Monday, 15 September 2008

The Database State – hell on earth

You might think that NO2ID is against ID cards—and we are—but there is a lot more to it than that. I am of course talking about databases. One thing I have noticed in the UK is that people are starting to act and talk like machines, i.e. they are behaving unintelligently. Databases are concentrations of identifiable data, and they are useful in lots of ways, but our increasing over reliance on them for making real world decisions is very troubling to put it mildly.

I’m grateful to Ross, a NO2ID colleague, for sharing the following personal story which I think is a very good illustrative example of the database state at work.

My wife is American. She came to England in the mid-80s, and was issued a temporary NI number, but never told it was 'temporary'. After about 14 years of living and working in the UK, a new employer pointed out that she was still on a temporary number, and needed (and now long since married to a Brit, was entitled to) a permanent one.

Applications ensued, with me STRESSING that we needed to make sure her contributions up to that point would be transferred to the new number. Were assured they would be.

Soon after, I applied for a projected pension estimate for each of us, to double check. Sure enough, she was deemed to have only just started working in the UK. Phone calls, letters followed. Final result, and here's the punch line, they say 'We have no record of you working in the UK prior to receiving your permanent NI number. IT'S UP TO YOU TO CONTACT YOUR PREVIOUS EMPLOYERS AND PROVIDE US WITH PROOF'.
And that's how the bureaucrat/ database state operates - THEY lose your date, YOU take the blame and suffer the consequences.

BTW, After much effort, we've managed to get some evidence together - not easy as firms previously worked for merge, go bust, lose your records etc, but there are still about 6 years missing - 6 years of NI contributions she'll get no credit or pension for. They even had the nerve to say that she should have kept all her payslips for the previous 14 + years.

What a nightmare! You see if you’re not on the database for some reason you have to start proving that what you say is true: no one will take you at face value. In Thanet last year I produced a birth certificate and passport as proof of identity and was then told by a prospective employer: “but we don’t know who you are.”

Databases: information, information, information, but no ability to judge and assess according to a human set of values—which is fine if you don’t rely on them to make your decisions for you, or rely on them to keep you secure etc. But the ID database that the government is in the process of setting up is a monstrosity, and you are going to be held to account for the accuracy of the information on it, not the government! We say NO to the Database State, which means NO to the ludicrous ID card scheme, NO to more unnecessary databases and NO to the linking up of personal information.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

TUC to the fore in fight against the ID card scheme

Congress pledges to resist this [ID] scheme with all means at its disposal

Thus resolved the TUC recently in Brighton—hurray! NO2ID salutes this landmark resolution which marks a significant step-up in worker resistance to the government’s database-backed ID card scheme, resistance we predicted would emerge back in December last year when Thanet NO2ID was founded.

The motion against the ID scheme, which stated "Congress sees absolutely no value in the scheme or in improvements to security that might flow from this exercise..." was proposed by the pilots' union, BALPA, whose members are among those targeted by the Home Office for compulsory registration on the National Identity Register, the sinister database behind the British ID card. Pilots are intelligent people who can see right through this lamentable scheme, and naturally they are angry about being selected as guinea pigs for its roll out.

Is Stephen Ladyman listening? Considering he was one of the 304 Labour MPs who voted for the undemocratic ID scheme in the first place—something we are not going to forget—one would certainly hope so.

Commenting on the TUC’s resolution Guy Herbert, General Secretary of NO2ID, said
"The Home Office has almost given up pretending that its ID scheme is necessary for national security. Those involved in aviation security day-to-day don't believe it. Now the plan is that ID will confront us in the workplace - as a form of official permission to earn a living. We are delighted that the unions and their members will be ready to fight it."

Meanwhile, I was interested to learn from this BBC report that PA Consulting, the clowns who lost all the criminal records in the land, have had their contract cancelled. But that is too late isn't it, and how come no one ever gets held to account for these outrageous breaches of security? Ultimately the government is responsible and they cannot be trusted to build a secure ID database.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Thanet NO2ID in Dover

Dover NO2ID and Thanet NO2ID joined forces today by, fittingly, the Dover War Memorial. In beautiful sunny weather, and in a good location, the campaigning was effective. We once again got our excellent leaflet into the hands of the public, many of whom may be thinking about this issue seriously for the first time. A few people argued with us, but all discussion was even-tempered and mutual respect was established—we are open to dialogue with anybody. Not a few people signed our petition.
There will be a NO2ID benefit gig tonight at The Whole World Café, The Old High Street, Folkestone.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Smile and speak/write nicely

Because, according to this interesting article in The Telegraph, you are on average being recorded 3000 times a week!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Westwood Cross: bring your money, but not your ideas

Thanet NO2ID recently attempted to campaign at the Westwood Cross shopping centre in Broadstairs. Though some people dislike Westwood Cross there is no denying its popularity and we were keen to see if we could make a dent in this privatised zone of unlimited consumption.

Our attempt was always a long shot and sure enough it was not to be. Within about one minute of setting up (in a discreet spot, in nobody’s way and not interfering with any advertising) a black-suited security man toting a walkie-talkie came over and indicated by his body language that we were not welcome. I went over and engaged with this man, in my usual diplomatic manner, and he confirmed that without permission from the management we had to pack up and move on. Before leaving I tried to secure permission from the said management to campaign and they told me to contact a company called “Space and People”, based in Glasgow of all places, to seek permission, but the management man (always a man) added that anything “political” was basically not going to be allowed.

Of course, we are not going to contact that company—why should we? Here is Thanet, not Glasgow. After leaving Westwood Cross we took our campaign to Ramsgate where we got a good response from the good Thanet/Ramsgate public. But it bothers me that an important site of struggle has been closed off to us.

Some people might say that at least Westwood Cross is being consistent in not allowing any political campaigning. But actually there is no such thing as a neutral political position and by not allowing political campaigning Westwood Cross effectively serves the interests of the ruling class who increasingly seek to keep us all in line with CCTV and yet more rules about what we can and cannot do. Is this really a free country?

Monday, 11 August 2008

NO2ID and the Art of Campaigning

Thanet NO2ID has been actively campaigning on the street in a summer offensive. Campaigning is a great experience and I always feel refreshed by the struggle. But there again it is not that much of struggle—very few people are in favour of the government’s ID database scheme once it has been properly explained to them what it all entails. Loads of Thanet people have signed our NO2ID petition.

One thing we say to people is that we are not against ID cards per se (though there is enough ID about already), but strongly oppose the National Identity Register (NIR). The NIR will hold all your information and will be shared about by government. That is wrong period. ID cards will be linked to this very dangerous database if the government gets its way.

Some people say to us is that the government has all our information already. Well, there is some truth to this assertion but the government does not have all that information concentrated in one place and on tap as it were. Currently, information about us is held on multiple databases and in separate domains, and that is the way it should be. The idea of “joined up” government is silly beyond words and breaks all common sense rules about protecting data.

Understandably, a few people are defeatist and believe the government will do whatever it likes anyway. This negativism is unjustified, however, and it is a fact that with a just cause campaigning does make a difference. Politicians are forced to listen to us, even if they don’t like what they hear, and if they get it wrong—and New Labour has got it very wrong on ID cards—then it is within our ability to see that they do not remain in power.

Speaking of which, it was with some disappointment that I recently learned from one of our members that Stephen Ladyman, Thanet South MP, remains committed to the ID database scheme. I suppose it is hard to admit you got something so very wrong, but it is not too late for Dr Ladyman to take another look at this flawed scheme, and we urge him to do so.

What can you do?

1.Consider getting a new passport now before passports are linked to the NIR.

2.Get informed about the ID scheme and join/make a donation to NO2ID.

3.Write to Stephen Ladyman to express your dissatisfaction with the ID scheme if he is your local MP. (When writing to MPs you should put your point of view across politely but assertively. Don’t write until you grasp the issue fully.)

4. Be cautious about giving out your information.
Educate your children about their rights and ensure that they refuse to be fingerprinted.

5. Join our Thanet campaign by coming to a meeting or joining a stall.

NO2ID now has over 40,000 members nationally. Canterbury NO2ID and Dover NO2ID are both active in East Kent. There are other groups all over the country, and a Maidstone NO2ID group was recently formed. Join our fight to keep Britain free.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

High level reports confirm dangers of government’s looney ID-database scheme

Quite a lot has been going on recently. Among other things, the public’s attention is now temporarily focused on the issue of excessive surveillance. NO2ID is certainly concerned about the burgeoning surveillance society, and we would question, for example, whether it was really necessary to set up such an expensive, though essentially limited, high-tech surveillance operation at the recent Margate Land Air Show, which you can observe in this video.

It seems the police had those cameras there as a means to enforce good behaviour. The terrible message given to the public is: we don’t trust you. But this kind of high-tech surveillance is actually far inferior to having two police officers just walking about keeping there eyes open for trouble. The impression you get is that the police are actually hiding behind their technology.

Last month an important Home Affairs Committee report posed the question: “A Surveillance Society?” The report makes fascinating reading, not least because it clearly highlights the dangerous propensity of the current government to engage in obsessive surveillance and unnecessarily grab information. Interestingly, in this report one senior detective testified to the committee that only about three percent of crimes were solved thanks to CCTV evidence—a lot less than one might imagine—and that “billions” spent on high-tech kit could have been better spent on, for example, having more trained police on the streets.

But it was what the Home Affairs report had to say about databases that really struck a chord with me, and with all those fighting against the government’s looney ID-database scheme: “In the design of its policies and systems for collecting data, the government should adopt a principle of data minimisation. It should collect only what is essential, to be stored only for as long as necessary.”

Bang on. But the government’s ID-database scheme operates on totally different principles: it operates on the principle of data maximisation. It wants to collect all kinds of information about you, including biometric information which cannot be replaced. It wants to store this information on a centralised database and keep it forever. Your identity, in other words, will become government property, and it will be shared about willy-nilly.

The government’s database-linked Identity cards are so dangerous because, as the Home Affairs report notes, technologies such as internet search engines potentially make our personal information available to anybody at the click of a mouse. And once your info is out there in cyberspace, your privacy has gone forever. In addition, the National Identity Register—the centralised database where the government plans to keep your information—will allow government to start profiling people, a very sinister prospect but one that is very much on the cards.

The government’s misuse and loss of data, and obsessive surveillance will, the Home Affairs report suggests, contribute to individual’s withdrawing co-operation from authority: “…the risks associated with the collection and use of personal information in databases in particular and the monitoring of individual’s behaviour in general, should not be underestimated. Mistakes or misuse of data can result in serious practical harm to individuals. Those less demonstrable risks which relate to the erosion of one’s sense of privacy or individual liberty also have a practical aspect and a broad application in that they affect the way in which citizens interacts with the state.”

Speaking of privacy, should you surrender and sign up on the National Identity Register (NIR) you simply won’t have any privacy left. You’ll be tagged for life. In a barely concealed criticism of the government’s database-linked Identity scheme, the Home Affairs report calls on the government to stop the blanket collection of identifiable transaction data—that’s the audit trail created every time you use your ID card. The government should change their mindset of collecting more data than is needed, says the report. Are the government listening? Nope. Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, recently had the temerity to suggest that no one in this country had a right to anonymity.

The Home Affairs report calls for an “explicit statement that the NIR will not be used as a matter of routine to monitor the activities of individuals.” Here NO2ID parts company with the report; we say: the NIR places far too much power in the hands of the state, DON’T REGISTER ON THE NIR IN THE FIRST PLACE. We cannot trust government “assurances” which are mere platitudes but not legal rights. Why the hell should the Home Secretary have the right to know everything about me when I do not have a similar right to view her information? Why should no less than one hundred people—we discover from testimony in the Home Affairs report—have total access to all my personal information when experience in the private banking sector shows that at least one in a hundred people will do something corrupt given half the chance?

Think on good people of Thanet. “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”—what a load rubbish! Governments kill a lot more people than terrorists do, and we must make government accountable to us and not the other way round. What about Germany in the 1930s—all those nice respectable Jewish people had nothing to hide, and look what happened to them. I am obviously not trying to equate the present British government with the Nazis here, but rather am emphasising a point: in a democracy we are in charge of the government, and it is the government who must be accountable to us. We have to stay in charge, and keeping control of our identities is integral to the democratic project.

Which brings me on to the Treasury’s “Challenges and Opportunities in identity assurance” report published the month prior to the Home Affairs report thus far referred to. Bless you, Sir James Crosby, a voice of reason. The Treasury in this neat report put forward a very good case for having a universal identity scheme. But, crucially, they lay out the democratic principles on which such a scheme must be based:

1. The purpose of any scheme should be restricted to enabling citizens to assert their identity

2. Governance should inspire trust. It should be independent of Government

3. The amount of data stored should be minimised. Full biometric images (other than photographs) should not be kept

4. Citizens should "own" their entry. It should not be possible, except for national security, for any data to be shared without informed consent

5. Enrolment should minimise costs and give citizens a hassle-free experience

6. To respond to consumers and give benefits, it should be capable of being rolled out quickly

7. Citizens who lose cards or whose identity is compromised should be able to get it fixed quickly and efficiently

8. The scheme's systems should work with existing, efficient, bank systems to reduce risks

9. To engage consumers enrolment and cards should be provided free of charge

10. The market should play a role in creating standards, to ensure ease of use and minimise costs

All this is perfectly reasonable and sensible and could form the basis of an alternative identity scheme—NO2ID is not opposed to identity cards per se. But in fact the present Identity scheme, being implemented by the Home Office, breaks every one of the Treasury’s summary list of principles. What we cannot accept is the shape of the present Identity scheme, the lunatic grab for power, the obsession with surveillance. Commenting on the Treasury’s idea of Identity assurance, Sir James notes: “ID assurance is not ID management, in which an organisation keeps close track of people and their movement. The distinction between the two is fundamental. ID management is designed to benefit the holder of the information; ID assurance is focused on bringing benefits to the consumer.”

All this is old news though. “The LSE Identity Report”, authored by a whole slew experts sponsored by the London School of Economics in 2005, convincingly demonstrated that the present Identity-database scheme is flawed in both principle and in design, and would be ridiculously expensive to implement. The report, constructively, went on to suggest an alternative model for an identity card, one in line with the Treasury’s principles. The government’s reaction was to nitpick over some details of the LSE’s suggested alternative, and deny the super high costs of their own scheme. You see, the government does not listen, not even to the many bright people within its own party, the government executive and in academia.

Conclusion: New Labour’s identity-database scheme is in the long run doomed, another example of hubris. But how much damage to democracy can we accept in the meanwhile? People of Thanet take up the cudgels and join NO2ID right now.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

The Politics of the ID scheme

Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands of extra police officers on the beat in our local communities. Tony Blair

Here here to that, but oh dear Blair the flibbertigibbet came to change his mind so disastrously on ID cards—a war here, an ID card scheme there, it all seemed like a good idea at the time, but was he really in command of all his faculties one begins to wonder…This post attempts to explore some of the political background to the UK’s current ID scheme to put Thanet residents more clearly in the historical picture. Bear in mind that there is a lot more to the ID scheme than meets the eye…

The idea of re-introducing ID cards in the UK was first raised back in the 1990s by some members of the Conservative Party. At that time, the idea seemed to be that ID cards would help tackle crime, a perennial theme of pro-carders. A committee was duly set up to investigate the possibilities of introducing a card. Roger Gale, Thanet North MP, was on that committee, and basically it concluded that the introduction of mandatory ID cards would be costly and not necessarily the solution to the problem of crime that some people seemed to think, though some kind of voluntary card might be considered. Eventually, however, the distracted Conservatives lost enthusiasm for ID cards, and the policy initiative ran out of steam.

The 9/11 terrorist strikes on the United States in 2001 were, as we all know, spectacularly successful, and could have been even more so. The attacks cast a long shadow over the millennium, and would have a profound affect on the domestic and foreign policies of the US and the UK for years to come. The US responded aggressively to the attacks, and the UK government backed the US to the hilt. The “War on Terror” had begun. And at exactly the same time, the democratic rights and civil liberties of the citizenries of both countries slowly began to erode with a concomitant corruption of thought and language at the highest political levels—systematic torture and abuse now went by the innocuous-sounding term “rendition”, for example.

It was within this larger security/political context that Blair’s Labour government revisited Identity cards around 2002, at first tentatively. They had a model set up and running on a small scale in the form of the Citizen Card, a smart card carrying a photograph and fingerprint data that all asylum seekers in the UK had to register for as of 2002. Within the year, the government announced the decision to build a database for a compulsory national identity card, initially citing the need to combat fraud as its motivation. What is so amazing is how fast this decision was arrived at, and how the government moved from disinterest to total commitment to a maximum, high-tech, centralised-database model ID scheme so quickly. Initially cautious, David Blunkett became politically invested in the scheme, and its most powerful sponsor.

In relation to ID cards…I think there is no longer a civil liberties objection to that in the vast majority of quarters. There is a series of logistical questions, practical questions, those need to be resolved, but in my judgement now, the logistics is the only time delay in it, otherwise I think it needs to be moved forward. Tony Blair

On April 2, 2004, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, uttered the words quoted above in parliament, words that are very significant. They are a prime example of “framing”, or of a politician construing reality to fit in with the reality they want; of determining the parameters of legitimate debate. Who on earth says there is no longer a civil liberties objection to that [the ID scheme] in the vast majority of quarters? Answer: Tony Blair: “I think...” He cleverly primes the ground: “logistics” is the only “time delay in it”, by inference the only issue worth debating. A discussion based on serious political principle was being suppressed. Otherwise, the government did indeed think it needed to go forward and nothing has changed in the years since; the government simply ignores any discussion based on civil liberties objection, which were actually growing in many quarters in 2004, and continue to grow today.

In 2004, a select committee was set up to investigate the quality of the government’s draft ID cards legislation. The committee, weighted in favour of the government, also stated that they did not emphasise principle: “…identity cards should not be ruled out on grounds of principle alone: the test should be whether the costs are proportionate to benefits…” Hilarious really: spend ten billion pounds for almost no benefits, but I’m jumping ahead…the point is that a momentum was gathering behind the ID legislation, and those sponsoring it were dismissive of all discussion based on principle (obviously because the scheme was so totally flawed in principle). Nevertheless, the committee did state that “the draft bill goes wider than is necessary to introduce a simple system to establish and demonstrate identity”, an understatement if ever there were.

By mid-2004 the government got it into its head to go ahead with its plan to introduce the Identity Cards draft Bill into parliament, basically rigging the consultation process which was neither open nor sustained. Considering the proposed legislation represented the biggest and most profound change in the British constitution since the 1832 Reform Act, the level of consultation was a joke. A major propaganda effort went into gear, Blunkett stating that the ID scheme “will deliver real benefits in particular making a significant contribution to tackling organised crime, terrorism [and] illegal immigration.” The Home Secretary did not produce a shred of evidence to back up his sweeping claims. The “Identity Cards Bill” was published on November 29th 2004, and a slightly amended version re-introduced into the new parliament on May 25th, 2005.

That such a Bill could have made its way into parliament at all is a sad reflection on the state of UK democracy in the aftermath of 9/11. Everyone was angry, no one was thinking straight, bureaucrats and IT companies stepped up promising a brave new world based on the ID scheme, and MPs, with many exceptions, went to sleep at the wheel. The Bill, which of course became law the following year after a tug and pull in the upper house, was just astounding. The true and frightening nature of this most ill-thought out scheme was crystal clear to anyone who read the Bill: this wasn’t about identity cards at all; it was about a system of surveillance of the whole population.

Briefly, the Bill called for the setting up of a National Identity Register (NIR) on which all citizens must register. In addition to the normal type of personal information one has on a passport, citizens would have to hand over up to fifty “registrable facts” that would include biometric data such as fingerprints and iris scans. This information would be held on a "secure" centralised database, and one’s identity could be checked against it by government, and by accredited private sector institutions. But all sorts of people in government would be allowed to access this information without the consent or knowledge of the citizen: the police, the security services, the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise etc. In addition, the “Secretary of State may provide information without consent to a public authority where provision is necessary in the “public interest.” British society would be reduced to a series of numbered records on a database, information about us would be freely shared across government, and the audit trail of checks made against the database would be kept for inspection, forever. You would get an identity card: “voluntary”, but of course eventually you won’t be able to do anything without one, and every time you do use it a record would be added to your file on the database. Needless to say, the intrusiveness of this identity scheme was totally unprecedented and went far beyond anything operating in any other country of the world. When the Identity Cards Act was passed in 2006, Britain went from being a model democracy, of a kind, to being a model regressive democracy overnight.

Since the Act was passed in 2006, progress towards setting up the NIR has been going on apace behind the scenes, and the government has not changed its tune since making the decision to go for a centralised database-linked compulsory Identity card scheme in 2003. Indeed, and despite some very good expert advice from many quarters—the CBI, Qinetiz, Microsoft, Liberty, the Law Society, and the London School of Economics, to name but a few—the basic parameters of the scheme have not changed one iota, and the government merely tries to deal with the question of “how”, ignoring “why” or “whether”—the latter important questions put out of the frame by Tony Blair in 2004. Government and Whitehall officials act like nothing is wrong, and its business as usual despite its loss of the personal information of every family in the land on two discs at the end of 2007.

What we are concerned with here is not to go into detail about what’s wrong with the government’s ID scheme—it’s just plain wrong in principle period, but we’ll get onto a whole bunch of specific problems in future posts—but to examine the government’s political strategy and its ability to get the scheme implemented. After all, there is still a long way to go, and so far the government has not been able to meet its initial roll-out schedule. This is not surprising, because in addition to the scheme’s basic wrongness which is getting harder to camouflage, it also presents the government with potentially insurmountable practical political difficulties.

One obvious practical difficulty is persuading the public that the ID scheme is a good idea. So far, it has been relying on a smokescreen of propaganda that feeds off of people’s fears, such as the terrorism, crime, and immigration factors. But the government has not been able to win over the intelligentsia, and the very fact that an organisation like NO2ID exists—with over 40,000 members nationwide and growing—shows that there is significant disquiet about the ID-database scheme. The government likes to refer to opinion polls to suggest that it’s on the right track, but on balance when people find out what the ID scheme is really all about the government will face increasing and vigorous resistance—that is what all polls together indicate when analysed more rigorously.

Another difficulty, from the government’s point of view, is actually getting 60 million people registered on the NIR in the first place. The costs and practical difficulties of doing this are enormous, but actually the real problem was always political. It is one thing to pass an Act of Parliament, it is quite another to get the whole of the British citizenry to line up and have their fingerprints taken. Not very nice: not a vote winner. The government has had no real chance to work this one out because in its (very) limited trial of biometrics it did not meet the kind of resistance it will when the population as a whole gets inconvenienced—all those mismatches, false negatives and false positives are going to be a nightmare for everyone, and not a few are in for an epiphany. Of course, as we now know from leaked documents, the government is adopting “salami tactics”—it is planning to force people onto the NIR group by group. Most recently, we learn they will start with foreign residents (this year) and airport workers (next year). Can’t wait to see how that goes.

My prediction is that the ID scheme is not going to be implemented smoothly, if at all, because of the enormous amount of friction that is soon going to be generated by its roll-out. Many of us may be put onto the NIR by stealth—when getting a passport, or doing something else like buying an air ticket, the government will register us on the database without our consent anyway—but lots of people are not going to take kindly to being fingerprinted or handing over a vast amount of personal information to an Identity official. Of course, the government is giving itself a generous amount of time, not to mention an unlimited budget, to achieve its objectives. If enough money (our money folks) is thrown at it, some kind of centralised ID system could emerge, but it will be almost useless, extremely dangerous, and totally undemocratic…sometimes changing your mind is OK.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Strong support for NO2ID in East Kent

Thanet NO2ID and Canterbury NO2ID campaigned outdoors today and walked straight into a groundswell of support. In Margate high street a surprising number of people were aghast at the governments ID card scheme and eagerly signed the NO2ID petition. Meanwhile, in Canterbury the local NO2ID group once more gathered donations and signatures aplenty.

Of the people we spoke to perhaps one in ten thought that “Identity” was a good idea. But what they meant by this was hard to say. I think most of them meant that the introduction of mandatory identity cards will help solve problems a, b, c, and d. But as we noted in a previous post, identity cards are not going to help solve problems a, b, c, and d. Therefore, the minority who view identity cards positively are basically seem to be uninformed rather than truly convinced.

But the overwhelming response to NO2ID’s argument was extremely positive and numerous ordinary people expressed disgust at fingerprinting and the government’s willy-nilly sharing of data. One member of the public actually spontaneously joined in with our campaigning!

In addition to gathering a healthy number of signatures for the petition, we also put a lot of leaflets into the hands of passers by, some of whom will hopefully contact us at a later date. Certainly today’s activities greatly raised NO2ID’s visibility locally, and we will continue to run stalls for direct contact with the public.

Campaigning works and today we proved that NO2ID means business.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Thanet NO2ID meets Stephen Ladyman, Thanet South MP

Thanet NO2ID recently had the pleasure of meeting Stephen Ladyman, Labour Member of Parliament representing Thanet South since 1997. Until the end of last year, Dr Ladyman held the Minister of Transport portfolio in the government. He is now Vice Chair of the Labour Party with special responsibilities in the southeast. He has been an active proponent of the British Identity Card and has voted for the introduction of the ID-database scheme all the way down the line. In short, Dr Ladyman is someone we had to meet.

In the brief time available to us it was not really possible to work through all the complex issues involved with the ID scheme. However, Thanet NO2ID made its dissatisfaction with the scheme known to Dr Ladyman. As we pointed out, the British constitution is very delicately balanced and the ID-database scheme threatens that balance by allowing government to define our identities and gain ownership over our privacy. Dr Ladyman is a patient listener, but he was not impressed with this argument. He countered that the scheme was voluntary and provided a foolproof means of establishing a person’s identity.

To suggest that the government’s ID scheme is “voluntary” is disingenuous to say the least. It is currently voluntary be default—the government does not have the capability to introduce compulsory identity cards for everyone overnight. It is the clear intention of the government to make identity cards mandatory in the future, however, and everything is being geared up with this long-term goal in mind. The roll-out is effectively a giant trial. Interestingly, Dr Ladyman did suggest the scheme might be scrapped if it did not work. That was politic of him, and a tacit admission that identity cards for all is not inevitable.

Dr Ladyman, who has a scientific background and previoulsy worked as a computer systems designer, did not seem too worried about the ID scheme’s security challenges. We did not mention the three million car learners’ records that went missing under his watch, but did the former minister not foresee the inevitability of catastrophic security breaches from centralising so much data on the National Identity Register? The Labour MP’s response was that the database was already in existence, and so much information about us can be found online already. Oh, brilliant. So we should just add to and link-up all that information and put all the records in one place then?

Thanet NO2ID noted that the government’s mishandling and loss of data, overbearing Identity scheme and other related concerns will be a major issue at the next election. NO2ID does not tell people how to vote, but we feel that Dr Ladyman has wrongly bought into the ID scheme and this will have an adverse affect on his and the Labour Party’s fortunes at the next general election. The MP did not agree with this assessment.

Thanet NO2ID applauds the Labour MPs who refused to support the undemocratic and dangerous Identity Cards Act 2006. We continue to seek a dialogue with the Labour movement and also with Dr Ladyman who may yet come to see that the disadvantages of the ID scheme far outweigh any benefits, as seen narrowly, it may afford.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

The ID-Database scheme-no panacea

Those Thanet residents who think that ID cards might be a good idea have probably been hoodwinked into believing that the scheme will help deal with one or other of the following problems: terrorism, identity theft, illegal immigation and benefit fraud. Unfortunately, the ID-database scheme will not help solve any of these problems, and its introduction is much more likely to make them worse. Here’s why.

The problem of terrorism

ID does not establish intention. Typically modern terrorists are highly organised and use cells of people who do not have a criminal record—so-called “Lilywhites”—in their operations. In the world today there is no link between the use of identity cards and the prevalence of terrorism. ID cards will not deter terrorist activity. Even government ministers have admitted that ID cards will not prevent terrorism.

Terrorism is not new, and but it has now become an overblown bogey invoked to justify infringements on our liberty. The most frightening thing is that a highly trusted form of identity card may actually help terrorists who could steal your identity from the National Identity Register (NIR) database (with a little help from a corrupt insider—think about it.)

The problem of identity theft

Setting up a single, centralised point of reference for your ID will not stop identity theft. As mentioned above, puttting all your information in one basket and trusting it to government is actually very high risk and opens up more opportunities for data-theft, as occurs in Australia and the USA.

Most fraud in the UK cannot be stopped by the implementation of ID cards alone, and a highly trusted form of ID card may be of more use to the fraudster. There is also the problem of identity thieves registering on the ID-database in the personae of innocent others. This only needs to happen a few hundred times and the NIR will become “infected” and no longer trusted. All that information surrendered, all the money spent, and all for nothing!

Biometrics are not reliable and, contrary to what the government implies, can also be forged. On the other hand, your biometrics cannot be replaced, unlike a PIN number or address. Once a fraudster gets their hands on your biometric data your identity will never be secure again.

Can you trust any government not to lose your data? In just the few months I have been back in the country, the current government have successively lost 25m benefit records, 3m car learner’s records, and now 600,000 armed forces applicant’s records. These are just the more spectacular cases you hear about in the media, but actually sensitive data is being lost all the time. All this is absolutely outrageous, but the NIR would contain so much more information about you that could also be lost.

Data theft is a crime that is difficult to prove and difficult to bring successful prosecutions against. The best protection against data theft is not to centralise data in the first place, and to strictly limit access to any data for a limited purpose only. Obviously, the NIR breaks all these common sense rules about security.

The problem of illegal immigration

The problem of illegal immigration—if it is a problem—has a lot more to do with unscrupulous employers than with identity fraud. Foreigners enter Britain with documents of foreign origin, and the Identity card will be no more of deterrent to them than the need for visas and passports. Contrary to what some people may believe, it is not easy for illegal immigrants to obtain benefits in this country; most illegal immigrants are actually working and contributing to the economic growth of this country.

A separate but related issue is that of asylum-seekers who come to this country seeking assistance, residence and benefits. Many asylum seekers are genuine cases, some are not. In any event, asylum seekers must acquire a UK identity from scratch, and the existence of the ID database will not deter them from coming here in any way; they inavariably turn up with no papers at all.

To catch illegal immigrants and others illegally resident in the UK presupposes massive checking of identity cards by police on a daily basis. Inevitably, such checking will become discriminatory and will divide people. Identity cards do not stop illegal immigration in other European countries, such as France, but they do increase the power of the police to make arbitrary checks on the citizenry. Random police checks on British citizens will soon come to be seen as politically unacceptable, as they were just after World War Two.

The problem of benefit fraud

Hardly a day goes by without some sensationalist report appearing in the media about someone fiddling the benefits system. But benefit fraud is only a relatively small proportion of all fraud in the UK, and the proportion of it due to misrepresentation of identity is actually miniscule. Figures for claims under false identity are estimated at £50 million (2.5%) of an (estimated) £2 billion per year in fraudulent claims. Most fraudulent claims are based on false statements about circumstances, and the introduction of identity cards will do nothing to tackle this problem. In the UK the Department of Social Security argued against ID cards on these grounds.

As argued above, the introduction of the Identity card-database scheme is no panacea for dealing with the problems of terrorism, identity theft, illegal immigration and benefit fraud. In the area of identity theft, the setting up of a centralised database with your whole personal story stored on it is likely to become a target of theft, or it may just get "lost." The above mentioned problems are actually separate and highly complex problems to which there are no simple single solutions. Identity cards are not the answer, and in all likelihood will complicate matters greatly, not simplify them. The single biggest group to be inconvenienced by the identity card-database state is the ordinary British citizenry, including Thanet residents; meanwhile, terrorists, criminals and fraudsters will be laughing.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Inaugural meeting of Thanet NO2ID

Thanet NO2ID will be holding its inaugural informal meeting 7.00pm, Friday 25th January (2008) at the Pascucci café, 14 Buenos Ayres, Margate. The café is located on the corner of the row of Georgian houses that face out over Margate beach near Margate railway station. The café, normally closed winter evenings, is opening especially for us. Drinks and food can be purchased.

The purpose of the meeting is to bring together those people in Thanet who might be interested in joining the local no2id campaign (you could join the national campaign and not be active locally). As this is our first meeting there is no particular agenda, but it is as well to establish a plan of action early on.

At this stage I do not anticipate a huge turnout but this really does not matter. All campaign groups start small, and it only takes a few people, or just even one person, to light a fire. The local press have been informed of the meeting and if we get some coverage this might boost numbers.

Bear in mind the national campaign has over 40,000 registered members, and is growing rapidly—we are not the only ones concerned about the ID-database nightmare. Please make this meeting a date in your diary, and bring a friend along.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Thanet NO2ID meets Roger Gale, Thanet North MP

Thanet NO2ID recently had the pleasure of meeting Roger Gale, long standing Conservative Member of Parliament representing the Thanet North constituency. Of course, NO2ID is an independent campaigning organisation and we do not endorse political parties or political candidates. It is a fact, however, that Mr Gale has a record of opposing grandiose identity-related schemes and voted against the unconscionable Identity Cards Act in 2006, and so Thanet NO2ID counts him as a friend an ally.

It was yet another scheme to collect private information from Kent residents that was very much on Mr Gale’s mind. A government plan to make every town hall send out surveys requesting resident’s private details and opinions, including questions about sexual orientation and ethnicity, was slammed by the MP as “ludicrous”, and invasive and costly to boot. Mr Gale told me he recently wrote to councils in his constituency asking them to opt out of this “voluntary” survey, but he noted that fear of losing central government funding might be behind the high level of participation thus far.

Regarding identity cards, Mr Gale said that when he was on the committee looking into the matter back in the early nineties the conclusion was that a voluntary identity card issued by a regional office, along European lines, might be useful to people. He felt that the current multi-billion pound high-tech centralised bonanza identity scheme was neither workable nor safe, and he opposes it.

Thanet NO2ID applauds Mr Gale’s position on identity cards and looks forward to cooperating with the Thanet North MP on this issue.

The ID scheme and how it will affect you

Recent discussions with various members of the public seem to indicate there is widespread ignorance about the government’s proposed ID scheme, now well on its way to becoming a reality. Not everyone is clueless, but a significant number of young people and, for want of a better expression, working class people remain uninformed about the ID juggernaut that is hurtling towards them. For the benefit of everybody, I would like to briefly outline the proposed ID system, and to explore a little how the scheme will, if fully implemented, affect us all.

Many countries issue identity cards, which serve as a proof of identity. These identity cards typically hold information such as name, date of birth, place of birth, and so on plus a photo of the card holder, much like a passport. So, one way to look at an identity card is to view it as a passport. But in some countries these cards hold a great deal more information about the card carrier, including perhaps fingerprints or other biometric data. Then there are what as known as integrated cards, which not only function as a kind of passport but also give the card carrier access to government services, and allow government to monitor some transactions of the card holder. The British identity card is a fully integrated card and links to all the information that the government will hold on you.

At the present time, the holding of an identity card in the UK is purely voluntary, but the government propose to make it mandatory by stealth; you will need to register for one to obtain a passport in the near future. This is the moment when the ID scheme will affect you big time. To obtain an identity card you will need to bring a lot of documents to an interview and you will be obliged to give the government 50 pieces or more of information about yourself—basically your whole personal history, fingerprints, biometrics etc. This information will be stored on the National Identity Register (NIR), and you will be issued at identity number which will correspond to your information stored on this database. That, in a nutshell, is how it starts.

So what is the big deal here? Getting an identity card clearly involves some time, inconvenience and cost but once I’ve got one I’m in the club, I’m a certified Brit forever, I have my gold standard proof of identity. Well, the identity card is only the tip of the iceberg; the rest of the story is about what the government is going to do with your personal information.

Once collected, your personal information will be put on the NIR and this centralised database will then be accessible by numerous government departments. The NIR will also be linked to other records held on you such as your medical records. In future, parts of or all of your information will be accessible by dozens of government bureaucrats to check on you as you go about making civil transactions. A record of these checks themselves will kept. Although you will be able to access the information held on you, the government will be able to add information to your record in an arbitrary manner without telling you. In short, a kind of file on you is established via the NIR.

The proposed identity card scheme means that your personal information will be given out to people without your permission. The government claims that “safeguards” will be put in place to protect personal information; it will only be given out on a need to know basis, but in fact the Home Secretary can authorise most of the information to be handed out to any government department that claim they require it. The linking of your information on the NIR to other databases, and the widespread access of government departments to your information is quite unusual in world terms—very few governments do this, and those that operate this kind of set up are dictatorships. Incredibly, it will become the responsibility of the card holder, upon penalty of a fine or even a prison sentence, to keep their personal information up to date. No such penalties are in place for government officials who might add incorrect information about you to your record. In future, the Home Secretary can—as if 50 pieces of information were not enough—add to the categories of information that are required to be known to maintain your NIR record. The Home Secretary also has the power to cancel or demand the surrender of your identity card, without the right to appeal, at any time.

In exchange for handing over all your information, which will be wide open to misuse and abuse by government, you will finally get an identity card and passport. The current quoted cost for the combined card and passport is £93. But actually you would have paid with your privacy, and the financial cost of the scheme passed on to you the taxpayer will be never ending.