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The beast is wounded but not dead yet

The government’s plans to impose ID cards on British people get wobblier by the day and at last they seem to realise that there is no point in pretending otherwise. Nevertheless, it is important for everyone to remember who cast their votes in Parliament and thereby allowed us to get this close to a civil liberties calamity in the first place. We are by no means in the clear yet but it does seem that things are going our way to some extent and so it is important to kick and stamp on this beast hard whilst it is down.

If we are to avoid this issue coming back to haunt us again and again, we need to make sure that forgiveness is left for the afterlife and use the voting record to MPs who voted in favour at any time to question their fundamental morality and trustworthiness, regardless of party. It is essential not just now but in the foreseeable future to make this issue as fraught and unpleasant as possible for all concerned. If we can make ‘the ID cards issue’ synonymous with political calamity, methinks politicos might just avoid the issue in favour of lower hanging fruit.

23 comments to The beast is wounded but not dead yet

  • Iolis

    Next time they’ll do it sneakily, like they did in the US with the Real ID act (which ominously encountered no serious opposition), and link it to a driver’s license and make rules that you can’t travel anywhere or enter government property without one.

  • GCooper

    While I absolutely agree with Mr de Havilland’s post, what troubles me is that the roots of this measure are not really political at all – at least, not in the conventional sense of the word.

    The underlying drive to establish an ID system in this country comes from that sect of secret governors, the civil service who, apparently, resurrect the scheme every decade or so, trying a different bait, depending on which set of clowns happens to be in office at the time.

    As we have neither adequate knowledge about, nor any effective control over, ‘the man who squats behind the man who works the soft machine’ I’m at a loss to know what is to be done to terminate this beast.

  • Robert Alderson

    GCooper makes a good point about the real drive for this being from within the civil service. They want the tools to do a “more efficient job” to govern in our interests because they think they know our interests better than us. This idea last surfaced back in the dying days of the last Tory government I think.

    How to defeat it? The answer is to press on with the broad agenda of beating back the state.

  • Julian Morrison

    I propose: a quick fix, namely, scrap the civil service. Sack the lot of them, and contract out the job to the private sector.

    Seeing as I’m an anarchist I don’t care if they do the job better (although they probably would) however they’ll certainly do the job cleaner, being isolated away from the levers of power by their status as outsiders.

  • I would be more impressed with the desire of the Civil service to introduce ID cards if that body were in anyway competent,since however from passports to assessment forms government has proved grossly incompetent,it would seen yet another chance for them to foul up.

    not sure about privatsation under this government Capita would get it,in which case we would all end up barcoded.

  • Julian Taylor

    Hear, Hear Perry

    I very much agree with Johnathan Pearce’s view some time ago that we need some sort of ‘naming and shaming’ for those MP’s who have pinned their authoritarian colours to the wall over the ID Card Bill.

  • Grubster

    Yes, we should certainly remember which MPs voted for ID cards, and we should also remember those who voted to ban criticism of religion.

  • Far be it for me to defend the Real ID Act (and a nearly identical clause in the Intel Reform Act – you missed that one, Iolis).

    Real ID basically imposes authentication requirements on the states, as concerns “breeder documents” used to apply for drivers’ licenses, which are the de facto ID card here. Roughly 13 or 15 of the attackers obtained fraudulent drivers’ licenses using either shady authentication of their identity (local library card, a piece of mail sent to them at a particular address, etc.). Real ID, when the regs are issued, will basically require states to verify the birth certificate, passport or social security card as authentic, before issuing a driver’s license or state ID card. The licenses will have to be machine readable, and have two biometric identifiers.

    Sounds pretty crazy intrusive, until you closely read the statute. It does not direct states to do this. It simply says that federal agencies will not accept any identification that fails to meet the standard. This avoids (probably) troubles under our federalist form of government, although I wouldn’t bet the farm on it surviving review under once Roberts is on the Court. The other thing going on behind the scenes is the state motor vehicle administrators were moving voluntarily towards a best practices guideline, that the Feds will probably heed. In fact, REAL ID mimics a number of those best practices in its mandate, such as including 10 – 12 mandatory data fields, like name, address, etc. It’s also worth noting that because of the way the program will be set up, states can opt out, or can create classes of non-authenticated licenses and ID, that will work for driving and buying beer, but will not work for social security and welfare applications, or purchasing tickets on airlines. The Feds will also be issuing grant money to help the states pay for the upgrades, which are substantial in many states, trivial in a few others that already have good systems.

    Problems include the Big Brother fear, the fact that once somebody beats the system and gets a good fake ID, nobody will *ever* question it (because driver’s licenses will be believed super-reliable); the cost and time hassle of authenticating all the pre-existing drivers’ licenses. REAL ID attempts to head off some of these concerns by mandating that the new regs will not dictate standard appearance and layout – however, the Motor Vehicle Administrators’ Association already suggests a couple model layouts.

    Now here’s the payoff. New York went to a similar system on its own, in the wake of 9/11. The first guy they caught using a phony driver’s license, was in possession of breeder documents that had been used to procure over 50 fraudulent licenses. Those licenses were used in several hundred fraudulent applications for government benefits of one type or another.

    It strikes me that with sufficient oversight – hah, let’s see if Congress can provide that for a change – that this might actually be one security measure with a really good payoff. It will most certainly cut down on welfare fraud. And, since the states can always opt out, the people do hold a trump card here, as state legislatures are remarkably responsive for the most part. I’m wary, but not as screamingly hostile to REAL ID as I was at first. I think the draft regulations will be the critical thing – the way the Executive Branch executes the law will be key.

  • Verity

    Grubster – Yes, we should certainly remember which MPs voted for ID cards, and we should also remember those who voted to ban criticism of religion. Oh, yes. We should remember names. And in the days of the internet, it is not hard to check back on how people voted. Just a little reminder for MPs.

    Julian Morrison – privatising the civil service … now that it is so degraded by the mainly Za-NuLabour party, why on earth not? There’s no longer anything to lose by way of expertise … let’s hire people and make ’em responsible to the taxpayer, not the government. This is a wonderful idea.

  • Robert Alderson

    One of the biggest fears about the UK’s ID scheme is that the govt wants to create a unique identifying number to enable multiple databases to be merged. One number is the key to all the data. The US already has that with the social security number. When combined with the fairly tight system for driver’s licenses the battle in the US over a national identity card is basically lost.

  • guy herbert

    Verity: And in the days of the internet, it is not hard to check back on how people voted. Just a little reminder for MPs.

    It isn’t: try here.

    But seducing MPs is much much more effective than threatening them. They are used to red-faced ranters offering never ever to vote for them.

  • guy herbert


    I very much agree with Johnathan Pearce’s view some time ago that we need some sort of ‘naming and shaming’ for those MP’s who have pinned their authoritarian colours to the wall over the ID Card Bill.

    The Government with its “respect” agenda hasn’t understood this, but I’d have expect you to have got it: Naming and shaming only works if those named feel shame.

    In practice the expectation of shame is a great disincentive, and naming is unlikely to be required, but it is inculcating shame that’s the difficult bit. Most MPs who have voted for this legislation think they are doing a good, fairly popular, thing. They won’t be ashamed. They’ll be pleased to be named.

    What needs to be done–and we intend to continue to do it–is to explain to MPs that by their own values it is a Bad Thing. To point out how the Home Office and party propaganda they are fed is misleading and their current understanding is founded on mistaken assumptions. To establish in their minds that this scheme isn’t simple, it isn’t safe, and if implemented it will be so unpopular that it will make the poll tax look like a royal wedding.

  • Julian Taylor

    Robert Alderson, we already have 2 unique identifying numbers in the UK, one is stored for the Home Office NCIS system and is used by the police and security services for a central coordination of an individual’s activities. The other is the National Insurance number and is used for tax, social security, unemployment and other state benefits. It is impossible to get ‘normal’ PAYE (Pay As You Earn, not Pay As You Explode according to Mark Steyn) employment in the UK without that number.

    I still fail to see why the government in their fixation on a National ID does not simply use the NI number system and extend it to passport numbers, driving licences etc. It would seem that bureaucrats have a desperate need to propagate into new departments rather than make best use of their existing resources.

  • Julian,

    I think the reason the Home Office doesn’t want to extend the NI number system is that it’s deeply flawed. The Home Office has previously admitted to the central NI number database being a complete mess. For example, the NI number database supposedly features some 80 million NI numbers for a population of less than 60 million Britons.

    The NI number is also unlikely to trip someone up when applying for and taking a job. Usually, when an employer takes on a new employee the only verification of the NI number comes from either (1) checking the format of the number in a computer, (2) checking the number against the employee’s name and address should it be necessary for the employer to contact the Inland Revenue for employee tax payment details and (3) seeing if the number gets bounced back from the Inland Revenue when tax year-end paperwork is submitted in April/May.

    You can probably get away with giving your employer a false NI number as long as the number fits, you don’t give your employer any reason to check your tax details with the government when you start work and the false number isn’t spotted by the bureaucrats at the IR at the tax year-end.

    The Home Office realises how flawed existing databases for NI numbers, driving licences and passports are, hence the need for a ‘fresh start’ with a national ID number, which could (theoretically – but we’re talking government+IT=… here) be added to existing databases through a single new field.

  • John K

    Don’t forget there is also your NHS number. This was based on the old National Registration numbers from the last ID cards. I believe that there was a registry in Southport where the huge card index system for National Registration was administered. Indeed, given how the Civil Service works, the registry is probably still there, and clerks in stiff collars are still filling in the registration cards with scratchy dip pens. Just because ID cards were scrapped in 1952 does not necessarily mean that any civil servants should ever lose their jobs, after all.

  • guy herbert

    Oh, it still exists–see here–and it is a malignant monster. It is part of two separate routes to mass registration and surveillance, the ONS Citizen Information Project, and the NHS “spine”.

    It certainly isn’t just ID cards we have to worry about.

  • Robert Alderson

    Of course in the UK we have NI numbers, NHS numbers etc. but in the US the social security number is pretty much the key identifier for everything. I have just moved to live in the US and I can tell you that you get asked for your social security number for all manner of things – opening a bank account, setting up household utilities, registering with a doctor, getting a drivers license. If you call a customer service centre for a private business they will commonly ask for the “last for our your social” to verify your identity. I would bet that most people in the US know their Social Security Number by heart. I don’t think that any of the numbers in the UK have penetrated so deep into everyday life.

    This is why I say the battle in the US is really lost.

  • Robert Alderson


    If you call a customer service centre for a private business they will commonly ask for the “last four of your social” to verify your identity.

  • Robert Alderson,

    How easy would it be to give every different government department and private organisation you deal with a different SSN, provided you maintained a list somewhere so that you can ‘verify’ the number at a later date, such as when asked for the ‘last four’ of the SSN?

    Is there any effective means by which either government departments or private organisations can verify the authenticity of the SSN given to them?

    How important is it to give your real SSN to everyone you deal with?

    Does giving a false SSN constitute a criminal offence?

  • Robert Alderson

    As far as I know there is no specific offence of providing a false SSN but in most cases where you gave a false number you could probably be charged with fraud.

    The biggest incentive to giving a correct SSN is that the SSN is the key to your credit history. When I set up my household utilities the companies asked for my SSN so they could check my credit history. Because I’ve lived in the US before I had a reasonable credit history and on that basis I didn’t have to pay an up front deposit. If I had given a false SSN the credit reference agency would have told the power company that the SSN did not match my name, since the power company only care about getting paid I would probably have been asked to pay a deposit and nothing more would be said.

    Government departments certainly have the ability to enter a SSN into their systems and get back the associated name. I am unsure how much the various government systems really do hang together but there is certainly a public perception that your SSN will link up everyting on record about you.

    I don’t know if private comapnies have access to the government SSN database but they probably wouldn’t need to because they have built up a parallel set of databases. Everytime you make a credit application you handover your name, address and SSN. From this Experian, Equifax and Transunion will have been able to build up a comprehensive database of their own.

  • guy herbert

    I don’t know if private comapnies have access to the government SSN database but they probably wouldn’t need to because they have built up a parallel set of databases.

    Which indeed is one of the objections to a centralised “identity register” regardless of whether it may be directly searched and accessed by anyone at all. The Home Office has its fingers in its ears and is whistling selections from Iolanthe on this. (As on any other problem raised with the scheme.) See Mr McNulty’s comments passim in Standing Committee.

    Every act of “verification” necessarily creates an entry in the shadow database of all databases using NIR numbers and ID card numbers as foreign keys. To the extent these are only used from commercial motives, I’m not all that worried about them: commercial organizations need to persuade me to give them my money, and therefore have strong incentives to get the records right and administer them without prejudice.

    However, the very existence of such uniquely indexed records creates a digital monoculture in which our individual existence is as a partition of all records about us which severely limits our scope to change ourselves. And to the extent that it creates an opportunity for direct control by those with interests not alligned with supplying our individual desires–whether statal, political, religious, criminal, or personal enemies–it is colossally dangerous.

  • Julian Taylor

    I was interested to note, apropos the discussion above over NI numbers, that Apcoa Parking AG now records £5,000 per month as a budget for penalties incurred in connection with the employment of illegal immigrants by its UK division – it is worth noting that Apcoa provides parking attendants for Southwark Council and other London boroughs and they also used to have the Westminster contract until Westminster revoked it last year. In an number of surprise inspections in 2004 by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate they discovered that Apcoa’s practice was that they would employ 12, mostly illegal, immigrants at a time and get one ‘legal’ immigrant to share his National Insurance number around the rest of the intake. Until last year, when NCP took over parking in Westminster, I was always told that one should ask a parking attendant for his proof of ID and NI Number when he issues you with a ticket, since he might not have been entitled to be working in the first place.

  • I would like to express my reservations about the ID card bill.
    The amount of money it is costing (9billion including the usage database) would be better spent on providing clean water for some african country.
    If the government wants to have ID cards they should first of all have them for themselves, in the form of an individual webpage for every government employee detailing their job and tasks pending and completed, showing all costs incurred including their salaries and pension costs.
    This government is currently trying to vindicate the use of torture in securing convictions against people and toadying up to the Chinese Communist Party ( who this week sentenced a man to life imprisonment for writing a blog like this.)
    How can we trust these people to run a national ID system?

    I dont and I will not carry an ID for them.