Principles and reasoning

Re-posted from archive of infinite ideas machine 2004:

OK, before I get stuck in today I *highly* recommend you read John Lettice’s excellent articles in The Register, Everything you never wanted to know about the UK ID card and Glitches in ID card kit frustrate Blunkett’s pod people. The latter makes particular reference to Mr. Blunkett’s recent ‘jelly nailing’ performance in front of the Home Affairs Committee:

Blunkett’s evidence does not seem to have been particularly enlightening. It was, he said, largely the media’s fault that the counter-terrorism aspects of the ID scheme had been given so much attention, and he cited a Today programme interview of 14.9.2003 where he claims he said that although the ID card and the Register [the National Identity Register – let’s be specific, please!] would help, they would not resolve the terrorist threat.

This latest Blunkett stance is however somewhat undermined by the alacrity with which both he and the Prime Minister have used the terror threat as a wedge to win approval for the scheme and to accelerate its introduction. Blunkett’s position on the card vis a vis terrorism therefore seems to be that it is a useful weapon against terror, but when asked to explain how it will be useful against terror, he retorts that he never said it was a complete fix, and that the terror aspect had been greatly over-emphasised by the media.

As the Committee chairman testily remarked, this is a little like nailing jelly. But the serious point underlying this is that the Home Office’s complete failure to nail down the specifics of what it wants, why and how it will work is vastly increasing the probability that the project will be a total catastrophe.

Following on from yesterday, when I was wondering about the figures and calculations behind the Government’s £3.1bn estimate, I begin to think I would far rather hear a clear explanation of precisely what systems and approaches to digital identity the Home Office et al. have considered – and their reasons for pursuing or rejecting (aspects of) each.

[N.B. I would be very surprised to hear that any solution not involving a centralised database was up for serious consideration at any point. A NIR is about surveillance, whichever way you want to play/spin/use it – and if its not going to be used, what’s the point in spending the money?]

Of course, we have the Draft Bill and Consultation Document – but these only outline what Mr Blunkett would like ID cards and a NIR to be able to do, not how they propose to achieve these goals in practice – nor, more worryingly, whether these goals are even reasonable in theory (based on past & current evidence). Before deciding policy, implementing legislation and imposing a phenomenally expensive scheme on the British public the Home Secretary should at least have to make a proper case for what he is doing.

What we have at present is mere assertion – par for the course, unfortunately, and in the context of Iraq, the ‘War on Terror’, etc. depressingly familiar.

Taking us into a war that many (1,000,000 marched!) did not want was bad enough. Using the same, or related, fears and excuses in an attempt to fundamentally change the relationship between citizen and State demonstrates a level of arrogance and disconnect that supercedes even Margaret Thatcher’s worst efforts – e.g. “there’s no such thing as society”, the Poll Tax (and look where that got her). Misjudgements of this kind have the potential to twist society for generations to come and I, for one, would not like to live in a UK that treated me and my family as mindless sheep at best, and potential criminals at worst.

Mr. Blunkett, either give us a proper explanation of what EXACTLY it is you are going to do and how – or stop wasting your time and our money on pipedreams!

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