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Policing by plastic

Guardian argues that the key question about ID cards is not whether we have to carry them but what will be on the national database:

Now it is about how much information the government has on each of us, what the authorities want to do with it, and what rights are lost by those who don’t have what is, after all, officially being called an “entitlement” card. The real dangers now are over “function creep” and what will happen to a new cardless underclass who could be called the sans plastiques – a new British cousin for the French sans papiers.

Already function creep is beginning to surface, even though the cabinet is only now getting down to discussing the fine detail of the legislation to be introduced this autumn. In fact, as Blunkett’s white paper last July made clear, the proposal is really about setting up the first national central database of all people over 16, including foreign nationals, who are legally resident in Britain. It is this register, and not the bit of plastic in our wallet, that causes the real anxiety.

The white paper makes clear that one of the aims of the scheme is to “establish for official purposes a person’s identity so that there is one definitive record which all government departments can use if they wish”.

Some commenters have already complained about the bovine and passive nature of the British public, so this should just confirm their views:

The real problem is that we are only too willing to sell our privacy cheap. We will happily give a supermarket our entire personal lifestyle profile simply to get a plastic loyalty card. We are going to help the government create an immensely powerful personal database on each of us, not because of some damnable Whitehall conspiracy but because we couldn’t wait to get our hands on a new piece of plastic.

Also, an earlier Observer article calls for outright abandonment of the whole idea of identity cards:

The arguments against are clear and unchanging. Identity cards create new crimes and criminals while being blunt and ineffectual weapons against fraud and identity theft. They are expensive (Mr Blunkett bypasses Treasury objections only by suggesting we pay £25 for the privilege of holding records of our own fingerprints). Above all, a regime of ID cards, whether kept in a drawer or carried on our person, will create new tensions between police and ethnic minority communities, undoing much positive progress. The divisive ‘sus’ laws will be back with a vengeance.

The Home Secretary hopes to bring forward legislation after a general election. We hope the Cabinet will change his mind.

4 comments to Policing by plastic

  • Johan

    It has gone too far already. The question shouldn’t be what or how much information is stored etc. but if there should be any ID Cards at all. And the answer to that is a straightforward no. What will come after the discussion of type of information? They are always moving one step at a time, to make it “easier” for the public to digest and accept.

    Anyone wants to know how to boil a frog?

  • Phil Bradley

    Now suppose that every year a horde of 1,000 terrorists passes through Heathrow airport. What are the chances of the biometric system detecting any of them?

    The obvious answer is 99.9 per cent. But, in fact, Bayes’s Theorem shows that the correct answer is about two per cent. That is, when the alarms go off and the armed response team turns up at passport control, it is 98 per cent likely to be a false alarm.

    The chances of the biometric system detecting them are two percent, if and only if the armed response team turns up precisely once. A clearly ludicrous suggestion!

    I almost expect this kind of scientific and numeric illiteracy from the mainstream media, but somehow expect better from blogs. Oh well!

    The point about biometrics is they change the balance of probabilities, and in a world of finite time and resources, that will often make the difference between sucess and failure.

  • Phil Bradley:

    The chances of the biometric system detecting them are two percent, if and only if the armed response team turns up precisely once. A clearly ludicrous suggestion!

    I almost expect this kind of scientific and numeric illiteracy from the mainstream media, but somehow expect better from blogs. Oh well!

    I think you are referring to this article in here, just somehow got the comment on this post.

    I may know of many things and I thought I understood the application of the Bayesian theorem and conditional probability undermines the alleged near infallibity of biometrics and other high-tech approaches to security. However, I do not understand your point. What exactly did the guy who write the Telegraph’s QED column got wrong?

    However, it is clear that you know much of these matters, not only from the conceptual but also scientific direction it seems. Would you care to explain them from time to time in greater depth? This is precisely the point of WR and your complaint about numeric and scientific illiteracy generally applies. Any chance of occasional contributions from you to try to reverse the tide? :-) You don’t have to agree with what we have been saying here, your perspective is equally important, and if it is right, even more so.