We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

<sings>It never rains…in southern california…</sings>

And speaking of rain, so here I am in Los Angeles, having escaped dreary grey London for a while and…

…it has been pissing down with rain here for 11 days now! Wonderful.

David Blunkett – a festive orangutan?

This was too good to pass on… while browsing the Telegraph pages and stumbling across their Review of 2004, I must have caught one of the billion monkeys at work!

You need to click on the thumbnail and read the image title.

Woolly defence of tagging sheep

James Hammerton lays into Charles Clarke and his feeble argument for ID cards in the UK. He unearths some hillarious points, well would be hillarious if not for the topic, about the cost of the wretched scheme:

Take for example benefit fraud. He states:

Moreover, their help in tackling fraud will save tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Some £50 million a year is claimed illegally from the benefits systems using false identities. This money can be far better spent improving schools and hospitals and fighting crime and antisocial behaviour.

However according to the govt’s own regulatory impact assessment (see clause 19):

The current best estimate is that the additional running costs of the new Agency to issue ID cards on a wider basis will be £85m pa when averaged over a ten year period. A further £50m pa is the estimate for the average cost over ten years of the verification service but this would not fall on the individual card holder.

Thus the system is already projected at costing more than twice as much as could possibly be saved from benefit fraud on the govt’s own figures!

James concludes:

At any rate, I’d expect those wishing to fool the system to use the long roll out to study the system and the scanners intently for weaknesses. Given government incompetence, the technical limitations of biometrics and the sheer ambition of what the govt’s attempting, it seems to me quite clear that it’ll be lucky if it makes any positive impact on fighting identity fraud or any other problem the govt has cited at all.

Does this mean we have nothing to worry about? Not quite. Most law abiding people will cooperate with the system, and the system may well thus “work” for this section of the population. Thus law abiding people will find themselves subjected to a licence to live, intrusive surveillance and a bureacracy capable of meddling in just about every area their lives thanks to the card. The criminals and terrorists won’t.

Go and read the whole thing.

ID cards passed

The ID card bill has been passed

Government plans for national identity cards were approved by the Commons last night despite more than a quarter of MPs not voting.

Although Conservative and Labour rebels failed to derail the Identity Cards Bill, they provoked a highly embarrassing mass abstention.

Horrible news indeed and Bill Cash had the right idea:

At one stage Bill Cash (C, Stone) brandished a copy of George Orwell’s novel 1984 at the Home Secretary, challenging him to repudiate claims that the measure would effect a “sea change” in the relationship between state and individual.

Samizdata quote of the year

This is depressing. Especially when I think that I survived communism without ever being fingerprinted…
– Adriana Cronin

If you value your freedom, reject this sinister ID card

The Guardian issues a rallying cry:

To be anonymous, to go privately, to move residence without telling the authorities is a fundamental liberty which is about to be taken from us. People may not choose to exercise this entitlement to privacy, or see the point of it, but once it’s gone and a vast database is built, eventually to be accessed by every tentacle of the government machine, we will never be able to claw it back. We are about to surrender a right which is precious, rare even in western democracies, and profoundly emblematic of our culture and civilisation. And what for? The government advances arguments of necessity, raising the threats of terrorism, organised crime, benefit fraud and illegal immigration.

We must not imagine that respect for individual liberty is innate to the British establishment. With this bill, the government is attempting to change for ever the relationship between the individual and the state in the state’s favour. Those who treasure liberty must not let it pass.

Hear, hear.

What Price Privacy?

Wired reports that huge spending bill signed into law by President Bush on Wednesday could create a new hot job-growth sector: chief privacy officers.

Every federal agency, regardless of size or function, will have to hire a chief privacy officer and employ an outside auditing firm biennially to ensure compliance with the nation’s privacy laws, according to a little-noticed provision.

The officers will be charged with making sure new technologies do not impinge on civil liberties and that federal databases comply with fair information practices.

Quote of the day

Sensible blog Spyblog, does an excellent job of pointing out how the state likes to keep an eye on us via CCTV systems, ID cards and by collecting our DNA. As a servant of the state it worries me, and if it worries me then it really ought to worry you.
Dave of The Policeman’s blog

Fingering EU

A reader forwards the following information:

On October 25th, without any consultation, the Council of European Union introduced a change to this legislation, calling for the mandatory fingerprinting of all EU citizens, residents and visitors.

This, along with the passport could form the basis of an intrusive EU wide identity card, similar to that the current British government is proposing at national level, and certainly would enable EU-wide surveillance of everyone’s movements.

The organisations Privacy International, Statewatch and European Digital Rights have written an open letter to MEPs. They are calling for endorsements of this letter, please email privacyint@privacy.org if you wish to do this. (The email address (terrrights@privacy.org) given on PI’s web page for this purpose bounced.)

They are also calling for people to contact their MEPs over this by November 30th. You can find UK MEPs’ emails here. For those EU residents not in the UK, these links should help.

Ask to see my ID card and I’ll eat it

In his Telegraph column, Boris Johnson comes out strongly, and in his inimitable way, against ID cards in Britain. He goes for the proposal’s jugular, which has nothing to do with anti-terrorism and security and all to do with control and commmand.

I say all this in the knowledge that so many good, gentle, kindly readers will think I have taken leave of my senses, and to all of you I can only apologise and add, in the words of Barry Goldwater, that extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice, and that I really don’t know what I dislike most about these cards.

Worse than the cost and the bother, however, there is the sheer dishonesty of the arguments in favour. If I understood Her Majesty correctly, her Government conceives of these cards as essential weapons in the “war” on terror.

Perhaps it’s the latest ‘release’ from Tory constraints, so to speak, that allows Boris to heave a sigh:

All these points I have made these past few years, up and down the country, and the most frustrating thing is that these objections cut absolutely no ice (unlike, as I say, the cards themselves) with good, solid, kindly, gentle Conservative audiences.

My audience were all gluttons for freedom, if by that you meant the freedom to hunt, or the freedom to eat roast beef without the fat trimmed off. But they were perfectly happy to see their own liberties curtailed, if that gave the authorities a chance to crack down on scroungers and bogus asylum-seekers.

Indeed. If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear! Now, where have I heard this before…?

And the final exhortation:

And there, I fear, the debate has come to rest. To all those who yearn for ID cards, and who would extinguish the flame of liberty in the breath of public panic, I make this final appeal. Read this week’s Spectator, with its terrifying account by a man arrested and jailed for having a penknife and an anti-burglar baton locked in the boot of his car, and then imagine what use the cops could make of the further powers they are acquiring to inspect and control.

Yes, we have, Boris and ’tis a very scary read.

Biometric pilot program to tighten U.S. borders

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun collecting digital fingerprints and pictures of visitors at three major U.S. land border crossings. Kimberly Weissman, spokeswoman for the DHS’s US-VISIT Program said:

We are testing this at these three locations before we roll out the technology at the top-50 land border entry points.

As part of the pilot, fingerprint readers and digital cameras will be used on the southern U.S. border at Douglas, Ariz., and Laredo, Texas, and on the northern border at Port Huron, Mich. Less than 5 percent of the more than 100 million border crossings currently require that the visitors be documented, Weissman said. The other crossings are typically visitors with a Border Crossing Card, which allows people to travel within 25 miles of the border for a period of 30 days.

By the end of the year, the Department of Homeland Security plans to have digital cameras and fingerprint technology in use at the 50 busiest land crossings, which account for the vast majority of traffic across the U.S. border, Weissman said. There are 165 land-border crossings in total. When completed, the US-VISIT program will record the comings and goings of every foreign visitor and let U.S. homeland security officials know when people have overstayed their visas.

Big Brother’s Passport to Pry

Privacy advocates are appalled by the ongoing plan to equip all U.S. passports with RFID chips that can be read surreptitiously from a distance Business Week reports. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier says:

We do need passports with more data. But they chose a chip that can be queried remotely and surreptitiously. I can’t think of any reason why the government would do that, other than that they want surreptitious access. And if airport and border security guards can read everyone’s passports on the sly, so could anyone with a radio-chip reader, from terrorists to identity thieves.