Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Passports: can you give them away?

1500 passports are still going missing in the post each year, and that's not including the passports that are lost by, or stolen from, their owners.

The plan for registering for a national ID card/passport includes turning up at a centre in order to be interviewed and to submit to background checks. This process will be for nothing if cards are then lost in transit. They could potentially be printed at the centre, but with a target of 600,000 id cards issued each year, this will be a time consuming process.

While passports are falling into the hands of those who aren't entitled to them, some applicants are being refused passports that they are entitled to, due to an assumption that everyone is still in touch with their mother. Expect to see more of this kind of thing as background checks become more onerous.

Deeply insecure

One of the persistent claims by the government is that the National Identity Register and ID card will make us more secure from the threat of identity theft. There's no doubt that identity theft is increasing and that identity-jackers are increasing in sophistication. However, what is still more concerning is how readily these impostors are able to use government owned data:

"How does a joined-up, centralised database threaten us more? One answer appears in the body of the Thomas report which shows that the security of databases ranging from health records, to the driver and vehicle licensing authority and the police national computer, which has 10,000 entry points, is regularly breached... Warrants obtained by Thomas resulted in the arrest of a private detective working from his home in Hampshire who had regular access to BT's phone records, the DVLA and police computer... Thomas's team realised how extensive was the market in unlawful personal data and how easy it is to steal from official records. Imagine a determined stalker gaining access to this proposed unified system and NIR."
Henry Porter, 28/05/06, the Guardian


I used to be a paid up code-monkey, in my halcyon days. We have a name for what happens when the client starts to add 101 new requirements as the project progresses: "Feature Creep". And it's the stuff of nightmares. Requirements added after a project has been scoped and examined for feasibility tend to be ad hoc, ill thought through and badly cost-controlled.

So it's no surprise to learn that the plans for the the national ID card and register are ballooning. This article details just a few of the requirements that have been added since the publication of the initial plans in New Labour's 2005 manifesto.

This is only one of the reasons why the projected costs of the project have soared.

ID Card Rebel in remembered in Oxford Dictionary

In the 1950s, Britain was still in somewhat of a post-war funk, and ID cards that were introduced in wartime had been retained by the peacetime Labour government. Harry Willcock was a Liberal councilor from Leeds who was stopped for a motoring offence in London in December 1950. He refused to hand over his identity card to the police. His conviction for the motoring offence was upheld in the high court, but the judge remarked that the extension of the ID card bill had "tended to turn law-abiding subjects into lawbreakers, which was most undesirable, and the good relations between the police and the public would be likely to suffer".

Why is this relevant? Because in this country there is still the presumption that the relationship between citizen and state is one in which the state is the servant of the citizen, not vice versa. In times of national crisis, governments will often seek to alter that balance of power, and ID cards and registers are just one of the ways in which they seek to achieve that aim. Other measures recently have included bills that make possible ASBO's (anti-social behaviour orders, which use civil process to create personal, criminal laws) and some of the more outré provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.

IBM researcher slams ID card Scheme

Michael Osborne of IBM's Zuric based research labs has denounced the plans for the National Identity Register (NIR). Among his criticisms were the lack of reliability of the biometrics (iris scans fail to correctly identify individuals ten percent of the time, finger prints don't do much better, failing four percent of the time), the cost and the security risk. Osborne's main concern is that the NIR will become a magnet for hackers.

However, Osborne does seem at ease with the idea of an ID card itself. He suggests instead that the data be stored on the card itself. However, the data that the government plans to collect includes not only biometrics but health service data, tax records, driver records, electoral register records. The risk of storing that data on an easily lost or stolen card doesn't bear thinking about.

Welcome to Aberystwyth No2ID

The national No2ID campaign is beginning to gather momentum and a number of local groups have been set up. This blog will bring together some of the national news regarding ID cards as well as containing information about local campaign activity.