ID cards on File on 4

I listened to File on 4’s ‘A Question of Identity’ through headphones on my walk home last night. Since that included walking through a couple of fire engine sirens on what turned out to be the windiest route I could have chosen, some bits were certainly lost to me.

However, there was an unmistakeable feeling that this is a project doomed to cost the earth – someone actually said that in meetings with the Home Office, the government refused to give an estimate even to the nearest billion pounds. (This was in a quiet part of town: I don’t think I misheard.)

The Home Office also came across as distinctly amateurish in their attitude to the project – not fully understanding either the possibilities or the limitations of the technology they’re trying to make use of. Their plans keep changing (it’ll be a completely new database – no, it’ll be an expansion of the government’s current databases), their separate departments can’t agree on what they actually concretely want the database for, and nor have they ever provided estimates of how much they are each prepared to contribute to it.

The only thing that’s clear from the government’s side is that they really, really want to create this database, and it needs to have as much detailed personal information as possible about every single adult in the population, because it will be really, really beneficial for us all. What precisely those benefits are meant to consist of has never yet been pinned down.

(Yes, I know it was meant to be a cure-all, solving in one fell swoop every conceivable type of crime from terrorism (naturally) to illegal immigration (umm…) to ‘identity theft’ (or plain old fraud as I’ve decided to keep calling it in the interests of realism and a sense of perspective). But we’ve been here before, and unfortunately for the government, databases just don’t have the power to achieve any of these things.)

What the programme didn’t cover was any argument from the civil liberties perspective (I’ll just have to refer you back to No2ID for that). Or try this prize-winning essay in the Times if you’d prefer. But if people aren’t interested in the civil liberties principles, the next most annoying thing possible is to be forced to pay through the nose for something you don’t particularly want, won’t do an awful lot to help you, and has more than the potential to make life really rather unpleasant – and if the fear of a white elephant is enough to harden public opinion against ID cards and the identity database, that’s good enough for me.

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The programme itself is available here to listen again, although I’ve no idea how long it’ll stay available. It lasts 40 min but any 10-min chunk should be enough to creep you out quite comprehensively.

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3 thoughts on “ID cards on File on 4

  1. You can probably guess from our previous exchange about CCTV cameras that I’m not against carrying around an ID card and I also don’t mind having my personal details stored in a database somewhere (having said that, the links you’ve provided are certainly giving me food for thought). However, what I do object to is the cost of this project. “Distinctly amateurish” is quite an understatement, I think. The whole thing sounded like an utter shambles and the root cause (as it often appears to have been with these big Government projects over the years) seems to be a distinct lack of any up-front, well-defined requirements. Mmm, that sounds a bit like the broken record that’s been playing for years at the company I work for too…

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  2. The ignorance is terrifying!

    I don’t know if any of the multiple data loss fiascos over the last few months involved databases that were online. Sure they weren’t *hacked* as such, they were just, well, *lost* – but if it’s so easy for them to simply mislay all this highly personal data from one department it hardly inspires you with confidence that they’ll be motivated to put adequate security in place for the even bigger and more detailed one.

    As the chap says, “What hope have we got that the National ID card database will be any more secure?” (It’s obviously now a question of ‘what hope have we got,’ not ‘what guarantee can they give’ :) )

    Hilariously, Jacqui Smith also says that the recent data losses are more of an incentive for us to embrace with open arms the national identity register than not! It just doesn’t make sense – they can lose the personal data of 25 million people after copying the entire database onto a couple of cds and posting them into the ether – and somehow that becomes a reason to give them even more data from even more people in even more detail?

    If i get time i was going to write something about the latest announcement anyway – it may yet happen, perhaps.

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