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Fisking ‘the anonymous email’

There has been a chain email doing the rounds. It seems to have caught the public imagination to the extent of being used as a source by at least three well-known national columnists to my knowledge.

There are some unwarranted speculations in it, however, and it is worth going through and picking out what’s not true, because what’s left is quite frightening enough. This is long, sorry.

You may have heard that legislation creating compulsory ID Cards passed a crucial stage in the House of Commons.

Actually it is now the Identity Cards Act 2006, and (after a strange and unprecedented delay in getting the final text published, and, unlike all other Acts at time of writing, only in pdf) is now available on the Cabinet Office website here (pdf).

You may feel that ID cards are not something to worry about, since we already have Photo ID for our Passport and Driving License and an ID Card will be no different to that. What you have not been told is the full scope of this proposed ID Card, and what it will mean to you personally.

The proposed ID Card will be different from any card you now hold. It will be connected to a database called the NIR, (National Identity Register)., where all of your personal details will be stored.

Not, quite, all.

This will include the unique number that will be issued to you, your fingerprints, a scan of the back of your eye,

The biometrics to be used have not been finalised, but probably won’t use retinal scanning (the back of the eye) which is more difficult and potentially dangerous. Home Office efforts have concentrated on iris scanning, which detects patterns on the front of the eye using ordinary visible light.

and your photograph. Your name, address and date of birth will also obviously be stored there.

Not quite so obviously, it will also include all names by which you are known (though the extent of this is very unclear: will they want your chatroom handles?), and all your residences (not contact addresses) anywhere in the world will be required.

There will be spaces on this database for your religion,

Not according to the Act. Though it could be included later under a statutory instrument. The Act permits almost every aspect of the scheme to be altered or extended by regulation.

residence status, and many other private and personal facts about you.

True.

There is unlimited space for every other details of your life on the NIR database,

Not true. It is not quite as bad as that, but also much worse. The NIR cannot be unlimited, but it will act as an index to all the details of you life held on other databases if any of the details held in it is used as a key by another organisation – as it will be highly convenient to do.

which can be expanded by the Government with or without further Acts of Parliament.

Which is true.

By itself, you might think that this register is harmless, but you would be wrong to come to this conclusion. This new card will be used to check your identity against your entry in the register in real time, whenever you present it to ‘prove who you are’.

Or indeed, if you do not present a card, but just give your number.

Every place that sells alcohol or cigarettes, every post office, every pharmacy, and every Bank will have an NIR Card Terminal, (very much like the Chip and Pin Readers that are everywhere now) into which your card can be ‘swiped’ to check your identity.

This is speculation. But it is likely the banks will be encouraged to use ID verification at every opportunity to comply with FSA “Know your Customer” requirements and the Money Laundering Regulations, as a way of cutting their own risks and costs. Home Office minister Hazel Blears told Bloomberg TV in October 2004 that there would be a biometric scanner in every doctor’s surgery.

Each time this happens, a record is made at the NIR of the time and place that the Card was presented.

True. This is an explicit aim of the Act.

This means for example, that there will be a government record of every time you withdraw more than £99 at your branch of NatWest, who now demand ID for these transactions. Every time you have to prove that you are over 18, your card will be swiped, and a record made at the NIR. Restaurants and off licenses will demand that your card is swiped so that each receipt shows that they sold alcohol to someone over 18, and that this was proved by the access to the NIR, indemnifying them from prosecution.

Speculation. Cash withdrawals could be tracked another way, in any case, if your bank account is tagged with your ID details for KYC reasons. Though the Home Office has conducted research into people’s reactions to producing the card for purchases of more than £100 and verification (i.e. a permanent NIR record) for purchases of more than £200, no plans to do this have been announced. Likewise with age checks. Home Office ministers have implied this might be a way in which ID cards would be useful to the public (“instead of having to carry around one’s passport”). And the Home Office itself also appears to have stepped back a little from its sponsorship of private age verification schemes. But no plans have been announced to compel ID card use for any of these things.

Private businesses are going to be given access to the NIR Database.

Not given. Sold. Perhaps with a bit of arm twisting. Ministers make a largely spurious distinction between access, provision of information and verification of information, but it is highly unlikely anyone outside the Home Office and Security Service will get unlimited browsing or searching rights.

If you want to apply for a job, you will have to present your card for a swipe.

With large firms, this may become true. One of the objectives of the scheme constantly reiterated is to prevent ‘illegal working’ and a whole segment of the NIR is to be deveoted to immigration/residential status, which employers are under an obligation to check. Smaller firms, one supposes will be compelled to keep records of their staff’s NIR numbers – though since national insurance numbers are to be indexed by the NIR, they would do as well – or use a verification agency, perhaps.

If you want to apply for a London Underground Oyster Card,or a supermarket loyalty card, or a driving license you will have to present your ID Card for a swipe. The same goes for getting a telephone line or a mobile phone or an internet account.

Speculation. Though it would be very convenient for large organisations that need or want a name and address to get them this way.

Driving licenses are one of the key documents that have been considered for ‘designated document’ status, i.e. registering on or verifying an existing registration on the NIR would be a condition of having one. But no designation has yet taken place. The Home Office will do it later by regulation.

Mobile phones on the other hand, are one of the items that the Home Office expressly sets its ambition to control through ID cards, in the Regulatory Impact Assessment issued in 2004. Others are renting property,and staying in an hotel.

Oyster, DVLA, BT and Nectar (for example) all run very detailed databases of their own.

True. And these would be neatly indexed by use of (guaranteed unique and government-checked) NIR numbers, which may make NIR numbers irresistable to include. Which would also be very convenient for official investigators who want information about individual’s use of these services.

They will be allowed access to the NIR, just as every other business will be.

Just not true. Certain NIR checks may be compulsory for businesses in due course. But the Act makes clear use and sharing of the data is for government purposes – anything whatsoever the government of the day may seem fit, but government purposes only. The Secretary of State may provide certain information to non-government organisations for ‘verification’, or where they are subcontracted to exercise government functions.

This means that each of these entities will be able to store your unique number in their database, and place all your travel, phone records, driving activities and detailed shopping habits under your unique NIR number.

True, in effect, though it doesn’t follow from NIR access, which they won’t get, but the convenience of cross-referencing once such organisations can be sure they are using a common unique key.

These databases, which can easily fit on a storage device the size of your hand, will be sold to third parties either legally or illegally.

We are actually talking about HUGE data volumes here, so the storage of whole databases and their exchange in physical form is fiction. But the legal and illegal trade in personal data is already a fact. NIR-referencing would make it more valuable and more flexible.

It will then be possible for a non governmental entity to create a detailed dossier of all your activities. Certainly, the government will have clandestine access to all of them, meaning that they will have a complete record of all your movements, from how much and when you withdraw from your bank account to what medications you are taking, down to the level of what sort of bread you eat – all accessible via a single unique number in a central database.

Non-governmental possibly. Through cross-referencing of those private databases they could afford access to, though, not a single magic button. Though why would they want to, except as they do now to sell you things?

Only governments (and kidnappers, blackmailers) really want to know all your activities. And government would not need ‘clandestine’ access, it has open powers both formal and informal to requisition information for investigatory purposes. Nor would it have a single magic button. (The equivalent solution in practice would involve lots of official forms and firms delivering up specified information.)

The other government use, which is wholly impractical now (though individuals can be investigated with time and trouble), but facilitated by such a system, is the ‘fishing exhibition’. This is clearly adumbrated in the short Home Office paper reviewing ‘benefits’ of the scheme for parliamentarians (though lodged in the Commons Libarary too late for any of them actually to read it before the relevant vote). The department wants to know the name and residences of everyone who owns a white van but has not yet submitted tax return this year? Cross references using the NIR make that (in principle) straightforward.

This is quite a significant leap from a simple ID Card that shows your name and face. Most people do not know that this is the true character and scope of the proposed ID Card. Whenever the details of how it will work are explained to them, they quickly change from being ambivalent towards it.

The Government is going to COMPEL you to enter your details into the NIR and to carry this card. If you and your children want to obtain or renew your passports, you will be forced to have your fingerprints taken and your eyes scanned for the NIR, and an ID Card will be issued to you whether you want one or not. If you refuse to be fingerprinted and eye scanned, you will not be able to get a passport.

All true. Though children below 16 will not, for the moment, be eligible to be entered on the NIR.

Your ID Card will, just like your passport, not be your property. The Home Secretary will have the right to revoke or suspend your ID at any time, meaning that you will not be able to withdraw money from your Bank Account, for example, or do anything that requires you to present your government issued ID Card.

True. Though perhaps not the bank-account bit, as mentioned above. He might also confiscate it temporarily if you were suspected of being a football hooligan, since all legislation that applies to passports is extended to ID cards.

The arguments that have been put forwarded in favour of ID Cards can be easily disproved. ID Cards WILL NOT stop terrorists; every Spaniard has a compulsory ID Card as did the Madrid Bombers. ID Cards will not eliminate benefit fraud’, which in comparison, is small compared to the astronomical cost of this proposal, which will be measured in billions according to the LSE (London School of Economics).

Actually, even the government admits billions. The LSE suggests tens of billions. Counting in all third party costs, that may be a modest estimate.

This scheme exists solely to exert total surveillance and control over the ordinary free British Citizen,and it will line the pockets of the companies that will create the computer systems at the expense of your freedom,privacy and money.

If you did not know the full scope of the proposed ID Card Scheme before and you are as unsettled as I am at what it really means to you, to this country and its way of life, I urge you to email or photocopy this and give it to your friends and colleagues and everyone else you think should know and who cares. The Bill has proceeded to this stage due to the lack of accurate and complete information on this proposal being made public. Together & Hand to hand, we can inform the entire nation if everyone who receives this passes it on.

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