Sunday, July 09, 2006

Who are you?

ID cards.
Do you know what they're for? It seems that the Identity Cards Act was passed on the 30th March. I remember it being blocked at the House of Lords a number of times, but it finally slimed through.
Despite all of the reasons why the Lords sought to block it, the New Labour government has been particularly enthusiastic about getting this off the ground. Why?

The prevention of terrorism angle remains unproven, with no evidence to justify that this massive operation will make any difference whatsoever. The fact that the most recent terrorist activities in this country were carried out by English and Irish people begs the question as to how being able to check their identity will make the slightest difference. All assertions of the ID card system being introduced to combat terrorism are empty and meaningless.

In terms of dealing with illegal immigration, it is shockingly obvious that the vast majority of people seeking to enter this country whether legally or illegally will not be using British identity documents in the first place, so it is irrelevant how secure or not these proposed cards are in terms of checking these people's identity.

Identity benefit fraud costs an estimated £20-50 million (government source). This figure does seem a large amount of our taxes being lost, but when factoring in the huge (and still estimated) cost of implementing the ID card system, the money saved would not pay off the system used to save it for years, and that is assuming that the ID card system remains fraud proof. The government's own Department of Work and Pensions site puts total benefit fraud at £0.9 billion or £1.5 billion a year, depending on whether you look at their main page or FAQ page, so it's obvious that identity fraud is only a small part anyway.

Identity fraud in total is said to cost the UK £1.7 billion a year and affected 135,000 people last year, a 500% increase since 1999 (Home Office source again). This is an alarming trend, but given a minute to think about it you can take into account that the rise in internet usage in the same period and corresponding rise in internet-related scams (such as e-mail 'phishing' for bank details) are unlikely to be affected by owning an ID card. What is missing in these scare-stories is a proportion of this personal fraud that would have been preventable by owning an ID card (similar to the proportion of benefit fraud we can gain from the figures above - a maximum of £50 million out of a minimum of £900 million in benefit fraud)
The government site does say that the ID card will make you safer online because you can use the card and PIN to verify your details. So, if it all relies on a PIN how is it any safer than the current system of passwords and PINs?

A number of the reasons why this is all a bad idea are listed on the anti-ID card sites, such as No2ID, and along with all the opposition in the Lords, even the London Assembly has passed a motion against ID cards.

Even without an ID card, the government is still pushing ahead to get your details on the National Identity Scheme in a manner of centralising information that has been found to increase the rate of identity fraud in the USA and Australia (source). The card will be the main means to gain access to any services paid for by our taxes, and any errors that happen will effectively cut us off, meaning those not in a position to rely on private pension and healthcare will have serious problems.
The IT systems run by the government and the biometric detail system are both shown to be unreliable meaning the instance of mistakes leading to fines, imprisonment and loss of access will affect thousands if not tens of thousands.

The government has not even attempted to show that this is a cost-effective alternative to solutions to the problems that this scheme is supposed to deal with. At a cost running to at least £5.5 billion in a decade (financial times story) this is an immense bill that we will all have to stump up for, with little guarantee of results at the end, apart from inevitable misery for some of us when we are the victims of bugs in the system.

By far the best site I've seen so far is that of the London School of Economics, collecting its investigations into the issue here.

Now, if it's not going to prevent terrorism, stop benefit fraud, stop illegal immigration (whether that is a problem or not) or stop identity theft with any success, why is the government willing to splash out on close to £6 billion of our taxes?
Who runs the industries providing the biometric technology and all the relevant information technology needed to back up the National Identity Register?
Well, here is a link to the companies that the government has already paid over £20 million (a years worth of the low end estimate of identity related benefit fraud losses) on planning and trials for their nefarious scheme.
Here's a list of companies interested according to Corporate Watch. The Office of Government Commerce took the lion's share of over £12 million in its "Provision of advice and support on benefits management and other commercial issues", of which a hefty chunk went to PA Consulting.
PAConsulting have worked for the Home Office before, advising awarding Capita a contract with the Criminal Records Bureau (which used to be part of the same office with the passport agency. Capita went way over budget and under target despite PAConsulting giving the thumbs up.

One way to avoid the ID scheme for now, would be to renew your passport, as urged by No2ID and the Liberal Democrats who these days seem more like the Labour Party than the Labour Party.
On the one hand renewing your passport will set you back over £50, a bit annoying if it doesn't need to be renewed yet.
On the other, if you don't renew it before September (?) then when you do need to you will have to pay at least £93 for the new version of the passport anyway and may have go through an interview in order to prove your identity.

"The National Identity Register - All Your Eggs In One Basket"

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