Thursday, July 27, 2006

Terror strategists "not interested" in ID card/register

The home office security document Countering International Terrorism: The United Kingdom's Strategy has been out a couple of weeks now and I've finally got round to reading it (well, it is hard to sleep on these hot nights...). Let's see what the report thinks about ID cards and the register:

Term [1]Occurrence
Disadvantage/inequality [2]8
Biometric [3]3
Identity Card(s)/ID Card(s)/Card(s)0
Identity register/register/database0

Pretty round and ready - but a good indication of how much importance the home office really places on ID cards as an anti terrorist measure. How much is that again... 0

[1] Includes variants - so the number of occurrences for the term disadvantage, for example would also include occurrences of the terms disadvantaged, disadvantages, disadvantaging...

[2] occurrences of "disadvantage" and related terms (n=3) always refer to social and economic disadvantage, which is why they have been grouped with inequality.

[3] "Biometric" refers to plans for biometric visas for non UK citizens. These biometrics would be used only to determine whether someone had the right to enter the UK and whether those that had entered on temporary visas had departed within the allotted time. They would not be used to trace movements within the UK, as far as this report is concerned, biometrics are for enhanced border control only. The rights and wrongs of this can be argued, but it certainly does not equate to an ID card, and falls far short of the plans for the ID register.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Cause and Effect?

Yesterday the government announced that "A passport will cost £66 from October, an increase of £15, or 29 per cent." The price rise apparently covers "the inclusion of a digital photograph in a microchip in the document, as well as enhanced background checks on those seeking passports and new face-to-face interviews for first-time applicants, which will come into force early next year."

It is the second sharp increase in the cost of a passport in twelve months, neither of which came as a result of any public consultation and neither of which have any compelling cause beyond covering the costs of a system that will include ID cards.

Is it perhaps more likely that these two increases - an unprecendented rate of increase - are a tactic on the government's part to soften up the public to shell out £93 (or more) on a combined passport/ID card package? Or is it just coincidence that "A new ICM poll commissioned by the No2ID campaign is the first to show a majority of people opposed to the introduction of ID cards," instead of the public seeing all this for what it really is - the same underhanded backdoor tactics that the government has used on this issue all along?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Times gets another leak

The Home Office is increasingly looking like a sieve - showering leaks all over the place. The Times seems to be the best beneficiary so far. The most recent leak is featured in yesterday's Sunday Times.

The leaked report, a Market Soundings exercise that was undertaken to test the readiness of the potential suppliers to tender for ID cards, discloses several worrying facts. First and most worryingly, the Times reveals that "the security system protecting the card and the national database could be infiltrated by criminal gangs involved in identity theft", something that NO2ID has been warning about for a long time. The report quotes potential suppliers as estimating that current chips could be forged within 5 years. Suppliers consulted also raised concerns that being associated with the ID card scheme could be bad PR because of the public resistance to ID cards.

This report strongly suggests that the Government is once again cherry picking the information it chooses to place in the public domain - the case for ID cards has indeed been "sexed up". It also suggests that the groundswell of resistance, spearheaded by NO2ID, is at least giving the suppliers cause to stop and think.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Doomed, Dumped or Business as Usual

(From the No2ID newsletter)

You may well have seen reports suggesting that the Home Office ID programme is in trouble. A series of e-mails leaked to the Sunday Times from OGC (the Office of Government Commerce, part of the Treasury) and UKIPS (the new Identity & Passport Service) revealed that senior civil servants believe the project to be yet another fiasco in the making.

Government spin has been predictable, first claiming that the ID scheme was 'under review', then "broadly on track", and now proceeding "at the same pace".

So what is fact and what is fantasy?

FACT: the ID scheme that the government has been selling for the last two years or more is a lie. With no clearly-expressed goal or justification, 'feature creep' almost every time ministers opened their mouths, and a complete unwillingness to listen to real experts in the field, the Home Office has lumbered itself with something impossibly complex, horrendously expensive, and utterly unworkable.

FACT: they passed the Act anyway, spending tens of millions in the process. The biggest threat to everyone's civil liberties is leaving a law on the statute books which permits compulsory registration, lifelong surveillance and population control by ID. But we also risk seeing billions of pounds of taxpayers' money (which could be far better spent elsewhere) being thrown away in pursuit of this authoritarian delusion. Even worse, a botched attempt could expose all our most personal information - leaving some with no control over their private lives or identities for the rest of their lives.

FACT: the government will proceed regardless. This programme has been politically driven from the outset and will remain so. Blair can't afford a U-turn, and the ID programme (or more accurately, the National Identity Register) is target=cio>at the heart of government strategy. The bureaucrats would love for us to all be neatly numbered, so our data can be shared ever more 'efficiently' - and the suppliers still stand to make billions, whether they deliver or fail.

The danger from the ID scheme is greater than ever.

Now the government is looking at issuing cut-down 'early variant' ID cards that would 'protect' your identity with nothing more than a four-digit PIN. A gift to fraudsters. The government will still fingerprint, iris scan, background check and interrogate you for a passport - but then simply store all your data in their database. No 'benefits' or services for the public. Just all the costs, risks and intrusion.

We have to redouble our efforts. It is more important than ever that we get the message out to a public that may think 'ID cards' are off the agenda. Street stalls, leafleting - even going door-to-door. Now is the time to wake people up to the real and present danger of the ID scheme.

The battle continues...

Find out how to get involved locally, or how to join the national campaign, by contatcing

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Register "calls it"

Time of death, Wednesday 12th July 2006 10:20 GMT

Is this where complacency bites us firmly in the arse? Is this the bit where we dissipate, leaving the Act on the book for a later, more competent, more ruthlessly efficient government (exactly the kind of government that we don't want to have the powers vested in them by the ID Cards Act 2006)?

Hell no - we won't go. Right?

(Update - ZD net has a nice rundown of everything wrong with the management of the ID project qua project. If I were to write a synopsis of this blog's postings on project management I couldn't do better than that piece. Up till now the IT press has been slightly skeptical, but mainly pro the scheme - there was a lot of potential money in it after all. Now the battle about technical and managerial viability seems to be won you'll be seeing a lot more on the civil liberties/human rights angle in the coming weeks and months. The project may be on its knees but the Act hasn't gone away.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Smell the glee...

Schadenfreude. It's such an ugly word [1]. But if you feel like indulging your baser instincts, through the magic[2] of Google News, follow this link

What am I on about?

[1] Actually - it's quite a pretty word - say it with me "Schadenfreude.... Schaaaaaadenfreude"

[2]"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Clarke's Third Law [3]

[3] "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced." Benford's Corollary

From Iraq: "Massacred according to their identity cards"

A salutary example of what can happen when sectarian hatred and identity cards are combined appears today in The Scotsman.

Let me be clear - I am in no way comparing the horror of what must surely now be considered a civil war in Iraq with our domestic agenda. However, this is one, admittedly extreme example of the fact that ID cards serve to diminish the rights of the powerless in any society. Whether the power in question is to abduct individuals and transfer them to overseas authorities or to commit murder at a checkpoint, ID cards will assist in the targeting of those who have most to lose.

Monday, July 10, 2006

And then there were two...

Gosh, it's been a while since I last typed something in a box like this! In any case, my name is Phil Crooks, the box to the right notes that I am the resident Bushie but frankly I'm of more a libertarian bent - this means you'll hear criticism of him from me, only from the other direction. I' a graduate of English Literature from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth

The way I see this, Emma's in charge of this thing. I'm running some stuff in the background and taking her lead. I guess you could say she's chairing this group while I'm working as secretary. Her backing is in the technical aspects of this thing, about which I have no knowledge, being more comfortable with the civil liberties arguments. So that's what you'll hear from me from time to time, be they essays, short ad-hoc pieces, or even fiskings.

And since Emma's gotten to the Sunday Times story first, that leaves me with little to write about today!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Dooooooomed, Doooooooomed

Not us - ID cards.

The Sunday Times today carries an article that analyses a leaked exchange of emails between David Foord, Mission Critical Director of the Office of Government Commerce and Peter Smith, Acting Commercial Director, IPS [Identity and Passport Service].

Things were smelling a little fishy in recent weeks - first there was the unexplained delay in putting up the invitation to tender in Official journal of the EU, reported on this blog in June. Then there was the Government's repeated refusal to comply with the information commissioner's ruling that they release the cost-benefit analyses of the project (see previous post).

Expect to see the wheels start to come off in earnest now - time for us to put a stick in the spokes!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, II

So the DWP has decided to appeal against the information commissioner's ruling that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) should release their cost/benefit analysis of the ID card/NIR scheme. The Information Comissioner's ruling came in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten.

The article quotes the DWP as saying that "releasing such information prematurely could stop ministers and officials discussing the pros and cons of policies". How giving MPs all the available information about the costs and benefits of the system will prevent rather than assist in such discussions is a mystery.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

First Monthly Meeting

We were fortunate enough to have one of the members of the original Aberystwyth No2ID group come along last night. He filled us in on the successes of the original group (including getting Ceredigion Council to pass a motion against ID cards. We have plenty of ideas about taking the fight forwards. We expect to be visible in town, on campus and in the local media soon. And we need your help.

If you're concerned at the thought of your movements being tracked (and in the coming weeks this blog will give you plenty of reasons why you should be worried), about the waste of public funds, about the infringement of civil liberties, about the gift to any future government that chooses to use the cards as a repressive tool, then join us. We need:

People to hand out leaflets
People to design and print materials
People who can speak Welsh - we're short on bilinguals!
People with imaginative ideas about getting the message out there
People who are prepared to take part in debates and interviews
People who are prepared to scan the news
People prepared to write letters the HSotW (Home Secretary of the Week).
People who will write freedom of information requests
Everyone inspired, passionate or just plain pissed off enough to want to do something productive.

The next meeting is on the 1st August at 8pm in Fresh Ground - in the meantime you can email, or call 07092 880 562 and leave a message - we'll call you back.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Newsflash - Newport goes RFID

I've just heard on the ID groups mailing list that people are starting to receive RFID tagged passports. Investigations are ongoing to determine:
1)What is stored on the chip
2)From what distance the chip can be read
3)Whether it is (legally and technically) possible to cancel the chip.

Watch this space.

Meeting tonight

Exciting news - we've been approached by a BBC political correspondent who is interested in hearing more about the Aberystwyth campaign. You humble organisers are working on a reply as we speak. We hope to have them interested in some of the events we'll be organising. To get in on the ground floor, join us at our first monthly meeting at the lovely Fresh Ground cafe from 8 this evening.

Emma & Phil

Monday, July 03, 2006

Data mining - not just for the "good guys"

Data Mining is the use of intelligent software tools to look for interesting patterns in large volumes of data. Credit card companies do it - to look for unusual patterns of spending to try to prevent fraud for example. Financial institutions do it to try to work out what they can "cross sell" to their customers, or to determine who is credit worthy. Law enforcement agencies use it to help trace murderers

With that in mind, I've been meaning to blog this for some time. It happened in America but could easily happen in the UK to any large repository of personal data. Records of Armed Forces Veterans and active personnel have been stolen. More recently 1,500 employees of the National Nuclear Safety Administration have had their details accessed by hackers unknown. The article raises the spectre that the data is sufficiently extensive to be "mined".

With volumes of data this large, it's not just the danger of individuals being impersonated that is the concern. There is the emerging problem that data mining could be used to search for important patterns that could be used by [insert bogeyman of choice here].

The technology to intelligently mine data is only a free download away. The desire to "get at" data, whether from curiosity or some more sinister motive is well documented. The central storage of volumes of personal data in the National Identity Register will be one huge weak point that will be hard to protect.