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Same name – same date of birth – same crimes

In April of this year, I did a White Rose posting, linking to this BBC report about people who are wrongly accused by the Criminal Records Bureau of being criminals. Because I wrote the piece, I today received email notification of this comment on it, that has just been added by David Wilson. This comment deserves wider circulation than just to sit in the White Rose archives. The message is, if you have a quite common name, like David Wilson, look out.

Just found your page and I have experienced this mistaken identity by the National Identification Service (NIS) and been wrongly identified with a convicted criminal with a similar name and date of birth – but absolutely no other similarities.

I am trying to emigrate and was shocked when the report from the NIS came about a man who was convicted of fraud, serious assault and most distressing sexual assault!

I found all doors for complaint closed to me. I called the NIS and was told by an ignorant person on the phone ‘that’s your problem and it’s up to you to prove otherwise’. The Police where equally difficult to deal with. No lawyer would touch it.

I then took it to my MP Mr James Wray, who wrote to Blunkett, who passed it to the Minister Bob Ainsworth, who then wrote to my MP, assuring him that it wouldn’t happen again. I then received a corrected document which stated I had no offences, and an apology for the error.

That wasn’t the end of it though. On July 25th of this year I was stopped in a US Airport (after trying to collect an eticket from BA check-in, who instead of giving me a ticket held on to my passport and alerted and armed security guard) and prevented from boarding my flight to Gatwick for over an hour. A manager finally came and told me it was an issue between myself and my government, and let me board the plane.

On arriving back in the UK I wrote to the NIS asking for justification of why my name is still being linked to this other person, and recorded proof of posting of my letter – Royal Mail tell me it was received on 30th July 2004. I never received any response. It was quite simply ignored. Today I believe there has been no change despite the intervention of Mr. Ainsworth.

Once again I find myself needing to get a copy of this sheet and just today had a letter sent to me asking me several questions which relate to the other man. I have been told by someone in the legal profession that it is a ‘violation of my rights to privacy by government’ and that I could in fact have a legal case.

Any advice would be appreciated. Right now I would just like to be at my liberty and enjoy my freedom to travel in the world without harassment or any violation of my civil liberties.

I am an honest person who has never been charged with any offence. The PNC and the actions of the NIS is an absolute disgrace – it would seem that a civil servant in London has more power than any Judge or Jury in the nation and has the ability to put one person’s criminal past on another. There is I have found no way to completely clear your name.

62 comments to Same name – same date of birth – same crimes

  • ilana

    Looks to me like an argument for the dreaded ID card.

  • GCooper

    Ilana writes:

    “Looks to me like an argument for the dreaded ID card.”

    On the contrary. It proves that, even if such a scheme were justifiable (which it is not) governments are too stupid, inefficient and incompetent to administer one.

    The arrogant refusal of the NIS to sort this out will come as no surprise to anyone who has tried to get sense out of the British civil service.

  • Steve

    Ilana, I don’t think anything could be less true. We’ve seen what the state can do to people just for having a similar name and date to a known criminal, and how difficult it is to get that rectified.

    Now imagine that a criminal manages to steal/copy your ID card and starts impersonating you. The ID card and government database will of course be treated as infallible, so no doubt any arrests/crimes associated with a person carrying your ID card will be going down on your file. It must have been you who used that credit card fraudulently, they had your ID card.

    ID cards will be the identity thief’s dream come true, and if this sort of thing can happen just because two people have similar names, just think what could happen when someone sets out to impersonate you.

  • Edward Teague

    Re ID Card
    This is not the issue, the issue is THE Identity Database,the arguments are spurious – see letter to FT in reply to one from our much loved Home Secretary –
    The Home Secretary claims (letter 8th December FT) identity fraud costs of £1.2 Bn., split equally between public and private sectors.

    According to the Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS), individuals obtained over 50% of their cash in 2.37 BN transactions using ATM’s in 2003 , a total of £144 BNn, from 47,000 ATM’s. Fraud accounted for losses of £38Mn. A figure which in standard accounting terms is not “material”.

    To Year End April 2004 £240 Bn was spent using plastic cards in nearly 500 MN transactions per month. Total fraud was stated to be £380 including all the ATM’ losses, of which £25 Mn is attributed by APACS to identity theft.

    I am a shareholder in Tesco and note that in their Accounts and Reports, they claim to receive one eighth of all UK retail expenditure. There are no apparent concerns recorded about identity theft or the levels of plastic card fraud.

    As these figures are accurate, more up to date ( and readily available), than the Ministers “2002 estimates”, I simply do not believe the scale of losses due to identity theft he claims. If he is correct that the burden is shared equally between the private and public sector, the total losses experienced in the UK are in the order of £50Mn or £1 per head per year.

    The benefits of the scheme proposed in controlling identity theft fraud seem nugatory. The burdens in costs, and invasion of privacy immense and probably massively understated.

    The basic assumption of any database is that the information held is in every case 100% accurate. Those with some experience know this is not true , nor is it attanable, because of sloth, deceit, dishonesty etc.,

    I had personal experience of a CCJ on a commercial credit database – once discovered this was dealt with in exemplary fashion – again a name confusion – it is not necessary to have a common name, it just increases the chances.

    The experience just re-inforces the innate assumption all Government agencies worldwide operate on , that they cannot possible be in error – amplified by their unwillingness to help, and not infrequwntly the inability to understand how to make the necessary change – alwasy assuming it was so designed to allow corrections to be made and recorded.

  • ilana

    I think you’re being too pessimistic: the ID card would have other information uniquely identifying you – even perhaps an eye print (or whatever they call it), plus things like height, age, address etc.
    Do countries that already have ID cards have a big problem with identity theft? I don’t think so.

  • GCooper

    ilana rites:

    “Do countries that already have ID cards have a big problem with identity theft?”

    You’re missing the point. Even were it justifiable in terms of personal freedom (which, I repeat, it is not) governments have appalling records for compiling and maintaining accurate databases of all kinds and, as has been noted earlier, are famously unwilling to correct errors.

    Possibly it will work nine out of ten times (though I doubt it) but that will still leave many people caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare.

    If you had had personal dealings with the British civil service over such matters (and I can only assume you have not), then I’m sure you would be nothing like so blithely optimistic. Too many of them are lazy, incompetent, arrogant, idiots. Simply, they are not to be trusted any more than are their lying, vain, corrupt, megalomanic political masters.

  • ernest young


    Just because you do not think so, does not make it so!.

  • Edward Teague


    The costs (of an ID Database/ card)I claim outweight the benefits. They lay the foundations of greater control – just wait until your internet is controlled because you persistently make political comments.

    There is currently universal agreement the internet shld be controlled for distributing paedophilia (except I assume from paedophiles) what group next ?

    The Coalition of the Willing are now employing war criminals – General Nizar Al Kazraji who was the ground commander at Halabja and decided what gas. quantities to use. His pal, who put down the post Gulf War Shia uprising, killing untold thjousands and making 1.5Mn homeless. Plus their pal who ran Saddam’s Internal Security Service.

    You will not learn this from the BBC, the Press / Media circus in the UK. perhaps one day if you circulate such information your ID will be your passport to sunny Cuba and the longuers of Gunatanamo Bay.

  • Slowjoe


    The ID card at some point will be represented by a set of info. (This may be a number, or a combination of some or all of “number, password, DOB, mother’s maiden name, retina scan etc.”).

    The issue is that whatever info is stored in the database as “representing Slowjoe” is sufficient to access my rights in all fields where the ID card is being used. This includes hospitals and government access, and also normal merchant services. When the scheme is up and running, loss of the card will bar you from using these services. Worse, while the scheme is bootstrapping, anyone can register themselves as “Slowjoe” or “Ilana” fraudulently. If this info is passed to the computer for authentication purposes, normally, it will be possible to extract it.

    Statistically, some cards will be lost each year. Statistically, some poor sod will lose his/her card multiple times. Do you want to be considered a criminal because you were unlucky enough to have your handbag snatched 4 times in the same year?

    Because of the wide range of uses that an ID card will have, breaking one will be of significantly greater value than other card schemes. There will be a wide range of exploits, from using bogus card readers to steal personal info, through forgery to planting fake employees in issuing offices.

    Ilana writes
    I think you’re being too pessimistic: the ID card would have other information uniquely identifying you – even perhaps an eye print (or whatever they call it), plus things like height, age, address etc.
    Do countries that already have ID cards have a big problem with identity theft? I don’t think so.

    First, you cannot compare identify theft in an economy like North Korea with the UK.

    Do you think that all readers will have an eye reader? Even where a reader is installed, there will be issues of operator fatigue…”Oh yeah, I’ve changed my contact lenses lately” and the fact that any machine will have a ratio of false positives or negatives (imagine a 1 in a 1000 error
    rate at somewhere like Heathrow. They had 63 million passengers in 1999. That is 63,000 errors a year, or 172 a day.)

    But aside from that, all you do is attack the sites that don’t read the retina scan. Even if there are no errors, the national identity computer isn’t going to have an audit trail showing which accesses were authenticated by retina scan etc.

    In the US, criminals with access to a Social Security number is enough to cause people no end of trouble. Search on “identity theft social security number”, and see what happens. (I’m getting 704,000 google hits for that.)

    But aside from the engineering and criminal tactics issues…

    There is a fundamental argument against ID cards: that you are not allowed your rights as a citizen while you do not have your ID card. You will not be entitled to freedom of movement, nor access to government or financial services without your card.

    This means that withdrawal of the card is withdrawal of your rights as a citizen. You go from someone born with rights and freedoms, to someone who only has these freedoms when the government sees fit. Even if officially, this doesn’t happen, there is nothing to stop a policeman “losing” it and then causing me no end of hassle. It’s a re-run of “arresting for stealing your own car”.

  • Jacob

    “governments are too stupid, inefficient and incompetent to administer [an ID data base].”

    They could outsource it !

    Some odd mistakes are inevitable, but on the whole – it is possible to have a pretty accurate ID data base. The technology is available.

    “The costs (of an ID Database/ card) I claim outweight the benefits.”

    Maybe. But the databse already exists, whether we like it or not. The ID card itself is just a symbol or token. The ID database exists already, needing no card.

    The story of David Wilson proves nothing, like most anecdotal data; if the system that ensnared David Wilson, by mistake, helped catch one real, fuguitve criminal – it would be worth it.

  • Slowjoe

    With regard to the original post, it all comes down to how seriously screwups are taken.

    Let me tell you a story.

    Singapore has the most reliable telco infrastructure in the world. This is due to a series of reasons:

    * They keep reliable maps of where all utility infrastructure (electricity, comms cables, water pipes etc) are placed.

    * They inspect all work done carefully.

    * They give 10 year jail sentences for causing outages by cutting cables.

    By all accounts, item 3 is the reason for their success (albeit excessive, some punishment must be attached to errors.)

    It seems to me that government in Britain attaches no consequences to errors. What consequences face the people responsible for the delay in responding to the original posters requests? I’ll warrant that nothing will happen, and that is the heart of the problem.

    If at worst, a bureaucrat faces a 5 minutes dressing down for placing someone’s life on hold for 3 months, the ratios are all wrong.

    In the US, the Department of the Interior had all its computers taken offline for months on a number of occasions because of security issues.

    Perhaps the original poster should file for an injunction enjoining NCIS from answering any queries until all info they hold on him is shown to be correct?

  • ernest young


    In your opinion it may be worth it, – unless of course, you are the one innocent who gets caught…

    I must say – you are very generous with other folks liberties and peace of mind…

  • This is just a cock-up. What happens when they want to make life difficult for you?

    I don’t want the government keeping any records on me at all.

  • Jacob

    “I must say – you are very generous with other folks liberties and peace of mind…”

    Sorry, it’s you who is generous with other people’s lives. That fugitive criminal might murder some other person (or rob him). People need to be protected from criminals and terrorists, and that’s what the government is there for.

    I wish gov. were more competent in this case, and mistakes were avoided, but – it’s an imperfect world. No irreparable harm has been done to Mr. David Wilson.

  • Jacob

    “I don’t want the government keeping any records on me at all.”

    No problem. You could go and live in Nigeria, or any one of a great number of “third world” countries. You’ll get murdered or robbed the old fashioned way, without the help of any database technology or government records.

  • “This is just a cock-up. What happens when they want to make life difficult for you?”

    Very good point, Paul D. Jacob has taken issue with your desire for no records to be kept on you at all, but one doesn’t need to have a libertarian view to be concerned at what happens to someone who is a real pain to the government when the government has so much information at its disposal. How easy it would be for a government minister who is being publicly attacked by a spurned lover (I use this purely imaginary scenario for illustrative purposes only) to direct his civil servants to look extra deeply into that lover’s affairs. Perhaps the minister would not even need to tell the civil servants to do so: a young official hungry for promotion might consider that a detailed investigation of this person’s circumstances would be an excellent way to get his master’s favourabe attention.

    Since nearly every human being in a complex and rule-bound society such as ours will be breaking some rule or other (witness the difficulty US administrations have in finding anyone to hold top legal posts who has not employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny), this is a great tool for the great to silence the small.

  • Jacob

    “…to direct his civil servants to look extra deeply into that lover’s affairs.”

    You don’t have to be a government minister in possesion of government data bases to dig up dirt on anyone. You can hire some private investigator and he will find all the dirt there is. You don’t have to be a minister to harm your ex-lover or your neighbour, anyone can do it.

    We live in a barve new world, information abounds and is easily accesible thanks to new technology. Get used to it. There is no way back. Maybe we wish it weren’t so, but we can’t have all our wishes.

  • Jacob

    “Looks to me like an argument for the dreaded ID card.”

    The “dreadful ID card” is being used in most countries of the world and it has not made people more free, more unfree, more protected or more prone to harassment.
    It is also in use in the US and UK – via the new passports (he who doesn’t have a passport raise your hands!).

    The ID card won’t make any difference, one way or the other.

  • Findlay Dunachie

    Parents with common names like Wilson should not give their children common Christian names like David

  • EddieP

    One can only hope that Jacob is the first to lose his identity to a National ID card data base (not really). He will be quite occupied for enough years to re-educate himself. Witness the problems our distinguished (gag) Senator Ted Kennedy has had with our terrorist info database. He keeps getting stopped at airports because of a name coincidence, and can’t understand why it is impossible to change the system.

    Sounds like Illana and Jacob might have been happy to join the Jews on their trip to the vacations and work opportunities in Eastern Europe in 1943. After all, governments look out for their citizens, that’s their job! So what if a few fall through the cracks!

  • Verity

    Findlay Dunachie – You’re right. They should call them Duwayne, Tiffany and Moon Unit.

  • The point is eventually every significant piece of data about our lives will go onto the ID card,more and more government agencies will demand access to all of it. The excuse wil be security,public safety,efficiency,health and safety and a myriad other spurious reasons.
    Do we really want to be stopped by the police for a broken tail light and have them look at our medical records and bank details,because they will.
    Anything that can be made can be duplicated,electronic data is no different,retinal scans mean nothing if the data has been corrupted.
    Security will not be enhanced because lets face it,the terrorist to worry about is the one with the spotless record.

  • Findlay Dunachie


    Glad of your support. Maybe the Americans saw it coming. Maybe the next step of the ID march (which I deplore) will be to insist on such diversity. Parents should think before they name. I know of (at least) two medieval historians called Michael Jones (though one has died, I think). We went to hear a John Butt, just in case the one I knew was lecturing off-subject. He wasn’t. That meant there had been at least three – one had just died. How many Profesor John Smiths are there – there were two in Strathclyde University alone.

    The downside is that people with odd names stand a chance of being picked on at school. Names like “Praise God” [Barebones] and “Zeal for the Lord” [Busy] didn’t stand a chance.

  • GCooper

    Findlay Dunachie writes:

    “Names like “Praise God” [Barebones] and “Zeal for the Lord” [Busy] didn’t stand a chance.”

    Oh, I don’t know. At least the former got a parliament named after him.

  • Stehpinkeln

    If I may be so bold, Find your self an ugly American girl who has a rich father and marry her. That way you can become an American citizen.
    Any politician that wants to return to private life just has to suggest a draft, or a National ID card.
    I find that depressing, since I had planned to make a lot of money manufacturing fake ID cards. Why wait for the government to issue you one? Be the first on your block.
    It really laughable. The closest thing here in the states is the Credit System. It has a 40% error rate. The fools in government think GIGO is a Latin American gentleman of negoiatable virtue. The Politicians got into the act and passsed a Law that allows people to see their rip sheets (Credit Report) and challenge them. So now every bogus crook in America has a clean credit report. I doubt that any government can be that efficent.
    “You will find that the State is the kind of organization which, though it does big things badly, does small things badly, too.”
    John Kenneth Galbraith
    US (Canadian-born) administrator & economist (1908 – )

  • I have a similar same as a NBA player who lives in the same metropolitan area that I do. I’m a 44-year-old clean-shaven white guy who can’t run and dribble at the same time, so we wouldn’t be mistaken for each other – except perhaps by mindless bureaucracies that know only names and not the faces associated with them. I would not want something similar to NIS in the US.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Jacob shows remarkable sang froid at the prospect of we citizens having all our personal info placed on a centralised ID database. The chap in the original article could have been jailed, been banned from entering this country, lost his home, family and the whole nine yards on account of mistaken ID. You think this is not a problem so long as nobody gets killed, Jacob? And spare us the bs about cards reducing crime, etc. ID cards did not prove much use in Spain or Italy, as any relative of a person killed in the Madrid and Red Brigade murders would point out.

    I don’t know what is more depressing – the endless power mania of our political class or the craven willingness of so many individuals to go along with it and claim that “it’s nothing to worry about.”

  • Euan Gray

    I don’t know, there seems to be much hysteria on the anti side and much naivete on the pro side.

    Jacob’s right – most countries have mandatory ID systems, and indeed Britain is very unusual in not having such a system. It’s not just places like North Korea – Spain has them too. America’s SSN scheme is only a couple of very small steps away from such a system, however free its citizens may delude themselves to be.

    Whilst the cards won’t stop terrorists, reduce identity fraud or save welfare money, they are also unlikely to be the cause of major inconvenience to the vast majority of people. It is inevitable that from time to time some people will suffer inconvenience from mistaken identity, but then this already happens. People are already refused credit, can’t get welfare, have been arrested, can’t get licences or permits, etc, etc NOW because there are mistakes in identification. It’s hard to see how the national ID system would make that much worse.

    The main issue would appear to be the national identity database. I don’t see this as a major practical problem, since the various government departments already have the legal authority to share whatever information they have on you (quite a lot, in most cases). It will not really make a practical difference, UNLESS it is the case that the state has an specific intent to go out of its way to inconvenience you. Why would it do so? I think the assumption that the state is going to intentionally destroy your life because you buy the wrong brand of toilet paper or read unapproved magazines is somewhat paranoid. Do you have any idea just how much information that state already holds on you? Or how easily one department can get information on you from any other department?

    The REAL objection to the scheme, and the only really defensible one, is that it simply will not work. The Child Support Agency, despite spending half a billion pounds on a computer system, still can’t operate what is in fact an extremely simple process which any insurance company or bank could do in its spare time. The probability of the government (or for that matter a private concern) actually being able to operate a system coordinating thousands of pieces of unrelated dynamic data on each of 60 million people with any real degree of accuracy or reliability is very low. Furthermore, some of the identity technology, such as fingerprint and retina scanning, is unreliable and may never be reliable. (Fingerprints are suspected not to be unique after all, and it would not be hard to imagine that retina scans aren’t either.)

    Given the lethal combination of sloth & avarice on the part of the contractor (inevitable when dealing with government orders), huge technical ambition in the design of the project, and the general incompetence and lack of technical knowledge on the part of the state, the system will cost billions of pounds and even then it will not work. THIS is the sensible argument against it – not paranoia, nor the delusion that you still have any privacy (outside your home, you don’t), but the fact that it is simply not practicable.


  • GCooper

    Euan Gray writes:

    “It will not really make a practical difference, UNLESS it is the case that the state has an specific intent to go out of its way to inconvenience you. Why would it do so? I think the assumption that the state is going to intentionally destroy your life because you buy the wrong brand of toilet paper or read unapproved magazines is somewhat paranoid.”

    Were that all it was, then yes. However, suggesting that is the extent of the state’s maliciousness is, frankly, terrifyingly complacent. This current government has repeatedly shown a willingness to personally vilify and undermine its opponents. Remember the little old ladies of the WI who had the temerity to heckle the Dear Leader? In no time at all, Alastair Campbell’s boys were digging-up tittle-tattle, lies and innuendoes to smear them, which was done by the simple expedient of using Labour-supporting newspapers to spread the stain.

    Yes, this is being done without recourse to a huge database. But why make it even easier for the mendacious bastards to trample us?

    You cannot assume too little of a politician. There is no belt he won’t hit below and no stone he won’t hurl to save his skin. Including the one he habitually lives beneath.

  • Edward Teague

    I was diagnosed Type II Diabetic. A seamless and highly efficient NHS system clicked in and I get a retinal image scan every year to identify any retinal pathology.

    On the first occasion 3 yrs ago I was asked to sign a release form allowing my data on the database to be used anonymously for research purposes. I was told that should anyone wish to contact me they would have to contact me via their system, and I could if I chose maiantain my privacy.

    As a software designer of 25 years my ears pricked up and I asked where it was held, in what form, whatever. The administrative assistant explained that they…er…actually did not yet have a database to access.. it was promised… Yes. You guessed three years later it is still…..promised.

    The neat thing is that I am not allowed to see my retinal images, for some reason (which cannot be given) I cannot look at them. I just hope my retina looks nothing like Osama bin Laden’s… or worse still….David Security Blunkett.

  • ernest young

    I don’t know what is more depressing – the endless power mania of our political class or the craven willingness of so many individuals to go along with it and claim that “it’s nothing to worry about.”

    Quite so, Fifty odd years ago, the people of the UK, – the people of my generation, – made the decision that it would be better to die fighting, rather than timidily acquiesce to rule by a ‘big brother’, hegomonistic, socialist dictator type of government. The motto, ‘Live free, or die’, actually had meaning.

    To see the trend, and the fact, of the current political climate, with it’s almost total acceptance of the very ideas that we found so repulsive in 1940. The form of the EU, with it’s over-weaning control of most aspects of life. From the State’s eagerness to control the population from the cradle to the grave, even to the current wave of anti-semitism. Isn’t the current political climate so very reminiscent of that infamous ‘master plan’. All that is missing is the rampant nationalism, and just how long will it be before that will once again be encouraged, – only by continent, rather than by country. It all makes ‘Roller Ball’ seem quite prophetic…

    As per the Jonathan Pearce quote above, – all very depressing, – that so many had to die, so that the Euans and the Jacobs of today can be so flippantly casual in disregarding the signs that ‘Big statism’ is here now, and getting bigger by the day.

    Last week it was sheep being shot – for being ‘in the way’, how much longer before the same thing happens to people?..

  • Euan Gray

    the Euans and the Jacobs of today can be so flippantly casual in disregarding the signs that ‘Big statism’ is here now, and getting bigger by the day

    It’s been here for a long, long time, and I think it’s a little late in the day to start worrying about it. Maybe 60 years ago, but it’s too late now.

    Whilst we aren’t used to this sort of “papers, please” stuff in Britain, some of us have lived and worked in countries where this has, for decades, been a necessity. It simply does not produce the dire adverse effects so routinely predicted hereabouts. As GCooper pointed out in the case of the WI ladies, the state can already do pretty much what it wants to you and if it decides it wants to vilify you, then vilified you will be.

    In practical terms, what difference will a national ID database make? What will it enable the state to do that it cannot already do?

    I don’t like the idea of the NID database, not so much for its erosion of liberty (which I think is in all practical senses no worse than what can already be done), but because it will not work and it will cost a fortune before it is realised that it will not work. Even in principle, it will not do the things claimed for it. It’s not so much an intrusion as a waste of money for no benefit.

    In any case, what the hell is the point of having a mandatory national ID database if it is not mandatory to carry the cards and produce them when required? As seems depressingly typical of Britain (both state and private), we end up with all the negative effects of an idea and none of the positive ones.


  • Euan Gray

    The form of the EU, with it’s over-weaning control of most aspects of life. From the State’s eagerness to control the population from the cradle to the grave

    Meant to add this to my last post:

    The modern western state imposes this kind of control for the simple reason that it operates a lavish system of welfare. No other reason. Because it is not subject to the commercial pressures of the market, it has to limit access to welfare through rationing, and since it cannot be too tight with the rations for fear of losing votes, it has to impose controls to regulate people’s behaviour into less costly manifestations – if the state needs to exact taxation to stitch you back together after a car accident, and hence is under pressure to reduce the cost of such stitching, it is to be expected that it will get around to compelling you to wear a seatbelt, thus reducing the cash outlay on post-accident surgery. This is just the state’s version of the market’s financial punishing of stupid behaviour.

    People whinge about the bloated state arising because of, variously, war, terrorism, diplomatic paranoia, sinister Gramscian plots to regulate everything, and so on. It’s rubbish – the only reason is to try and limit the otherwise ungovernable expenditure on welfare.


  • ernest young


    Sorry, but all your weasel words and glib solutions, do not alter the fact that it is never too late to make the decision that ‘enough is enough’, it has been done before – on numerous occasions, and it will be done again.

    The battle is as much against the now famous, ‘Enemy within’, as against some foreign foe…

  • Euan Gray

    do not alter the fact that it is never too late to make the decision that ‘enough is enough’

    But since (a) most people don’t see it that way and (b) the majority of other countries have similar systems without the dire consequences predicted, isn’t it somewhat unlikely that any opposition will be taken remotely seriously? Why is it that other countries can do this without major problems, but if Britain does it the sky will fall down?

    Fine words, noble sentiments, and in fact I agree with you at least in theory, but in reality it frankly won’t make a lot of difference and not enough people give a stuff about it in any case.


  • John K

    Euan, do many, or indeed any other states have the sort of biometric ID card and accompanying database which Big Blunkett proposes? So far I believe that most states with ID cards have the simple card which does not prove much one way or another.

  • Euan Gray

    do many, or indeed any other states have the sort of biometric ID card and accompanying database

    What practical difference does that make? AFAIK, no state has a working biometric system similar to the proposed one, not least because the technology doesn’t yet work. But almost all states have fingerprint records – some, for example, for every person who holds a drivers licence. Pretty much any functioning state anywhere will have a more or less detailed record of the citizen’s taxation, welfare (where provided), criminal, medical, educational, employment, business and foreign travel history. If they vote for extremist parties, at least in Britain the state probably has a note of that too. Getting records of internal travel, personal finances, and any dealings at all with any official body at any time is likely not hard either.

    A central database makes this coordination, in theory, take a matter of minutes rather than days. Big deal, they can already do everything the centralised system enables, it just takes a little longer.


  • Euan Gray

    I’d also point out that in the US, several states are looking at biometric databases for drivers licences, welfare entitlement, prisons (both prisoners and visitors), general police use, airport security, etc. I would seriously question any assumption that a national biometrics database is far in the future in the US.


  • Johnathan Pearce

    Euan writes that the only objection to ID cards is practicality. I guess the same applies to torture, branding, having your ID tattoed on the forehead, etc. Gotta be practical, haven’t we?


  • Jacob

    Euan Gray is telling it as it is. Maybe it’s depressing, Johnathan, but Euan describes things as they are, not as they might make you happy.

    Going back to the case of David Wilson that started this debate: nothing terrible has happened. He wasn’t intentionally persecuted for political reasons. It was a bureaucratic mistake (snafu), not a tragedy, not a case to wail about, trivial. Stop crying “wolf” every 2 seconds, it gets boring.

    I am happy that the state mantains lists of fugitive criminals and suspected terrorists, and tries to arrest them. That’s the right job of the state; it should try to stop these vermin, and protect the citizens. I’m unhappy that it’s competence is dubious, and citizens get harssed while criminals escape. I wish the system worked better, but I wouldn’t want to abolish it because of some paranoic fear about imaginary abuses.

    Right now the biggest danger to our life comes from criminals and terrorists. The State is to be feared too, in theory, but in practice the State limits our freedom through petty legislation, regulation and taxation, but not through direct arrests, murders or harassment of political nature. So stop being dogmatic, and relate to things as they are.

    Tyranny – in the sense of the State murdering it’s political adversaries – is a historically well established phenomenon, but it’s not an imminent danger, at least not in “normal” coutries. We must be vigilant about preserving our freedoms, but we must identify correctly the acute dangers, and not waste our ebergy and our credibility on ridiculous causes.

    As to the recent totalitarian states that murdered many dozens of millions of people in the 20th century: the lack of computerised data bases and biometrical ID cards was no hinder to them.

  • John K

    Jacob, have you read the book “IBM and the Holocaust”? The Nazis made great use of IBM Hollerith punch card readers to sort populations in occupied territory and to arrange the complex railway movements needed to facilitate the holocaust.

    In Holland they virtually eliminated the Jewish population thanks to the help of eagerly efficient Dutch civil servants. In France they found things more difficult because the Vichy government insisted on using French Bull card readers which were not compatible with the IBM Holleriths. The French really do never change, but in this case at least it had a good outcome.

    The advertising slogan of the Hollerith company was “With Hollerith you see everything”, accompanied by a drawing of a giant eye observing people below.

    So I would say that totalitarian states do need censuses and databases to do their worst.

    The UK ID card will enable all government databases to combine. Although the state may have lots of information on us in different databases, if they are not compatible there is less threat to privacy. At present my medical records are in a brown folder stored in a carousel in my doctor’s surgery. They are in practice not accesible to any securicrat who wants to find out about me because my name or a name like mine has turned up somewhere. I prefer to have that privacy.

    However, now I hear that the egregious Michael Howard has decided to embrace the UK slave card, so it will stand a good chance of getting through Parliament. Just when I was beginning to think it might be worth voting Conservative again. The useless bastards cannot see an open goal without shooting over the bar. Tossers!

  • Euan Gray

    Euan writes that the only objection to ID cards is practicality. I guess the same applies to torture, branding, having your ID tattoed on the forehead

    Oh, don’t be so ridiculous.

    The state already has so much information on me (and on any other British citizen) in so many fields, and already has the legal authority to pool this information between departments, that I think it is a valid question to ask what PRACTICAL difference does it actually make to have a central database linking it all together?

    If the state wishes to use this information against me for whatever reason, not having integrated databases or computerised biometric ID systems will simply make the process ever so slightly slower. Mass murdering tyrannies will mass murder with or without the computers. Did a lack of computers and centralised databases prevent the French Terror in the 1790s? Was the Nazi holocaust only possible because of centralised records and computers, and would it simply have failed to happen if these things had not existed? Of course not.

    The problem in these cases was most emphatically NOT centralised ID data, it was the sort of ideology-driven state that will do these horrible things anyway. If you have that kind of government, you have a much bigger problem than the presence or absence of ID databases, don’t you think?

    I think it is a tad histrionic, not to say hysterical and paranoid, to assume that ALL governments want to mass murder and enslave their populations, that ALL civil servants (or even all civil services) would gladly go along with this and that having a centralised database makes all this inevitable. I recall a few years ago a bunch of Christian fundies railing against bar code technology because it would inevitably lead to the ‘mark of the Beast’ being upon us all… Yeah, right, and hysterical opposition to the ID scheme from a privacy point of view is just as paranoid and monomaniacal – and just as likely to be heeded.

    In any case, you think you have an real privacy left outside your home? You think the state can’t find out what you’ve been up to, often in surprising detail, already? You think the state WILL, necessarily and inevitably, use all this information to destroy you just for the hell of it? You think not having a centralised ID database is going to make the SLIGHTEST difference to any of that?

    There are good arguments against the system, notably that it simply won’t work and even if it did work it will not achieve the aims intended. The privacy argument will not fly, because other than retina scans it creates no new information on you and permits no new ability on the part of the state. Even then, retina scans are going to be needed for passports soon enough anyway, and not just in this country.

    Comparing ID cards and databases to torture and branding is also, to say the least, melodramatic and inaccurate. Torture is not, in fact, practical because it does not produce consistently accurate results, and the branding argument is almost identical to the religious anti-barcoding stuff alluded to above.


  • Jacob

    John K,
    The Nazis also used advanced technology to develop V1 and V2 rockets to shoot at London. What a vicious bunch! Wouldn’t it be better if we prohibitted the developement and deployment of advanced technology, so future Nazis wouldn’t be able to bomb us ?
    You see the point ? It was “Duch civil servants” or (I think) Dutch collaborators who helped the Nazis, not Hollerith machines.

    As to your medical records – seems you NIS is really primitive. My records aren’t in no brown paper folder, they are in computer files at my health care providing company, available over the web. That way – whenever I need – the full records are instantly available to any physician who is treating me.
    I have been solemnly assured that the records are confidential and would not be handed to unauthorized persons. But they are in digital files, so this assurance is absurd, as many thousands of doctors and IT workers have access to them. Still, I prefer this system, as I think that it is important to my health to have the data available, while the risk to my privacy isn’t something that seems to me of cardinal importance.

    In life, we have trade offs – technological efficiency against loss of privacy – the choice to me is a no-brainer.

    What strikes me about the ID card debate is not the malicious and sinister nature of this scheme – but the stupidity of it.

  • Jacob

    Correction: NHS (not NIS).

  • John K

    Jacob, I am glad we are agreed on the stupidity of the ID card system. I referred to the Nazi’s use of the Hollerith machines to point out that they did in fact use the nearest thing to a computerised database they had in the 1940’s, and the use of these machines meant that the Holocaust could be planned much more efficiently. It was of course a huge practical and bureaucratic undertaking, and if it could have been delayed by even a year millions of people could have been saved.

    I am not implying that the present British government has anything like this in mind, but the existence of an ID system with a centralised database facilitates a huge intrusion of governmental snooping into the lives of its citizens. Euan points out that the state keeps many records on all of us, but if they are not all available to government officials at the push of a button we still keep some privacy in practice if not in theory. I do not want some apparatchik like Alastair Campbell to have access to all my details, including tax and medical records, just because I have criticized the government and he wants to plant stories about me in the press. Do you really think that this information and the ability to retrieve it easily will not be misused? I am sure it will be.

  • Euan Gray

    I do not want some apparatchik like Alastair Campbell to have access to all my details, including tax and medical records, just because I have criticized the government and he wants to plant stories about me in the press.

    If the apparatchik wants to plant stories about you in the press, then he will send for your tax and medical records if he thinks they might be of use. Just because he can’t do it at the touch of a button doesn’t mean he can’t do it at all.

    Not having an integrated database is going to make NO DIFFERENCE to this – if they want to do it, they’ll do it anyway.

    Do you really think that this information and the ability to retrieve it easily will not be misused? I am sure it will be.

    Why? Because the civil service is full of voyeurs who join simply so they can trawl through your file? The civil service is crowded with indolent semi-workers who want to take the maximum possible time off work and do the minimum possible when they are at work – why would they intentionally burden themselves with opportunistic snooping through everyone’s files?

    It sometimes baffles me that many libertarians rail against the inefficiency, indolence, incompetence, supidity and downright uselessness of the state, but at the same time are convinced that the state is so ruthlessly efficient, energetic and active in snooping on their every move that they must be resisted at every step. One of these assumptions is wrong – which one?

    Honestly, it’s like the UFO conspirators who are convinced that the government is hopeless and stupid yet manages to cover up alien contact with seamless efficiency for 60 years.


  • John K

    Euan, I think we agree about the general calibre of many public servants. But I think you must accept that the ease of doing things is the key here. Instead of having to trawl through various incompatible databases, which might take days, a large amount of private information will be available at the touch of a few keys. Doubtless there will be “safeguards”, but I do not trust them ,and I do not trust this government not to misuse sensitive information if it suits them. I also fear that government workers will sell sensitive information to third parties, such as journalists, private detectives or even embittered ex-spouses.

    For what it’s worth, I do not consider that I personally will fall a victim to any of this, but I am sure that some people will. Why muddy the waters with these strange comments about UFOs? I only wish this ID card plan would disappear into Area 51 never to be seen again!

  • David

    As one who has shared your experience, my deepest sympathies. It is a particularily terrifying moment when you discover your entire identity has been switched with someone else and there seems to be no means whereby you will ever be able to correct it.

    In my case, in the mid- nineteen seventies I inadvertantly discovered that for the previous three years those responsible for a commercial credit data base had been informing any agent of the state or anyone with the fifty dollars to purchase a business licence that I was a convicted murderer… (well…manslaughter)… serving twelve years for a particularily savage killing.

    A nightmare maze not dissimilar to yours ensued.

    Only by finally getting a radio talk show host to investigate and publicize the fact that there were two of us with the same name and that one of them was sitting in his studio prepared to talk to anyone who would listen forced all those who had created the problem and those who refused to get involved (by doing their jobs), to be dragged out kicking and screaming from behind their carefully constructed layers of bureaucratic protection and into the light to defend themselves.

    They had no defence.

    Just as I still have no defence against the possiblility that at some time, in some place.. I will find myself snapped in an instant into that security driven bureaucratic whirlpool you, David, still find yourself within.

  • Jeff Dege

    If you want to see some problems that a government agency has had in maintaining a database, look at these issues with respect to the NFA register of machineguns:


  • There are several potentially blocking flaws in any National ID Card plan and two unavoidable fatal flaws. It appears to me people advocating a National ID Card haven’t really thought this through adequately. And most critics don’t really get to the meat of the subject either.

    The two big problems with National ID Card plans that are “really useful” (where you MUST have a card to function in society) are:

    1. They can’t pass my Jews In the Attic Test.
    2. They create a single point failure that can be exploited by people wishing to attack our society.

    To the extent you alleviate these flaws you make the ID card less useful–even pointless.

  • Nice article.

    You all might want to look at Bruce Schneier’s article which shows how National ID cards won’t make you any safer. In fact it may make us less safe.

    Essentially, he pulls the use of a national ID as a security tool all to pieces. In fact, he shows how it can even make a country less secure.

    In fact, everything I’ve learned about security over the last 20 years tells me that once it is put in place, a national ID card program will actually make us less secure.

    My argument may not be obvious, but it’s not hard to follow, either. It centers around the notion that security must be evaluated not based on how it works, but on how it fails.

    It doesn’t really matter how well an ID card works when used by the hundreds of millions of honest people that would carry it. What matters is how the system might fail when used by someone intent on subverting that system: how it fails naturally, how it can be made to fail, and how failures might be exploited.

    The first problem is the card itself. No matter how unforgeable we make it, it will be forged. And even worse, people will get legitimate cards in fraudulent names.

    Two of the 9/11 terrorists had valid Virginia driver’s licenses in fake names. And even if we could guarantee that everyone who issued national ID cards couldn’t be bribed, initial cardholder identity would be determined by other identity documents … all of which would be easier to forge.

    Not that there would ever be such thing as a single ID card. Currently about 20 percent of all identity documents are lost per year. An entirely separate security system would have to be developed for people who lost their card, a system that itself is capable of abuse.

    Additionally, any ID system involves people… people who regularly make mistakes. We all have stories of bartenders falling for obviously fake IDs, or sloppy ID checks at airports and government buildings. It’s not simply a matter of training; checking IDs is a mind-numbingly boring task, one that is guaranteed to have failures. Biometrics such as thumbprints show some promise here, but bring with them their own set of exploitable failure modes.

    But the main problem with any ID system is that it requires the existence of a database. In this case it would have to be an immense database of private and sensitive information on every American — one widely and instantaneously accessible from airline check-in stations, police cars, schools, and so on.

    The security risks are enormous. Such a database would be a kludge of existing databases; databases that are incompatible, full of erroneous data, and unreliable. As computer scientists, we do not know how to keep a database of this magnitude secure, whether from outside hackers or the thousands of insiders authorized to access it.

  • Euan Gray

    Instead of having to trawl through various incompatible databases, which might take days, a large amount of private information will be available at the touch of a few keys

    No, I’m afraid I don’t accept this as a reason for making unwarranted snooping more likely.

    The police, who already have relatively easy, legal access to a huge amount of information, don’t do this to any noticeable extent and, indeed, frequently need to be prodded into finding things out when there is a genuine need to do so. Why civil servants would be any more keen to give themselves extra work, however easy it may be, by doing this sort of thing is beyond me. It’s hard enough getting the buggers to do anything in the first place, after all.

    Your point about selling information is valid enough, but there is already ample scope for selling information on people and again it doesn’t seem to happen to any significant extent – at least in Britain, which is a relatively non-corrupt country. Yes, you will always get individual corrupt people who will do this, but that doesn’t mean that a single database will make this more common. If the civil servant is corrupt, he will flog the data anyway. If he isn’t corrupt, then it makes no difference what form the data is in.

    I repeat, I am opposed to the scheme – but simply because it will not actually work and it will cost billions to demonstrate this. If we had any privacy outside our homes worth speaking of, then that argument would be persuasive and I would accept it – but we DON’T, and the single database system will make not the slightest bit of difference to the degree to which the state intrudes in our lives.

    I really would encourage people to oppose the scheme, but using the privacy argument is just a waste of time.


  • Johnathan

    Euan, the practicality argument may weigh most heavily with our vote-grubbing leaders, but bear in mind that it does no harm to try to instill a bit more vigilance in the public, as well as try to rekindle some of that old love of liberty, if you get my drift. We are in trouble if the only arguments against snooping that ever work are whether something will be workable or not.

  • John K

    Euan, I am with Jonathan on this one, I am against the ID card system both because it will not work to make Britain safer, but also because it will indeed facilitate huge intrusion into our privacy.

    You ask why civil servants would want to give themselves extra work. How about if ministers tell them to? I am sure Alistair Campbell would have liked a quick look at David Kelly’s tax and medical records to find ways to discredit him. I know that even now he could have got them eventually, but how much easier to do it at the press of a key?

    Imagine you are driving a nice new car and are stopped by the police. Do you want them to be able to have a quick look at your last tax return to see if you can afford such a car? If they think you cannot, you will have to be able to answer their questions about money laundering!

    It is the sheer intrusion, and the inevitable mission creep of this project which I find really worrying. The fact that it will not actually prevent crime I just take as a given.

  • Euan Gray

    John & Jonathan:

    Well, I’m still not really convinced, but I will think about it some more.


  • Jacob

    Almost all countries have ID cards. Why not learn from their experience ?

    My personal experience, as a card holder is this:
    it’s mostly irrelevant. It doesn’t help much in fighting crime or terrorism. But on the other hand – it doesn’t spell the end of privacy. As far as privacy is concerned – it has little impact. As EG said: the data is out there and accesible, and it is not the ID card that makes it so, it’s accesible anyway.

    The ID card is kind of handy in everyday life – like identifying yourself when withdrawing money from a bank, or when signing a contract or some other transaction. It’s a document like the driver’s license in the US – not more, nor less ! So what’s the big fuss ??

    Maybe I’ve grown so accustomed to it that I’m numb and insensitive to the dangers, but that’s how I see it.

  • Cobden Bright

    One major problem with ID cards has not been mentioned – they put people under house arrest if the ID card is lost, or make them liable for imprisonment if the person does not realise they have lost the card before going out.

    Forcibly kidnapping people for the “crime” of walking about in public without ID papers is a highly immoral act. And if you don’t kidnap & imprison them, then the card is worthless as a security measure.

    Bear in mind that one could increase security and reduce crime by placing *everyone* under permanent house arrest, allowing movement in public only accompanied by police. Why don’t Jacob and Euan support such a measure, surely it would make us safer?

  • Euan Gray

    they put people under house arrest if the ID card is lost, or make them liable for imprisonment if the person does not realise they have lost the card before going out

    Actually, they don’t, and to say they do smacks of paranoia. The proposed legislation means, AFAIK, that it will not actually be compulsory to carry the card at all times. If the card is lost, it’s not an offence (unless you wilfully throw it away or destroy it). However, if you know it is lost and don’t tell anyone, that IS an offence.

    On another tack, I notice few people have commented on the use of the SSN in America as they single “key” to a person’s identity, with data related thereto already widely accessible by a host of state and private organisations. In a sense, the US has a far more stringent and far reaching ID system than Britain does, although of course the balance will change if the proposed legislation passes.


  • John K

    Euan, I agree that in the USA the Social Security number has become de facto a sort of ID tracking system, and as such is open to a great deal of abuse. It was not set up for such a purpose, and I think is still not meant to be used in this way, but it is. This is the sort of mission creep I was talking about before.

    As you say, it is not at present proposed that it be compulsory to carry the ID card at all times, but this might well change. The best way to boil a frog is to put him in a pan of cold water and slowly turn the heat up.

  • Euan Gray

    The best way to boil a frog is to put him in a pan of cold water and slowly turn the heat up.

    Actually, just to be pedantic and off topic, that doesn’t work – the frog jumps out the pan.



  • Andrea

    But social security number storing is not paranoia?!

  • Andrea

    But social security number storing is not paranoia?!