ID Cards to cost 300 quid

The costs of the ID card scheme is to be 300 quid for every person in the country. The total cost is now quoted as 18 billion, this is a big increase on a previously quoted value of 3 billion. Given the history of the government setting up large scale computing projects, the cost is likely to rise again. We all want to be safe from terrorism and ID fraud, however this is not the way to do it. Quite apart for the idealistic objections, the cost is way too high for the (negligable) benefits. Even if 'the government' ends up footing the bill, this is still ultimately paid for via taxes - so regardless of how the cost is structured, you will pay for it.

The problem with the scheme is not the card itself, after all, we all carry various bits of ID around with us. It's the database behind the scheme - which once created can be expanded with minimal or no parlimentary scrutiny.

The government already has lots of information on you, but these are kept segregated, visible only to those who need to know. For example, there is no need for you medical records to be visible to the taxman. This will not be the case under the new database, even if certain areas are 'protected' it will be possible to link things together. This could include everything from ethnicity (think about the historical implications of that) to your spending habits and medical records.

People argue that 'If you have nothing to hide, then...'. The fact is that we all have things we wish to keep private. If we didn't then there would be no objection to having cameras installed in the home. After all, many crimes are committed in the home, including child abuse. Surely this step is required to protect the children? (Please note, I'm not seriously suggesting this step!)

Also the argument of 'If you have nothing to hide...' can easily be used to justify all sorts of draconian measures, including unlimited phone tapping and mail interception. Historically arguments like this have been the hallmarks of totalitarian regimes. I'm not suggesting that the current government has anything other than benign reasons for these proposals, however can this be guaranteed of all future governments who would inherit the system?

If ID cards had a serious impact on terrorism then this may be justified, however it is unclear how they could have an impact at all. The Madrid bombers all had valid ID, and up until they bombed the trains had yet to commit a crime. They were indistinguishable from everyone else.

Just because a scheme has some advantages, and the ID scheme would have some advantages, this does not mean that it should be adopted. An argument is often made that if it saves just one life then it will be worthwhile.

Each year in we have some 3000 deaths due to driving 'accidents' and 30000 injuries, should we ban all cars and impose a post 6pm curfew to curb nightime drinking? After all, if we can save just one life, surely that is worth it? Smoking kills some 120000 people a year. If this argument were sound surely smoking would have been banned long ago.

An argument is made that the individual already has lots of ID which they carry, from driving licenses to credit cards. These are all optional and strictly limited to their purpose. There may be a case for a single card which one could optionally 'link' to other cards - but that is not what is proposed.

Essentially as I've already mentioned, the database, once created, could be expanded at will in the name of 'increased security', 'child protection', 'public health' or some other reason. Once expanded it is unlikely to be reduced. This could end up with the individual wondering if they should by that extra bottle of wine for fear that it could affect their medical history and hence life insurance premiums.

As well as providing terrorists with the victory of changing our way of life, ID cards could make the lives of terrorists easier.

People who commit acts of terrorism often (though not always) have clean criminal records, and are often citizens of the country where they commit their terrorism. An ID check will merely provide a false sense of security as it will not show anything amiss. This could reduce 'conventional' vigilance. More than once I have had a new plastic card and forgotten to sign it before using it. Every time I have signed it in front of the assistant and they have then dutifully compared this with the receipt signature which I've also signed in front of them. More often than not, the signature has not been checked at all.

How much less 'conventional' vigilance will be displayed when the person checking the card has the machine to validate it for them?

Prior to resigning, David Blunkett is said to have stated that 'ID cards won't stop terrorism' (from no2ID), directly contradicting earlier statements.

In addition, the single linked database would be a prime target for attack. Imagine being what criminals could do with the records of everyone in the country should the system ever be cracked. It would be an ID theft bonanza. No system has yet been created which cannot be broken by a determined enough opponent. As a general rule, the bigger the prize, the more the opponent is likely to invest in the attempt - and this would be a very big prize indeed. What can be made by man can be broken and copied by men.

One of the final arguments is that 'They have the cards in other countries....'

In other countries they have banned private internet access. In other countries one can have limbs removed as a punishment for petty theft. In other countries... you take the point, I hope. Just because all the other countries jump off a cliff, does that mean we have to. To turn the argument around, other countries in Europe have the Euro, should we adopt the Euro just because of this? (Please note, this should not be taken as me arguing against the Euro, I'm just pointing out that this line of argument is insufficient).

In essence, in accepting the database we are implicitly saying that we trust this government and all future governments with an unprecedented level of personal knowledge. We are saying that we trust this and all future governments of the USA with this information - the USA have wants access to UK ID Cards (would the same be true in reverse?) Possibly not, given that UK citizens can be extradited to the US without presentation of evidence, and the reverse is not true.

All this is quite aside from the observation that the technology doesn't work. The number of false readings is incredibly high, and could leave many people in the situation where the computer says they're not who they are! Something like 1 in 5 people have their fingerprint scans mistaken, and the error rate is even higher for facial scans. 4% of iris scans failed, and in a population the size of the UK that represents roughly 2 and a half million people.

The bottom line is that these proposals won't 'do what it says on the tin'. They are expensive. They could be counterproductive by aiding people we would wish to stop. They will impose daily hassles on the bulk of the populace (regular ID checks would be needed for any of the supposed benefits). They owuld not reduce the bulk of criminal acts, and certainly not by enough to justify their cost.

For more arguments, please have a look here and here (a look at the situation using Tony's words).

Edit: This post is mentioned in BritBlog Roundup

Edit: Further reading, one, two and three.