UK Info Watchdog – bark or bite?

Re-posted from archive of infinite ideas machine 2004:

The Home Affairs Select Committee was hearing evidence on Identity Cards again this afternoon – the second time around for witnesses previously called on 3rd February, i.e. JUSTICE & The Law Society, Liberty & Privacy International and Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, and his Assistant, Jonathan Bamford. All being well, the uncorrected transcript will be made available within a couple of days as before.

Meanwhile, however, BBC NEWS reports the Watchdog’s ‘alarm’ over ID cards:

Richard Thomas said he had initially greeted the plans with “healthy scepticism” but the details had changed his view to “increasing alarm”.

He described the proposed scheme as “unprecedented” in international terms, and “was worried the British plans were more comprehensive and ambitious than any other scheme in the world.” Predictably, Blunkett’s spokespeople accused Thomas of “grandstanding” – but it is encouraging to hear some sense being spoken (and reported) about the Home Office proposals.

Mr Thomas told the MPs: “This is beginning to represent a really significant sea change in the relationship between state and every individual in this country.”

It was now clear the scheme was not just about identity cards but about a national identity register, he said.

“It is not just about citizens having a piece of plastic to identify themselves. It’s about the amount, the nature of the information held about every citizen and how that’s going to be used in a wide range of activities.”

Of course, the Home Office insist they are going to press ahead – quoting their “much wider responsibility to balance civil liberties* with ensuring our security against terrorism, immigration fraud and organised crime.”

But hang on – I thought that Blunkett had already acknowledged that ID cards can’t prevent terrorism [ really works!] or illegal immigration & working? And is he now trying to substitute ‘organised crime’ for ‘identity fraud’ – given the obvious flakiness of the Home Office’s quoted estimates?

“In 2002 the Cabinet Office produced an interesting document following from a study entitled ‘Identity Fraud: A Study’. Roger Smith, JUSTICE, argues that this report is much more thoughtful and sceptical in relation to identity cards. It asserts that £1.3 billion is lost due to identity fraud. However, when you analyse the data closely, it dissolves. Customs is worth £250 million loss on the basis of total MTIC fraud between £1.7million – £2.6 billion with a midpoint of £2.15 billion, we can assume that identity fraud is 10% of this figure.” – from The Law Society meeting on 22/3/04, ‘Identity Cards: Benefit Or Burden?’

*I thought there weren’t supposed to be any “civil liberties objection[s] to [ID cards] in the vast majority of quarters” – according to the Prime Minister anyway?

And if this wasn’t enough bad news for the beleaguered scheme, in their recent representation to HASC the British Computer Society – as reported by Computer Weekly – warns of their concerns about national ID cards:

“The risk of failure is significantly increased because there does not seem to be any firm and fixed statement of what the system is meant to achieve, what success or failure criteria are imposed and what scope limitations have been imposed.”

i.e. if the Government can’t properly (or even consistently!) state the aims, intentions and limits of their ID card & NIR system, how the hell do they propose to deliver it? BCS also raise a number of practical flaws – e.g. gathering biometrics from the disabled, dangers of data inaccuracy – and logical vulnerabilities of the scheme, e.g. registering people’s identities at 16, rather than at birth.

It certainly begins to look like some of these objections might have teeth!

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