17 September 2006

My ID Cards Presentation

Before I go off on holiday tomorrow, I thought I'd post the presentation I gave on ID cards to Big Regional Firm on Wednesday, as part of their training contract selection process. I've added some links for guidance and I know it's hardly Shakespeare, but it got the job done:

Identity cards are a hindrance to liberty not a social necessity

The Identity Cards Act 2006 received Royal Assent on 30th March, establishing a National Identity Register which will form the basis of a nationwide identity card scheme. The Home Office expects to be issuing ID cards to those applying for passports from 2008 or ‘09. If they successfully obtain Parliamentary approval, it will eventually be compulsory for everyone to have this card.

Continued below the cut

Arguments for

The Home Office argues that these cards are necessary for the following reasons:
* To protect a citizen’s identity
* To control immigration, particularly illegal immigration
* To tackle identity theft
* To prevent terrorism
* And to prove entitlement to services and benefits

Arguments against

Those against the proposals argue:
* That these cards represent a serious and unnecessary infringement on civil liberties
* That a massive centralised database of citizen’s identity is easily subverted and susceptible to * criminal activity
* They will not prevent terrorism
* Benefit fraud and illegal immigration will continue
* The cards themselves are too expensive and the technology behind them is unproven

I realise that by arguing against these proposals I run the risk of sounding hysterical, purely due to the reasonable way in which the argument in favour has been presented. No-one can disagree with the aims of tackling terrorism, identity fraud and illegal immigration. But I’m not disagreeing with the aim, I’m disagreeing with the method. The end is admirable, it is the means which are erroneous.

The Liberty Aspect

Your fingerprints will be taken, your iris and face will be scanned and your personal details will be entered on the database. You will have an ID card, which you will need to carry just to go about your daily business. And if you refuse to be scanned and entered onto the database you will be fined £2500, and if you refuse to pay the fine you will be sent to prison.

The Home Office has not denied that these cards represent a serious infringement on civil liberties and with 51 “registrable facts” who could?

Not only will you have to give all this registrable information to the authorities when you initially apply for the card, but you will also have to keep them informed of changes in your personal details, and you’ll have to pay £1,000 if you don’t. Now I don’t know about you, but there are some days when I forget to feed the dog, keeping the authorities informed when I move address presents a major hurdle to me.

Identity and Benefit Fraud

Rather than the national ID database being a preventor of ID theft, it will be a facilitator. In one database there will be all the information a fraudster could want. He will go from digging through a rubbish bin to digging through a computer. And not only will government departments have access to the system, so will some of the private companies working for it.

Figures for benefit claims under false identity are estimated at £50 million (0.5%) of an (estimated) £2 billion per year. Over 90% of benefit fraud is by people using their real names convincing a doctor they are too ill to work or working cash in hand while claiming unemployment benefit. With figures like those, even the Government has admitted that identity is “only a tiny part of the problem in the benefit system.”


Research suggests there is no link between the use of identity cards and the prevalence of terrorism, and in no instance has the presence of an identity card system been shown a significant deterrent to terrorist activity. And if that doesn’t convince you, consider this… The men that were believed to be responsible for the Madrid bombings were carrying ID cards. And the men that carried out the attacks on the Tube last year? 3 out of 4 of them were UK born.

ID cards have been presented as another weapon in the war against terror. Leaving aside the fact that you can’t have wars against nouns, this scheme undermines our civil liberties, restricting them more and more in the name of security, undermining the very fabric of our society: the right to freedom of expression and assembly and privacy. So when the last liberty has gone, we will finally be secure. But we’ll look around and find that the very country and way of life we were trying to defend, has gone. We would have secured a Pyrrhic victory.

Illegal Immigration

As the name suggests, illegal immigrants are just that: illegal and therefore outside the law. Creating new legal structures, such as a national identity scheme will not prevent them from residing and working in the UK.

If a card can be produced, make no mistake, it can be forged. In their day, it was claimed that bank and credit cards were fraud-proof.

Employers already face substantial penalties for failing to obtain proof of entitlement to work, yet there were only 8 prosecutions in 2004. If the Government were serious about tackling this problem they would inject a substantial amount of money rather than just serving up another useless sticking plaster.

Costly Technology

But there are not just ideological reasons to oppose this scheme, there are also financial and technological reasons.

The Home Office originally estimated the cost of a 10 year combined ID card and passport to the individual to be £73. Today that has increased by over a quarter to £93. Remember, you will have to pay for a card that you might not necessarily want. And that’s not taking into account the amount spent from general taxation, estimates of which vary widely – from between £5.5 billion to £18 billion over 10 years.

This scheme also combines untested technologies on an unparalleled scale. The government record with large-scale computer projects is pretty poor. Only three weeks ago a leaked report revealed that the new NHS database will not be delivered on time and to specification.

Not all biometrics will work for all people. According to Liberty, trials of the technology found that one in 25 people couldn’t be identified. Facial scans correctly identified only two thirds of able-bodied people, and less than half of disabled people. One in five failed the fingerprint test; and iris scans were unreliable for black people and the elderly.


Unfortunately, time constraints mean I can cover only a handful of the reasons this scheme should not have been presented to, let alone passed by, Parliament. Both the No2ID campaign and Liberty offer valuable briefing papers on this issue.

I will leave you with this thought: Even if this government states that they will not use the National Identity Register to snoop on us and restrict our civil liberties, what’s to stop a future government from doing so?

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