? A portion of that was benefit fraud. And a tiny bit of that was people impersonating other people (the majority of benefit fraud being misreporting circumstances). So the government said, we can solved that with ID cards.

ID cards, says Hillier, will provide a solution for these people, guaranteeing that they can quickly access the public services they need. The idea that a robust and trusted form of identification can be a tool for empowerment is something that the liberal left, instinctively against ID cards, needs to consider.

Why does the database have to be so ridiculously comprehensive?

Unfortunately, the Minister said [a reasonable attitude to privacy] view was “bonkers”. I fear this attitude has more to do with the inarticulacy of the person making the philosophical point, than with the underlying idea.

You were articulate. Look, they don’t believe in privacy or anonymity – well, they do if you are a special case (MPs, celebrities, vulnerable people and other special case will have special privileges, just as they already do in terms of HMRC, ContactPoint, NHS medical records etc). In effect we license an identity from the state and the identity and any data associated with it is the state’s. How does privacy or anonymity fit into that?

Those arguing for ID cards need to address this issue, or risk the anti-card campaigners making this inference: That ID cards are designed to be ubiquitous, and designed to become so essential that opting out becomes a practical impossibility. If this is the underlying motive, then the government should at least be honest with us.

The inference was made a long time ago and quite reasonably. The government has been honest about it, in its own way.

Once you’ve tied your finger prints to your name and identity, its on the system forever.

And once your fingerprints are compromised, that’s it – they cannot be revoked. This is really important.

A case made on empowering the poor is a much better approach than one based on fear and xenophobia… but the government needs to do more – a lot more – to convince skeptics that it is not trying to introduce something much more comprehensive and far-reaching in the long term.

They want to ensure that every transaction of importance (banking, health, benefits, travel…) is recorded by the state and accessible by its agents. It’s all in the government’s public documentation if you care to look. This is not about empowering the poor, or fighting terrorists, or fighting illegal immigration.

Hillier also made some points about how 80% of the costs of the database are actually allocated against updating the passport side of things

Well, that’s bullshit, but anyway… The estimated cost of setting up and running the scheme (they have no public estimate of how much it will cost to actually use it, i.e. how much the DWP will spend on scanners for benefits cheats) is about £5bn over ten years. 80% of that is £4bn, it follows that 20% is£1bn over ten years (or 3,333.33 police officers a year*). So Hillier is saying, we may as well spend another £1bn because we’re spending £4bn. I don’t think that’s very persuasive.

* Daily Mail unit.

You don’t have to give any information to Facebook. If you do give information to Facebook, you can lie. You don’t have to give your real name, date of birth, address. Anything. You can still use the system and you won’t be committing a criminal offense. Same applies to all these clubs people join. You control your own record and who has access to it (actually Facebook have screwed up a few times on this one, but it is obvious the market pressure is for individuals having control over their information). The Government, by contrast, has no such constraints and no hope of accountability.

Wot Nick said. And Facebook won’t fine you if you do lie.

“I cannot believe in the slightest that this site of all sites is carrying articles that even remotely promotes the idea of ID cards.”

In what way is the article promoting the idea of ID cards? I read it as an account of the new arguments which the government are using, and some possible criticisms of those arguments. The title could be read as vaguely positive, I guess, but judging a post by its title = not so good.

Surely for opponents of ID cards, this is a useful resource – knowing what the other side is up to, and a discussion of how to respond?

Me,

. So one week [the reason for ID cards is] terrorism, another week illegal immigration, another week public services…

another week picking up a parcel from the post office, another week facilitating purchases of alcohol.

Charlieman,

However, most organisations that will be accepting the card as proof will not be connected to the national database. They won’t (thankfully) have access to the biometric information that validates the card and will rely on a photo and a few words of text. There’ll be an industry in creating fake ID cards that pass casual scrutiny but which fail the biometric test (cf US driving licences). And it will make life less secure if NID is accepted as proof without secondary corroboration.

I think it has by now been well established that the government thinks most checks will be a visual check of the card, not against the fabled Identity Verification Service.

Which begs the question, what’s the effing point?

17. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

The new reasoning centres around access to public services

I think you’ll find that was the original reasoning, the initial public consultation was run by the ‘Entitlement Card Unit’ because that is what it was called under NL to begin with (the current notion of an ID card goes back to Major though that was an actually an ID card who’s main problem was Redwood complaining about the presence of the EU flag, as opposed to NL’s monstrosity).

It was called that, because, as #11 says, it has been sold on whatever the tabloid bugbear du jour was at the time, pre 9/11 it was benefit fraudsters so the card was supposed to stop that, then it was paedophiles, then it was terrorists.

Thanks, Don Paskini, for understanding an articulating precisely the nature of the article. I think that Hillier’s “empowerment” argument IS a challenge to the Liberal Left and I would like a better, more articulate response to it than what I was able to muster during the event. This is precisely the space to thrash that out. So, Joe Otten: an attempt to motivate the *liberal* left.

Maybe Lee G is right, and these are not ‘new’ arguments. But it is certainly a new approach by the Goverment, as Meg Hillier was keen to emphasise. Guilty as charges on the misleading headline!

Nick’s point about telling lies on Facebook is excellent and I wish I had thought to say it at the time.

19. Shatterface

If we don’t have ID cards how we gonna stop dangerous dogs or summink?

OK Robert.

If the ID scheme is now about empowering the poor to get access to things, you have already pointed out that there are barriers that could be altered in order to allow them access without the card. And if the poor are insufficiently ’empowered’ to cross these barriers at present, how then do have the power to get an ID card? And why does there need to be that ridiculous database?

The point being that it’s the same old bullshit. There is no problem for which the the ID scheme is a necessary and proportionate solution.

The database behind the cards, just like Labour’s other databases, is about administrative convenience, not the convenience of the individual – a bureaucrat’s wet dream.

As a non-Canadian citizen living in Canada I have two bits of identity issued by the state. One is a residency card, which shows that I have the right to live in Canada, and the other is my SIN card which shows my Social Insurance number. Neither has biometric information or a chip, but I can use them to prove identity and my right to work. I don’t see why this kind of identity proof can’t be made available to people in Britain, without rolling out an identity card database.

It’s all very well, this sudden concern for people who find it hard to prove their identity, but what Ms Hillier forgets is that you need to already have a passport in order to get an ID card. Silly woman.

She was prattling on about using them online to stop teh peados the other day as well. http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/5053050.Internet_ID_cards_may_be_answer__says_minister/

Why not just go the whole hog and have it as it is in the SF novel “Moxyland”, where your telephone can be remotely operated by a policeofficer to give you an electric shock, and the only kind of money that is legal is that which is carried by your telephone and they can also zap your phone so you don’t have any money on you. Posessing a free phone is illegal as well.
Oh, and if you have a riot they’ll spray the area with aerosol containing nasty virus’s which you have to go to a clinic to get dealt with, thus making you hand yourself in.

Robert@18, that’s fair enough. Will we, I wonder, see any challenges to the liberal-left on this site, from the liberal centre or liberal right?

Laura – it’s definitely not true that you need a passport to get an ID card. Hillier was quite clear that it would be a substitute for those who are happy to let their passport lapse, and an alternative for those who never had a passport in the first place.

I think the confusion lies in the fact that much of the technology is the same – the IPS “core” service is still passports. I have a notion that they might also be rolling out some kind of 2-4-1 type offer where ou get an ID card free with a passport or something, but I’m not sure…

As a non-Canadian citizen living in Canada I have two bits of identity issued by the state. One is a residency card, which shows that I have the right to live in Canada, and the other is my SIN card which shows my Social Insurance number. Neither has biometric information or a chip, but I can use them to prove identity and my right to work. I don’t see why this kind of identity proof can’t be made available to people in Britain, without rolling out an identity card database.

Well, of course it could (not that I would think it desirable). Indeed, the LSE suggested a card based system as an alternative – they were traduced by the government (standard operating procedure, of course).

But then there wouldn’t be a lovely database for officials to share across the state and link up with their other databases so as to record every minute detail of our lives for administrative convenience.

Robert, the reason that this isn’t a new approach or a new argument is that the government had a propoganda website set up for under 21s for a period of about 6 months where all they did was try and convince young people that their lives would be so much easier if they got a national ID card to open their bank account, get their driving license and all these other things with one quick and functional card.

Thankfully the site seemed to pretty much fail and got shut down, as most of it’s constituents were people that were friendly with No2ID.

But I did jump the gun, sorry about that, I read the article too much like it was considering the comments as reasonable.

As for arguments…the main one for me is that the only way it is going to be “easier for the poor” is if the government actively goes out of it’s way to make it harder for the poor than it is right now. Right now you can open a bank account with your utilities bill (or council tax bill). This costs you £0. If the government puts in barriers you have to pay something like £90 for a new passport and then £30 for an ID card. Why is this a way to help the poor? To me it much more looks like a way to force the poor to spend a little bit of cash they would rather spend on essentials like food to get them on to a database they probably would rather not be in.

Which ultimately then brings along the identity theft argument, which has two failings. The first as already described is that there is no way in the world that even the majority of businesses are going to do more than general visual checks of cards, which means identity theft through stolen or retrieved documents that haven’t been properly shredded is still going to be a problem…probably more so because for a time people will believe the ID card system to be infallible if they buy in to this crap.

Secondly most of our interaction these days with sensitive transactions of information happen online or through the phone. How are banks going to verify an ID card on the other end of the phone? How are ID cards going to be of any use to a piece of automated online banking software? The reality is that our traditional forms of identity security (personal information backed up by a password) is still going to be the most vital form of “identifying” ourselves in the future for every day occurrences. And given that the government ID card can’t keep online security systems from being the target of hacking attacks, or stop phishing sites from existing, it begs the question as to what the bloody point is on the preventing identity theft angle?

I think the main thing I’d challenge is for this minister to give a precise figure of how many people in the UK are completely without any means of providing a currently valid form of identity. It’s all well and good saying “many” but what’s the actual figure?

The next thing would be why doesn’t the government put in to place a single scheme that provides a form of identity? Given that a council tax document is enough, how about a meeting with a government office (like your council) that can look at the info you provide (similar info to a passport would seem sufficient) and provide you with a statement in a letter addressed and sent to your home? It’d be nice and simple, it’d be pretty damn cost effective and would fit in with all existing business practices.

“Laura – it’s definitely not true that you need a passport to get an ID card.”

Then why is it a requirement for you to have a passport if you wish to voluntarily sign up for an ID card now?

29. WhatNext!?

There’s a practical consideration here: the government has already proved itself entirely incapable of organising and/or managing an IT system of this size. In addition, they are entirely incapable of maintaining security.

This has “vast waste of money” written all over it, and no coherent argument has been made for why we need this. Something to do with not stopping peado dog owners plant bombs on areoplanes I think, though the argument wasn’t clear. Or was it to stop terrorists? Because you need two hands to carry a bomb, and you won’t be able to if you’re holding your ID card? Or you can fend peados off with the pointy end of your card?

As for those with no current ID ….. how have they managed all these years?

Excuse the fuck me, but if this shit ID system is to come about to make it easier for the poor, then who is going to pay the 60 quid for the poor to have an ID card?

Every little bit of it should be scrapped!

I think the main thing I’d challenge is for this minister to give a precise figure of how many people in the UK are completely without any means of providing a currently valid form of identity. It’s all well and good saying “many” but what’s the actual figure?

Good idea, Lee. I have put in a F.o.I. request:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/number_of_people_without_any_for

who is going to pay the 60 quid for the poor to have an ID card?

I imagine it wouldn’t be too difficult to set up some kind of system by which the poor can get a free/discounted card. The Government could force Local Authorities to pick up the tab; or introduce some kind of grant scheme. It wouldn’t be cheap (or popular, probably) but it would be an easy policy to devise if there was the political will. Or they could just charge everyone less, and subsidise the system.

However, this would go against the pledge that the system will pay for itself in the long-term.

33. Matt Munro

The system only “pays for itself” because we (the taxpayer) have to pay for the cards in the first place – in other words it’s just another tax. Whether you force local authorities or anyone else to subisdise them it still comes out of taxes and it still makes bif government even bigger.

I don’t have a strong position ideologically on id cards either way – I just think they come under the category of low priority and too expensive. The fact that the justification for them seems to change almost by the day doesn’t help the “for” argument

And I don’t agree that the poor lack forms of identification, anyone can get a driving license (not free but cheaper than ID cards), and we all have birth certificates, national insurance number cards, and get bills of some descsription. Many people don’t carry them around or lose them, but they’d lose ID cards as well.

In short, the solution to this ‘problem’ (though I await with interest your FoI request result…) is an ID scheme akin to that of France or Luxembourg. A card, with a photo.

This is, of course, *nothing like* the vastly expensive and mind-bogglingly illiberal system the government has come up with. So many things are wrong with it. To start with, the biometric recognition software just isn’t up to scratch for a population of 60m. Even with an error rate of 0.2-0.3%, the number of false positves and negatives will be huge.

If access to the biometric database for verification is not available for banks and private businesses to access (and it is not at all the case that this won’t happen – according to the Home Office: ‘The vision for the NIS [National Identity Service]
is that it will become an essential part of everyday life; underpinning interactions and transactions between individuals, public services and businesses and supporting people to protect their identity. The NIS will do this primarily
through further ‘identity services’: the processes and tools with which people can prove or check identity.’ http://bit.ly/JFn1w) then this expensive and intrusive system is clearly not required for dealing with ‘ID inequality’. If it will be available in banks and insurance brokerages, then the system will have so many entry points as to be in a constant state of attack. Big databases with high numbers of entry points are insecure.

Add to this the face that under the bill every time the card is checked is logged on the National Identity Register (who checked it, when, for what purpose) and the central state builds an audit trail of your entire life. This is plainly illiberal and to be content about it is to be sure that no government would ever abuse the data.

…to say nothing about the potential for mining the data by organised crime, the integrity of witness protection, the safety of those fleeing abusive partners…the whole system is crackers.

But while NO2ID, IT professionals without their snouts in the trough and those political actors who are engaged have fully understood the arguments, it is a difficult sell to the public (‘We’re not tinfoil-hatted crazies – we’d even accept an ID card – but this database is crackers.’)

Whenever asked about ID cards, the PM or any New Labour minister just tilts the head slightly, pulls that toothless smile and says ‘look, they have ID cards in France and Spain – there’s nothing to worry about.’

How does the liberal left (together with those other liberal voices across the political spectrum) sell the idea of ‘ID not necessarily bad, database definitely very bad’?

Many people, the poorest people, don’t have any form of identification at all: no passport, credit card, driving licence, or even household bills in their name. ID cards, says Hillier, will provide a solution for these people, guaranteeing that they can quickly access the public services they need.

If they don’t have any ID, how do you know who they are when you enrol them in the first place? If the enrolment criteria for the ID card itself is weaker than the ID criteria for any of the services you might want access with it, what is the freakin’ point?

@33

I don’t agree that the poor lack forms of identification, […] national insurance number cards […]

NI number cards cannot be used as ID. They even say so on the back! And to get a driving license don’t you have to pass a driving test which also costs money? So the basic point about poor people having little official ID still stands. Although granted birth certificates & bills normally suffice (from personal experience).

37. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

If they don’t have any ID, how do you know who they are when you enrol them in the first place?

You don’t need any ID to get a replacement birth certificate (I assume the registrar actually finds the original or a record thereof when they issue a replacement) with that (and an endorsement) you can get a driving license, with those two (and an endorsement) you can get a passport.

38. Matt Munro

@ 36 No – you need a (provisional) driving licence to have lesssons but you can apply for one at any time once you are 17. I’m not sure what they cost but it’s less than a passport and the EU ones (which almost everyone has now) have a photo etc and are widely accepted as “hard” ID.

The bigger point is that in order to be issued an ID card you must need ID in the first place, (Kafka wrote, or could have written, a novel based on this bureacratic catch 22) which will cost money and/or time and hassle. The argument that ID cards will somehow help the poor is nonsense IMHO.

@38

@ 36 No – you need a (provisional) driving licence to have lesssons but you can apply for one at any time once you are 17.

Ah, fair enough – my mistake!

The argument that ID cards will somehow help the poor is nonsense IMHO.

Agreed – same as the arguments that they’ll stop paedoterrordogs™. And as I’ve mentioned before, all arguments in favour of (and against) ID cards should be dropped until after the election. It’s unlikely our gov for the next five years will want them.

40. Matt Munro

@ 37 – Indeed, the method infamously used by the Jackal to set up a number of fake identities on his journey across 1960s Europe, which unbeleivably still works, in theory. You missed the first step out but it’s fairly obvious (read the book if curious)

41. WhatNext?!

@32 So, if the population generally is going to pay for the ID cards of those that can’t afford them, how many replacements will they be allowed to have before a charge is made?

And how is the ID scheme going to pay for itself? If it can, then it might be worth looking at again, but I can’t see how it can possibly pay for itself.

And how is the ID scheme going to pay for itself? If it can, then it might be worth looking at again, but I can’t see how it can possibly pay for itself.

It can’t pay for itself, we pay for it, through our taxes and by buying passports and/or ID cards. There might be ‘efficiency savings’ to be made, as David Varney hoped in his review of transformational government*. But who knows? The only public alleged cost-benefit analysis talks about some imaginary scheme (see below about visual checks, for example), not about what is actually happening.

back of envelope… Originally, at some £5bn to setup and run the scheme (note: not actually be able to use it) over ten years, with (today’s) 80% of the population (~60m) on passports at ~£70 and the remaining 20% forced coerced volunteering to get ID cards at ~£35.

48m with passports at £70 = £3,360m
12m with ID cards at £35 = £420m
total £3,780m or £3.78bn
£1.22bn to recoup over ten years.

(They’ve changed these numbers since, e.g. passport price has increased, and the estimate of the setup and running cost has decreased from £5.8bn, hahahaha, but they remain of that order)

The stated intention was to recoup the remainder from the Identity Verification Service. But, given that the acceptance that the majority of checks will be merely a visual check of the ID card (because there’s no effing way that a. there will be the infrastructure for proper IVS without spending £shitloads, and b. who’s going to pay for it exactly?), you have to wonder how much money that will actually end up being.

Also, some people might want to ‘downgrade’ from their passport to an ID card when it comes up for renewal because the ID card is supposed to allow travel around Europe – if they are only interested in popping to Benidorm there’s no point in forking out more than double the money for a passport. I’ve seen no sign of this consideration in the costings.

There will be some money from replacing lost documents.

(* Varney’s review had a few interesting factoids including the number of benefit entitlement forms, 63 if I recall correctly. Surely streamlining that would ’empower’ the poor somewhat?)

NI number cards cannot be used as ID. They even say so on the back!

And yet… the state has allowed them to be used as ID.

44. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

@40

Still works in practice, the passport interview should theoretically nullify the whole thing but it really doesn’t.

45. Charlieman

@40 Matt Munro: Births and deaths are now cross referenced, so in theory, each passport or birth certificate application is checked to determine whether the applicant is deceased. This procedure has been in place for ten years, possibly longer. To make a fraudulent application now, you have to identify somebody who died overseas and who was not recorded by a coroner.

@32 Robert Sharp: Why on earth should local authorities become enmeshed in this fiasco? Local authorities have administered benefits in the past that relate to their functions as housing authority or council tax collector. However they have no role in NID, and presumably central government will have to pick up the tab for the most destitute or for prisoners. It is possible that supporters of NID have thought these things through, but they certainly haven’t communicated their thoughts well.

@34 jesusjohn: A powerful yet simple argument against NID is the number of false negative assessments (ie people who have a valid ID card but who fail the biometric test when their card is used). Assume a population of 50 million adults who use the card 10 times a year. If the biometric system is 99.999% accurate, there would be 5,000 false negatives each year — people being denied access to services whilst their identity was further checked. That’s bad but not too bad. However, when the NID database is used by commercial organisations, card usage will increase as will the false negatives.

99.999% accuracy is a tough target to achieve. If the biometric is fingerprints, there will be some manual occupations (eg brick laying, car body repair) where that score will never be achieved.

Charlieman makes a powerful and accurate point about fingerprints, false negatives and consequent denial of public services. But I do wonder why and when he thinks biometrics will come into play. I repeat: the majority of checks will be visual scrutiny (somewhere between a glance and a thorough look) of the card. So the 99.999% service level will make no significant difference.

Hence, what’s the effing point in the scheme?

47. Shatterface

I’ve never had a NINO card. I don’t have utility bills because it’s all done online (something to do with saving the environment). When I first started work I didn’t even have a bank account (I was paid into a family members’s account). I don’t even have a Blockbusters card.

ID hasn’t really been an issue though: I still get by.

48. Shatterface

There’s a tendency to over-inflate worries about what a less ‘benign’ state might do with ID cards by drawing parallels with totalitarian states but really you only have to think back to the 80s to see that, had Thatcher been armed with such a database, we’d still be paying the Poll Tax.

The kind of civil disobediance we showed by not registering would be impossible under New Labour’s next term.

49. Charlieman

@46 ukliberty: Wikipedia cites a UK government strategy document on shared access to the NID database: “Home Office forecasts envisage that “265 government departments and as many as 48,000 accredited private sector organisations” would have access to the database, and that 163 million identity verifications or more may take place each year.”

The Home Office prediction of 163 million ID checks per year is much less than my own. I presume that the up to “48,000 accredited private sector organisations” who stump up for a terminal and access to the NID database will use the facility. I assume that use of the NID database will become a cover your arse exercise whenever a terminal is available.

Don’t forget that fake ID cards that pass casual inspection will become common currency. People will be trained, initially, to assume that possession of a credible ID card is proof of identity. When that fails, those who have access to a terminal will be trained to use it.

Those who do not have access to a terminal will revert to the conventional ID checks: does the person act right and does s/he have secondary ID. Thus the card will fail as conclusive ID (without access to a terminal) and we’ll be back where we are now, only poorer.

50. Charlieman

@47 Shatterface: “I don’t have utility bills because it’s all done online (something to do with saving the environment).”

A work colleague did the same thing and attempted to open a new ISA at a bank who didn’t know him. He had a passport, no utility bills, no driving licence. So no new ISA.

The cost of some paper records is worth paying.

Charlieman, as far as I know there are currently no public plans involving scanners and links to the NIR. Wikipedia quotes the market sounding document but the link is dead. There is criticism of the 165m checks a year figure on SpyBlog.

The Home Office prediction of 163 million ID checks per year is much less than my own.

It works out to about 4 checks a year, which is hilarious based on all their guff about the number of times everyone has to prove their identity.

As for scanners and the rest of the infrastructure, another article on SpyBlog is worth a read.

Don’t forget that fake ID cards that pass casual inspection will become common currency. People will be trained, initially, to assume that possession of a credible ID card is proof of identity. … Those who do not have access to a terminal will revert to the conventional ID checks: does the person act right and does s/he have secondary ID. Thus the card will fail as conclusive ID (without access to a terminal) and we’ll be back where we are now, only poorer.

Um, that’s my point about what a waste of time and money it is.

about 4 checks a year,

per person.

53. James Elsdon-Baker

It has always been the government’s strategy to make life without ID cards more difficult in order to make obtaining an ID card appear a convenience. Meg claims ID cards will help those without an existing form of ID yet you currently need a passport valid from 1st January 2009 to apply for one.

This scheme has been rebranded several times, painting ID cards as empowering when obtaining one requires placing the Home Office in charge of an ‘official’ and defining record of who you are as a person is not empowering.

She has recently also said ID cards might help protect children online, might be linked with phone SIM cards or link in with Iphone applications. Yet all these things such as online verification, mobile technology are currently missing from the Government’s scheme. As a ‘state-of-the-art’ system it’s already looking pretty out of date for the needs of a modern online business world. What have IPS been doing all these years to have only now created a very simple card based system that just works like a passport but with a system of fines and data collection.

Instead of having a modern way of proving your identity that could place individuals in charge of their own information via encryption techniques and third-party verification we have an outdated model of controlling people based on a 19th Centaury understanding of government that supposes you need one central database/ file system and authority to govern all interactions.

I’m not in favour of a national database because I don’t see what current problem it solves, but I’d be a lot more worried about it if anyone gave a convincing example of what it is that Teh Guvammint (duhduhduh-dum) is supposed to be wanting to do with all this info. The argument about the poll tax is an intrguing one, but I’m not sure that ID cards would be such a barrier to civil disobedience. Other than that, all the evil is kind of incohate and theoretical – everybody talks about “the civil liberties issue”, but which civil liberties would be compromised by this database, and how?

As for non-database tied ID cards, they are an essential part of any functioning welfare state, and it’s frankly medieval of the UK not to have them. It’s all well and good for a bunch of educated, reasonably well off dudes like yourselves to say how easy it is to get by without them. But as someone who came here as an adult with nothing to prove I exist except for a passport that opens from the wrong side and is full of funny writing, let me tell you that it’s less than a pukka picnic. Banks and government agencies may be operating under regulations, but my local video shop (oh, sweet anachronisms!) or temp agency or estate agent are not bound to accept any form of ID as a binding and legal one. If they want to use one’s lack of a UK driving license or passport (as signifiers of middle class respectability, more than as proofs of identity) against one, and discriminate covertly on that basis, then they can. And they do.

I’d be a lot more worried about it if anyone gave a convincing example of what it is that Teh Guvammint (duhduhduh-dum) is supposed to be wanting to do with all this info. … which civil liberties would be compromised by this database, and how?

In terms of the European Convention on Human Rights? Article 8, right to respect for private and family life, is clearly engaged (to understate things somewhat), because of the blanket and indefinite retention of personal, sensitive data.

See Why Not, particularly Papers Please (inevitable, and led to the downfall the UK’s previous ID scheme), Third-Party Abuse (happens all the time), and Lost Identity.

As for non-database tied ID cards, they are an essential part of any functioning welfare state, and it’s frankly medieval of the UK not to have them.

Why are ID cards essential for the functioning of a welfare state?

It’s all well and good for a bunch of educated, reasonably well off dudes like yourselves to say how easy it is to get by without them. But as someone who came here as an adult with nothing to prove I exist except for a passport that opens from the wrong side and is full of funny writing, let me tell you that it’s less than a pukka picnic. Banks and government agencies may be operating under regulations, but my local video shop (oh, sweet anachronisms!) or temp agency or estate agent are not bound to accept any form of ID as a binding and legal one. If they want to use one’s lack of a UK driving license or passport (as signifiers of middle class respectability, more than as proofs of identity) against one, and discriminate covertly on that basis, then they can. And they do.

Of course such things are a problem. But it’s not a problem that only this particular ID (and the rest) scheme can solve.

which civil liberties would be compromised by this database, and how?

Oh, and the general freedom we should have to live from interference and being constantly watched, every detail being recorded on databases for the sake of administrative convenience.

This freedom isn’t written down anywhere, but I think people will be inclined to agree that we ought to have it.

58. James Elsdon-Baker

@54 MarinaS

You describe a problem whereby retailers, banks and estate/letting agents are all required to ask people for more ID. Such problems are brought about by government creating legislation that requires them to do so, or from a culture whereby Identity checks are ingrained as a social norm.

Remember you currently need a British passport to apply for an ID card for British Citizens. You can get a different type of ID card as a non-EAA foreign national. So they will not help people without any ID.

What would help those people without ID is if government stopped creating legislation that attempts to control and monitor people’s interactions and transactions with each other. If for instance there was no requirement for employers to check someone has ID under the Asylum, Immigration and Nationality Act 2006 then it wouldn’t be a problem if you were an immigrant without much ID.

Data collected for one purpose can have a variety of uses for other purposes. The appropriation of data by an authority that appoints entitlement to citizens is in itself an abuse of their liberty and their ability to freely associate and determine their own ways to determine identity.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New Arguments for ID Cards http://bit.ly/a1aOTz

  2. Patrick Hadfield

    RT @libcon: New Arguments for ID Cards http://bit.ly/a1aOTz >and several against!

  3. Tim Duckett

    Hard to believe that the dead horse of ID cards is *still* getting flogged, but it is: http://goo.gl/lzt8

  4. robertsharp59

    Me again, with a report of that @SMF_Events from earlier-> RT @libcon New Arguments for ID Cards http://bit.ly/a1aOTz

  5. Andrew Mueller

    Heart of stone not to laugh out loud required: my MP's increasingly deranged arguments for ID cards. http://bit.ly/a1aOTz (RT @libcon)

  6. topsy_top20k

    New Arguments for ID Cards http://bit.ly/a1aOTz

  7. PhoneCards

    Liberal Conspiracy » New Arguments for ID Cards: Secondly most of our interaction these days with sensitive transa… http://bit.ly/be1tjr

  8. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by robertsharp59: Me again, with a report of that @SMF_Events from earlier-> RT @libcon New Arguments for ID Cards http://bit.ly/a1aOTz

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