Those things again again

Well since Nosemonkey thought that linking to The Yorkshire Ranter was a suitable rebuttal to my post from earlier on this morning, I’m going to have to go through Alex’s post aswell.

Alex says:

ID cards will cost us all £85 in the first instance, and again every time we move house.

This, as I outlined in this morning’s post, is plain wrong. Very misleading.

ID cards will force us to report to the government when we move.

I’ve never heard of this, but even if it were true this is hardly a revelation. I know for a fact that in Germany people have to report to the police whenever they move house, and I’ve never heard of anybody complaining about it there. Besides, what about the electoral roll, the telephone directory, the census even?! I mean, the last census grouped me into a grey “cluster”. How fascistic can you get?!

The ID card monster database will record every time our cards are checked – as Charles Clarke wants us to have them checked every time we do things as trivial as renting videos, that means that we will be followed everywhere. Mr. Clarke thinks it will cost some £5.5 billion – but that’s without counting the card readers he wants to be in every video store. If you’re a business person, think – you are expected to buy the gear, and there is nothing to stop the government charging you to use the system.

This is plain old scaremongering nonsense. Take a look at what Charles Clarke actually said (emphasis mine).

…there will be enormous practical benefits. ID cards will potentially make a difference to any area of everyday life in which one already has to prove one’s identity. Examples are opening a bank account, going abroad on holiday, claiming a benefit, buying goods on credit and renting a video.

When Clarke mentions using an ID card when renting a video, he clearly does not mean you have to scan your card through some machine whenever you want to watch a film. People will not be tracked whenever they rent a video. Businesses will not have to stump up for card readers. Clarke is obviously talking about when you first register with Blockbuster, or whatever video rental store your local one happens to be. He doesn’t “want” us to have them checked every time we rent a video; he is merely pointing out that being able to prove one’s identity would be useful now and again in everyday situations. To claim otherwise is completely preposterous.

This actually links in with a point Alex makes later on in his post.

Further on, the biometrics that are meant to make this system unbreakable are unproven. In Germany, a computer science student was able to fool iris scanners using nothing else but a photo of his eyes.

You see, as things stand, if I want to rent a video, make a trip to the library, matriculate at university or anything like that, I am asked to prove my identity. I don’t drive and my passport is out of date; I’m not even sure if it’s still lying around anywhere. All I have at the moment is a flimsy piece of paper called a birth certificate. Do you think it’s more difficult to fool the system with a flimsy piece of paper, or with biometrics. I mean, I’m no expert or anything, but something tells me that an iris scan is a step up from a birth certificate.

Alex makes a few good points in his post (although he calls it a “monster database” even though it’s not even been decided for sure what’s going to be on the ID cards or in the database). It’s just a shame that everything around it is silly scaremongering nonsense.


  1. The content of the Bill makes us responsible on pain of huge fines to inform the Govt. whenever anything recorded in the National ID Register changes. Yes, you will have to tell them. It’s in the text of the ID Cards Bill. I’ve read it – have you?

    The Bill also explicitly states that the Govt is NOT obliged to keep the Register correct – even if it is found to be inaccurate, they don’t have to correct it. And if businesses will not need card readers (contrary to statements by ministers), what is the point of a biometric card? How do you think they can check the biometric against you without a biometric reader? The government has never said that they will pay to distribute readers (they haven’t even given a figure for the cost) – so who will if not users? The Cats’ Protection League? I do not see what makes it “clear” that they don’t want cards checked when you rent a video. Why use the example if you don’t mean it?

    And how have we managed to survive as a society since 1952 with the vast numbers of people illicitly borrowing books without proving their identity properly? When did you last hear of a serious problem with people matriculating under assumed names? Is it really worth at least £5.5 billion to stop 14 year olds not bringing videos back on time?

    It has indeed been decided for sure what will be in the database. It’s in the bill. More importantly, though, is the fact that once a unique ID number for all citizens is introduced, they can then add it to all their other databases and link them up. As the new Children Act and other education bills provide for databases of all persons taking part in education and the pupils’ parents (with details like parents’ qualifications and income), and they will (according to one of the officials involved) be “bolted on” to the national ID scheme, we all ought to worry.

  2. If you’re so au fait with the ID cards bill, how come you never provide any links to back up your claims?

    “The Bill also explicitly states that the Govt is NOT obliged to keep the Register correct…”
    Show me where. I doubt this; it would be in direct conflict with the Data Protection Act, and I can’t see a reason why incorrect information wouldn’t be changed.

    “…if businesses will not need card readers (contrary to statements by ministers), what is the point of a biometric card?”
    That was not the point of what I said. If you pull out a bona fide ID card, you wouldn’t need a biometric reader to check it was real. It would be adequate proof of identity, more secure than a birth certificate, regardless of whether or not a video rental store has a biometric reader or not.

    “…once a unique ID number for all citizens is introduced…”
    You mean the one that plops through everybody’s letterbox on their 16th birthday anyway?

    “…we all ought to worry.”
    I simply don’t see what’s so scary about having a database of parents’ qualifications. As human rights abuses go, having somebody know your English A-level result isn’t exactly high up there.

  3. Never?

    I issued this on the day the Bill was published
    Section 5 contains the exclusion that means the Home Office has no obligation to keep the database up to date and true.

    Further, how would you know the biometric ID card belonged to the person producing it without checking the biometric? That is what is meant by proving identity in this case: proving that you are the person identified on the card. If you don’t use the biometric, it’s no better that current arrangements at its official job – and possibly worse, because you’d only need to forge or steal one item for full identity theft.

    Depending on the engineering detail of how it works (which really is yet to be decided), it may need to be checked against the database in order to check the biometric (if the digitised biometric data is held on the database rather than the card, which would be harder to forge). This would mean that any check would indeed be recorded on the database.

    Alternatively, if the actual biometric (rather than just a reference to the database) was held on a local chip, local checks between person and card would be possible – but for sound verification you’d still need to check with the database to prove that the card itself was bona fide, as otherwise it could be a fake with substituted biometrics (someone will find out how).

    Basically, the scheme is meant to contain 2 identifiers. One (the biometric) links the cardholder to the card. The other (the citizen reference number) links the card to an identity.
    Logically, you therefore can’t meaningfully check identity without a) a biometric reader and b) an online connection to the database. No, you wouldn’t need a biometric reader to check if the card was real – you’d need a check against the database. You’d need a biometric reader to chck if it belonged to the person presenting it.

    National Insurance numbers are nothing like this because the government is restricted by law in the purposes they can be used for. Oh, and by the way, the data types to be held on the database have indeed been decided on – they are listed in the Bill.

  4. “No, you wouldn’t need a biometric reader to check if the card was real – you’d need a check against the database.”
    Couldn’t you just look at the photograph on the ID card?

  5. God almighty! If you “just looked at the photo” all you would know was that this was a card with a photo on it. If you wanted to “check” it you’d need to verify that it was a real one – just as when you use a bank card they verify it against their database.

    It just isn’t credible that they would build a giant database with online verification of biometrically identified cards – and then not use use it so as to be nice.

  6. Well, that was my whole point. Biometrics would probably only be used if you went to the police station or wanted to leave the country. I’m not convinced that you’d need to check against a database. I don’t see anybody checking people’s passports or birth certificates against a database today; there’s no reason why that would change tomorrow. The database would be nothing to do with a video rental store.

  7. Errr…..yes, passports can be checked against a database (of passports). That’s what the machine readable characters at the bottom of the photo page in your passport are for.

    If ID cards are just “sighted” i.e. waved before the glazed eyes of an indifferent clerk, then there’s absolutely no point in having them. Five billion quid’s worth?

    Alternatively, if/when card readers are deployed, the check procedure will probably include an online verification automatically (because only the database of cards shows that it’s a real card) – this bit is not new, strange, or difficult to do. It is the same technology as debit and credit cards.

  8. “Errr…..yes, passports can be checked against a database (of passports).”

    Well yes, but my point is that they don’t do this at the video rental store, as far as I’m aware. I’ve certainly never been aware of my birth certificate having to be checked.

    Anyway, now you’re saying that there is a database anyway, which is correct! Which brings us back to the what’s-the-whole-fuss-about? argument. What makes the ID card database so much scarier than the present one?