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House of Lords chuck out ID cards proposals

The House of Lords, Britain’s upper chamber in Parliament, has thrown out government proposals on identity cards in the UK.

If anyone needed any doubt on the likely disaster that ID cards would prove to be, read this by Henry Porter. Even those inclined to roll their eyes at our libertarian worries might get the jitters about the details of Porter’s article, even if only a part of what he says is true.

The fight is not over yet.

51 comments to House of Lords chuck out ID cards proposals

  • Euan Gray

    I still don’t think it will work, for the simple reason that it is far too complex. And people should bear in mind that the biometric passport which is the excuse for most of this is in fact a requirement of the Land of the Free ™, nobody else.

    Having said that, Porter makes some good points, perhaps the most important being the need for people to engage in the political process and not, like some around here, refuse to do so because you can’t get everything you want all at once.

    EG

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Euan, the detail in the Porter article that freaks me out is that you have to give nearly 50 items of personal info to the State. Jesus. H. Christ.

  • Euan Gray

    Almost all of which they already know.

    EG

  • What boils my essential fluids is that Charles Clarke has told himself that forcing it to be issued alongside a passport renewal is not making it “compulsory” and now sees fit to spread his personal delusion to the entire population.

    What planet is that buffoon from? That is so close to a downright lie as to be unable get a cigarette paper between it an a right howler – I detect a Casimir effect, even.

    To not make it “compulsory”, one would have to either:

    1- renounce foreign travel for the rest of one’s life
    2- die before needing another passport

    Hardly options in a free world, but considering the track record of NewLabour (macht frei) they would describe that list of options as a “choice”!

  • Nick M

    Fucking A. I knew that the legislation would not pass. This is England afterall. Verity and others might’ve given up on their native country. Enough of us haven’t. Enough of us know that a free England is freedom. There are enough of us still here who would kill and die for English common law. Over hundreds of years there have always been enough. We have stained these islands with blood in exchange for freedom

    This is the country that gave the world science and the industrial revolution. We gave the world John Locke and Adam Smith. We are Britain. We will never surrender. We are too good for that.

  • Rob K

    A question: Porter mentions that if you apply for a new passport, your details will be entered into the database. Does he mean now, or if and when the ID cards come into force?

  • Tory Anarchist

    Lucky for you Brits. Over here, in this backward country of the iberian peninsula, a single card has been adopted. It will be an ID card, SS card, and a few other state-related cards all rolled into one. I’ve heard no opposal to it. It’s not mandatory…yet (if you happen to get your ID card renewed, you’ll get this instead, though).

  • Verity

    One of my comments on another thread got tangled up in the spam filter, but, irritated as I am with Guy Herbert, I did congratulate him on the success of the Lords defeat. I’m sure many (or anyway, enough) of the folks sitting on the red benches had read Guy Herbert’s arguments and the arguments on his site. So well done, Guy.

  • nic

    Honestly, I am not bothered by the minor irritation of a new card. Particularly if it replaced a driver’s licence/student card/library card. If the data was just on there, in your hand or wallet when you deigned to use it, it wouldn’t be much of a problem.

    No, this almost shouldn’t be a No2ID at all. It is purely and simply a no to the database! Who knows what is going to happen when that thing gets into the hands of the wrong corporation, or the wrong government! It is turning into an Oyster Card to cover all transactions and movements.

    Of course, it will be pathetically badly organised (isn’t Capita lined up to manage the system or someting?) and that might make me feel a little safer about it. Incompetence might be better than efficiency in this case. On the other hand, incompetence might be even worse when they start getting files mixed up.

  • permanent expat

    Nick M: I think I enjoyed that almost as much as Olivier in “Henry V” Neither Verity nor I have given up on our native country. We are simply not living there because, strange as it may seem, there are pleasanter places in which to be frustrated. The soi-disant Agincourters who remain to vote in the Septic Isle have been commiting mass seppuku these many years with no regard for the spilled blood of our fathers. Name-dropping of great men will not raise them from the graves in which they must certainly be spinning. Such is the current love of “Freedom” that the milling thousands who turned out a week ago in Trafalgar Square….(Oh, yes…..that Nelson fellow or something) really made me proud….just who has given up I wonder………….any bloody mosque could have done better than that. The sorry fact is that most people are so Manchurian-candidated that they no longer care.
    Weep, weep, weep…………….tick,tick,tick……

  • Verity

    With you on the tick, tick, tick, permanent expat.

  • ResidentAlien

    Permanent Expat, Verity,

    Do you vote in UK elections? Unless you have been outside the UK for more than about 20 years you still can although it gets more complicated if you did not register to vote as soon as you set up outside Britain.

  • pete

    Even The Guardian seems to be realising what a country Blair and his colleagues are creating. What a shame that The Guardian is partly responsible for inflicting this latest incarnation of socialism on the rest of us, and also carries the recruitment adverts for many of the jobs which make this regretable mess a reality. But then that’s socialism all over, full of bright ideas, authoritarian and never to blame for anything that goes wrong.

  • As a non-Brit, it seems to me ironical to say the least that I keep reading about how the House of Lords has stymed this or that bit of Blairite legislation.ure

    Something to be said for having a pack of in-bred aristocrats in the legislative system after all, perhaps?

  • … the detail in the Porter article that freaks me out is that you have to give nearly 50 items of personal info to the State…

    Not 50 items, Jonathan, fifty categories. Many people, including Henry, are prone to that slip of vocabulary. Some categories consist of one item, others are large – such as every residence you have had anywhere in the world – others very large such as the “audit trail” which will record details of every occasion on which your ID is ‘verified’ using the database, or information is supplied by the Home Secretary to a third party (when that party doesn’t benefit from official secrecy).

    And, of course, the categories may be expanded by order of the Secretary of State (and potentially under the LLR Bill, the Secretary of State might weaken the criteria for such change).

  • John R

    ResidentAlien asked:

    Do you vote in UK elections? Unless you have been outside the UK for more than about 20 years you still can although it gets more complicated if you did not register to vote as soon as you set up outside Britain.

    Dunno about how Verity and others fare when attempting to vote in UK elections, but my registration form for the last UK election arrived in Western Australia two days AFTER the election had taken place, despite my having applied well in advance of the required date. It’s not as though I live in the deepest darkest outback; I’m only 50 miles from Perth. I figured that the UK was trying to tell me something and became an Australian instead …

  • Not that that is all. It isn’t just collection one should worry about, but connection.

    Much of the data that will be stored on the NIR is already available to departments of state, where it is part of their particular purpose, but has not hitherto been readily linked. The tax office has a tax reference for you, and the DVLA has a driving licence number, and the Passport Office a passport number, but none of these were connected to one another. None of them have been in a position to check when you travelled by plane (Passport/ID swiped) or when you opened a bank account (‘Know Your Customer’ ID check) or visited a clinic (ID check to use the health service).

    Nor does it stop there. That’s just use of the NIR directly. There’s also the problem of what I’ve christened The Meta-Database: the union of all public and private-sector databases that will end up ( possibly from compulsion, but mostly by convenience or default) using NIR numbers, or NIR-referenced numbers as consistent unique identifiers. This is quite well explained by Bristol NO2ID on their blog.

  • guy herbert

    To answer Rob K’s question, Does he mean now, or if and when the ID cards come into force?

    Though the powers conferred in the Bill would allow the Home Office to make up an ID record for you out of information it has to hand, without reference to you – so that data collected by the Passport Office now (passports operate under prerogative so what data they collect and how it is handled is limited by administrative practicality not law) could be poured into the NIR at a later stage – for now the Passport Office isn’t really collecting enough information from renewers of passports. Those applying now for their first passport have to provide much more information already, and from October the plan appears to be that all first time passport applicants will have to report to a processing centre for a personal interview, bringing their documents with them.

    All that is plainly a pilot for the ID system, not least because there is nothing in ICAO standards, nor even in US border requirements, that makes it necessary (or useful) for passports. You can renew your passport now if you already have one, get an ICAO-compliant document, and buy possibly ten years of freedom for £51.

    There are options for the Government to use other approaches to force people into the system. And your passport may be withdrawn at any time. But that would be too unpopular to be adopted on a large scale.

  • The ID card is flat out an invitation to fraudsters. I wrote on my blog yesterday that I would recommend destroying the card as soon as I received it because if a crook can read it he has enough data to impersonate you.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    No, this almost shouldn’t be a No2ID at all. It is purely and simply a no to the database! Who knows what is going to happen when that thing gets into the hands of the wrong corporation, or the wrong government! It is turning into an Oyster Card to cover all transactions and movements.

    This is the kernal of the matter, which is why I find the sort of languid attitude displayed by our Authortarian-In-Residence, Mr Gray, so complacent.

  • Julian Taylor

    Something to be said for having a pack of in-bred aristocrats in the legislative system after all, perhaps?

    Not many aristocrats in charge in the HoL these days – they’re mostly Prime Ministerial life peerage appointees from Wilson onwards. Blair abolished the right of inherited peers to sit in the Lords.

    I can’t see how, as Mr Gray claims, that the government already has those 50 points on file of everyone in our society. Bear in mind that the majority of the population does not travel outside of the UK, as one can say for just about any country, and therefore is unlikely to have their photograph on file. Add to this that most people in the UK do not have criminal records, ergo they do not have fingerprint, DNA or photograph (again) information on file. Certainly any state functionary has access, via a request to the NCIS, to any individual’s NHS, National Insurance, Inland Revenue or HM C&E VAT records but this doesn’t tell them much more about you than your required prescriptions and allergies, income, home address, work address and your current employment status. National Census data is regarded, especially by the Civil Service, as a joke since most people don’t fill the information in correctly so forgive me for remaining somewhat sceptical about where the state has obtained those precious 50 points of information about us.

    Any ID card system is bound to be subject to widespread abuse. I still can not see 30,000 – 50,000 wanted criminals turning up at the Pimlico passport office for their retinal scan and fingerprints, only to be led straight out the back into waiting police trucks once the crosscheck is made with the Police National Computer. Similarly what use is going to be made of the existing passport data – is this information going to be combined into the ID cards unit (presumably it’s the same department) and, if so, have those of us who have recently renewed or applied for a passport actually provided preliminary information for their ID card?

    By the way NickM, admirable sentiments but Adam Smith was a Scot.

  • Euan Gray

    I find the sort of languid attitude displayed by our Authortarian-In-Residence, Mr Gray, so complacent

    I don’t approve of the ID card system or its underpinning database, but my objections are generally not based on paranoia about the panopticon state. This is simply because the state already knows the information required and if you for whatever reason attract the serious attention of the government they can find out everything the NIR will hold already. It’s really a question of it taking a couple of days rather than a few seconds. However, I do have detailed objections:

    1. It won’t work. The degree of complexity required to create and maintain a unified database of some 50 categories of information for 60 million people and have this accessed and updated in real time several million times a day is stupendous. This would be the most ambituous IT program undertaken by anyone at any time. Given the inability of EDS and the CSA to create a system which only has to calculate 15% of the take home pay of a few hundred thousand people, and given the inordinate delay and cost in the NHS patient record database, it is a pound to a pinch of snuff this will never fly in the form envisaged.

    2. It’s expensive. OK, if you need a passport you have to pay anyway and the forecast cost increase isn’t all that much spread over the 10 year life of a passport. However, there is no way on God’s earth it will cost as little as forecast. The CSA computer system (as simple as income x 15%, pay now) cost half a billion and doesn’t work. The NHS database was forecast at just over a billion and is now some three or four billion and climbing. However, this expense leads to another objection:

    3. Data will be sold. It’s openly said that parts of the data will be sold to private companies, doubtless in an attempt to defray the hideous cost of the exercise. It’s bad enough with the government having all this information – although to be fair they already have most of it – but I see no merit in the government flogging my private data to companies so they can annoy me with sales calls and junk mail, then refuse to provide insurance based on my medical record or just generally know vast amounts of information about me that has nothing to do with them.

    4. It’s unnecessary. It won’t prevent terrorism, since most terrorists operate under their real names and with legitimate valid ID – the 9/11 hijackers all had valid ID in their real names, ID cards didn’t stop Madrid, etc. It won’t reduce identity theft – in fact, it will probably increase it since the thief only needs one thing instead of multiple. It won’t reduce fraud, since fraudsters will soon enough be able to produce fakes which can fool the flawed and incomplete system. I’ll wager that within three months of the cards being issued you’ll be able to buy a fake off some bloke in a pub.

    It’s a waste of money in a pursuit of unattainable goals by means of a system that is far too complex to work.

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    I can’t see how, as Mr Gray claims, that the government already has those 50 points on file of everyone in our society. Bear in mind that the majority of the population does not travel outside of the UK, as one can say for just about any country, and therefore is unlikely to have their photograph on file

    Some 80% of the British population have a passport, and therefore have a photograph on file. Most people who have a driver’s licence now have a photograph on file. All the addresses you’ve lived at are available through census, tax and local government records. You don’t need to have a criminal record to have DNA or fingerprint records – being arrested is often enough to have such things taken. Anyone who has ever had NHS dental or medical treatment – just about everyone in the country – has a significant amount of data stored such as addresses, previous doctors, obviously full medical details, quite possibly blood group, etc.

    And so on. They already know a lot more about you than most people think, which in turn means that the extra information they need for the NIR is rather less than most people think.

    EG

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Euan, I have obviously been rather harsh on you, but then perhaps you could have stated your objections to ID cards as strongly as you have now before, because in the past I have been under the distinct impression that you shrug your shoulders about them. Better late than never. I concur with all the points you make, BTW.

    The symbolism of ID cards is also something to consider, and it is not a trivial issue. It somehow crystalises how this government thinks of citizens as somehow numbers on an approved file. A minor point, some may say, but it tells us everything you need to know about what this country is turning into.

  • David

    Yes the symbolism is very important. This is a government that regularly passes legislation simply in order to “send a message”. The ID card legislation certainly does that in spades.

  • Euan should read this very sensible analysis by Ben Laurie which I picked up through a post on the Open Rights Group list.

    http://www.apache-ssl.org/privacy.pdf

    From this I gather that privacy has two key aspects availability and linkability. As the Bristol No2IDers (linked above) explain, the NIR increases linkability greatly and availability slightly, but because linkability is a probability the result must, I venture, be an exponential decrease in privacy.

  • nic

    Does anyone have any idea (or idle speculation on) how the data will be physically stored? Will it be in one location that can be accessed electronically or will it be distributed over a network? Because either way, it will be a nightmare to secure.

  • Euan Gray

    perhaps you could have stated your objections to ID cards as strongly as you have now before, because in the past I have been under the distinct impression that you shrug your shoulders about them

    I’ve objected in this manner before. I don’t subscribe to the paranoid view of ID cards or the database, but I have made clear my more pragmatic objections several times.

    Does anyone have any idea (or idle speculation on) how the data will be physically stored? Will it be in one location that can be accessed electronically or will it be distributed over a network?

    My idle speculation is that the integrated database will take the form of discrete database servers in the several government departments concerned, linked over a network. The government department’s server would contain that subset of the NIR data relevant to that department, with other data accessible via network request if needed. This would be sensible and more secure, and also makes it easier to create and enforce data security against unnecessary searches.

    I understand that the locations and nature of the more important government database systems are not exactly public information, and I don’t expect the details of this system to be made public to any great extent, for trivially obvious security reasons.

    EG

  • Midwesterner

    Nic, earlier you made a remark that leads me to believe that you’re missing a key point.

    “No, this almost shouldn’t be a No2ID at all. It is purely and simply a no to the database!”

    Even if you get rid of most of the data in the base, any ID card will almost certainly report a serial chain of transactions. A stand alone card would be too easily forged or altered without that record to verify it.

    For example, credit cards evaluate transaction histories to guesstimate stolen cards.

    This card will be required for everything except breathing. Single ID systems are always bad because they provide a inexorable lever to control you. A serial string of transactions can, once long enough, be more useful than even the data you are required to provide at the time of issue. The mere existence of a single issuer ID card guarantees a loss of privacy.

    By controlling this card, the state can decide whether you have the ‘right’ to exist. Do you really count it a blessing that a bureaucracy that decides if you may (or do) exist is incompetent?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I understand that the locations and nature of the more important government database systems are not exactly public information, and I don’t expect the details of this system to be made public to any great extent, for trivially obvious security reasons.

    Not so. I think it is actually quite important that folk do know where information is held about them, how they can access that information and ensure their personal lives are not potentially going to be shafted by mistakes and all the other horrors associated with government IT projects. That is a pretty craven line of argument, Euan and not one that any self-respecting believe in liberty could support. Oh, wait a minute…..

  • Euan Gray

    I think it is actually quite important that folk do know where information is held about them

    Perhaps it is, but whether they actually do know and whether the holders of that information (be they state or private) permit them to know are entirely different questions.

    That is a pretty craven line of argument

    It’s not a line of argument at all. I merely stated that I think it unlikely that the state will reveal where and how exactly they store this information, and that they will do this for security reasons.

    EG

  • permanent expat

    Referring to a previous poster’s comment on our Upper House, I am curious to know if there is a “je ne sais quoi” attached to the place which magically confers a “grown-uppedness” to its members….including Socialist placemen? I would appreciate an opinion from those of you who may be close to the phenomenon.
    ID cards (Useless, 1984, like them or not) are inevitable. Newly discovered/invented technology has to and will find a home.
    The British are not by nature card carriers & I well remember the “Great Tearing Up” after WWll. That said, I cannot remember hearing the citizens of ANY other country making objections.
    I also remember when we consisted of English Irish Scots & Welsh………got along reasonably well with each other & wouldn’t have known, or cared, what devolution meant……….or was it all a dream?
    Today it’s an Albtraum…..little doubt about that.

  • permanent expat

    Wonderful to see EG post using only two sentences!

  • permanent expat

    Correction (silly boy)………..paragraphs.

  • nic

    I think EG is right that the policy will probably be to keep the exact nature and location of the system secret. I didn’t read from his post any endorsement of that policy.

  • nic

    “Even if you get rid of most of the data in the base, any ID card will almost certainly report a serial chain of transactions. A stand alone card would be too easily forged or altered without that record to verify it.” – Midwesterner

    Well it is just I can imagine an ID card system that I wouldn’t find problematic. For example, you have some salient facts contained on a card that you personally hold. When it is created, it is verified as your card and there is some attempt to make them difficult to forge. The only data that the government holds is some sort of ID checker (essentially checking a number against a name) and that would be the only data they would need. And it would not log the transaction but would merely be a way of confirming someone’s age or something (the data of which would only be contained physically on the card and not be reproduced anywhere else).

    Basically, a long winded way of showing you are allowed to buy drinks. It would be slightly more secure than a student card and wouldn’t involve any excess data being collected. Of course, that is not the system they are introducing. But all I am saying is that I can envisage an ID card system that would be functional and non-invasive.

  • Euan Gray

    I also remember when we consisted of English Irish Scots & Welsh

    I think the last time that applied would be shortly before the Roman invasion in 55BC. We’re a mixture of Britons, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Norwegians, Germans, French, etc. Now we have a greater proportion of ex-colonial citizens, but in the past we’ve had significant numbers of ex-slaves and so forth. Not that it bloody matters, outside the minds of the cultural purity brigade.

    Better guard your precious bodily fluids….drip, drip,drip

    EG

  • nic, see what you’re saying, but the slippery slope can be greased further with bad legislation. I’m watching this closely across the pond as states continue to combine their databases and start creating defacto national IDs. There are shades of grey to be sure — we just need to know where that line is and be prepared to fight to keep that line from being corssed.

  • permanent expat

    Typical of EG…….You know bloody well what I mean….. & I’m surprized you didn’t include the dates of various incursions with the names of the leaders etc. in your patronizing history lesson. Drip, drip, drip would seem apposite if you’re into self- description. Your tendency to logorrhoea & authoritarianism is a combination which seems typical of those busy destroying what was once a nation of which one could be proud……a bastard nation yes, but an assimilated & proud one. I suppose you’re intelligent but then so was Lenin.
    And yes….tick tick tick.

  • Midwesterner

    Nic,

    “(essentially checking a number against a name) and that would be the only data they would need.”

    I think that is virutally impossible. I know of no identity checking system since people manually thumbed through sheafs of paper, that didn’t log queries. They will log name, location and time at a bare minimum.

    They could track your approach to a political rally and probable presence by the trail of time and date stamps as you pay tolls, buy fuel, pay for parking, oyster card, etc. I just don’t see a way that an ID only card can’t of necessity log name/time/location as part of its verification process.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Euan, I think it is a basic entitlement that if we are to have these blasted cards and a national register, we should know where the place holding this data is, how it is stored, how it is presented, etc. I would not expect every last itty-bitty detail to be divulged but under the sort of Freedom of Information Act type legislation of recent years, people should be able to know about the way their lives are chronicled by the state.

    The state and its agents should do their utmost to explain all this rather than expect Joe Public to take it all on trust, particularly if we are going to be forced to have these cards against our will and suffer the indignity of also paying for them.

  • nic

    Why, Midwesterner? If I need to present ID at a club, no one does anything but look at the picture and go “looks like the bloke, and he is the right age too” and then they instantly forget my name and who I am. They just needed to know to let me in.

    Why couldn’t you design a computer system that would do something similar? It just performs some sort of code check, beeps “yes” and doesn’t even have the memory to store the log.

  • David

    Obviously easy as pie technically to do as you suggest nic – but would the government be able to resist the temptation to log it anyway. Especially this government. Somehow I don’t think so.

  • Richard Thomas

    To not make it “compulsory”, one would have to either:

    1- renounce foreign travel for the rest of one’s life
    2- die before needing another passport

    3- Become a citizen of a foreign nation. I became elegible to become a US citizen last year. I was ambivalent about the idea but the ID card thing has made up my mind.

    Rich

  • Midwesterner

    Nic, the question I’m addressing is the assurance of the ID itself, not whether ‘you is him’. TTBOMK every time someone runs a license plate or dirver’s license, it’s logged. Every time someone checks your credit rating, I think it leaves a record.

    My assumption is that any thing affiliated with the government even remotely (funding, etc), including tollways, city parking garages, public events, they will ‘swipe’ the card. That is unless you think someone will look you in the eye and estimate your retinal scan.

    The nature of the positive identification process is biometrics. No more glance at the picture and let you in. Could get sued or prosecuted. Card scanning at every step. All of it will be logged. Even if they say it isn’t. Data storage is just too cheap.

    Curious, the spambot Turing code for this comment ends with ’666′. (cue theme from Twilght Zone)

  • nic

    It is just this was why I was originally not too bothered about the ID card. Because if you think about it, a computer performing a retina or thumbprint scan and checking it against the data on your ID, is really just a more secure way of proving who you are when you want to prove who you are. And it doesn’t actually require any centralised system at all.

    It almost seems like it is just a massive conflating of very different issues, which admittedly the government has done deliberately. They say “ID” when really they mean “database” and movement tracking.

  • Midwesterner

    It is a conflating of different issues. But these issues are virtually un-deconflatable.

    In an effort to ‘assure the validity of your data’ the system will of course have to keep your biometrics in a master data file, just like the driver’s license data.

    They will, ‘for your own protection’ of course, insist that cards be compared against the biometrics on file in order to validate that card. After all, it might be a stolen or illegally made card, you know. And ‘we can’t allow forgeries, now, can we?’

    They will be validated by a central data base and those validations will be retained.

  • nic,

    They say “ID” when really they mean “database” and movement tracking.

    One isn’t nearly so easy without the other. You make the same presumption that many people do, and which is a founding principle of the pigeonholed society that is the object here: that we each have only one ID, that is and ought to be consistent, coherent and connected to every other bit administratively, socially and temporally, that one may/should not be a different person in different circumstances… that one may/should not be able to reinvent onself and leave the past behind.

  • Paul Marks

    “This fight is not over” – sadly it is now.

  • Phil Hellene

    EG’s ‘history lesson’ is also nonsense on its face – there were no ‘English’ in what later became England when the Romans arrived, rather there were Celtic Britons of various tribes. The Angles, Saxons and Jutes who became the English were still living along the German / Danish coast at the time.

  • Euan Gray

    EG’s ‘history lesson’ is also nonsense on its face – there were no ‘English’ in what later became England when the Romans arrived, rather there were Celtic Britons of various tribes

    That’s why I said Britons.

    Talk of the English as some homogenous “race” or tribe is meaningless, both in pre-Roman times and today.

    EG