Thursday, November 17, 2005

Absolutely Useless

If we have ID cards at vast expense and people can go into a back room and forge them they are going to be absolutely useless. ID cards may be helpful in all kinds of things but I don't think they are necessarily going to make us any safer.
- Dame Stella Rimington, former head of MI5

Andy Burnham, Minister for ID cards, has rejected the opinion of the former head of MI5 out of hand. He does not accept Dame Stella's criticisms "for a second". He doesn't do a great job of it though because he also says the proposed scheme would "make it impossible - impossible is a big claim - it will make it almost impossible to forge an identity". For crying out loud, will someone please give the man a brain. He accepts that it will *not* be impossible to forge identities under the scheme. Yes, quite. Isn't that exactly the reason Dame Stella uses to argue her case that ID cards won't make us safer?

If the ID card scheme is to work as promised, if it is to be the "gold standard" of identification, then it must be impossible to forge. Not almost impossible, but actually impossible. That "almost" will be exploited to its fullest extent by fraudsters, people smugglers, drug dealers, assorted other criminals, and terrorists. And, because the system is "foolproof", their "almost impossible to forge" new identities will be far more convincing, and far less likely to be queried by the relevant authorities. The people who will suffer will be those who've had their biometrics stolen or had their own identity attached to a fraudsters biometrics. Ordinary, law abiding people, in other words.

What Dame Stella understands, and what Mr Burnham does not, is that a system run by human beings cannot be foolproof. This is especially true if a very large number of human beings are involved in the process (as they will have to be if the scheme is ever to be implemented). Human error has some bearing but it's human greed and human ingenuity which are the real problems. Human beings, perhaps unfortunately, will always find a way to exploit a system if the rewards are large enough. In the ID card system, and particularly in the national identity register, the rewards for gaining illicit access will be enormous. Bribery, blackmail, computer hacking, or what ever else it takes; weaknesses in the system will be found and will be exploited.
When that starts to happen, the government won't be able to admit that it does without looking very stupid indeed. "It's all going swimmingly" they'll say, "just a few minor teething troubles, that's all". This, as every claimed benefit of the scheme is eaten away from the inside and the costs continue to exceed all expectations. I think I've got a good nose for a fiasco and this scheme stinks. It's time to reflect on the wise words of the Kaiser Chiefs: "I predict a riot". More than one actually.

One more thing. I heard Mr Burnham on the World at One today (15 mins in) saying that he'd heard no-one objecting to the principle of ID cards. I beg to differ, you brainless git. Has he even visited the NO2ID website do you think? Mr Burnham's claim calls for my first official entry in the New Labour dictionary:
Consultation (noun)
The act or process of hearing what you want to hear. And nothing else.
Anyway, here's mine in short: I'm not a criminal. My finger prints, the patterns of my irises, the shape of my head, and everything about my identity belongs to me and me alone. They are my own personal property. They do not belong to the government. If I choose to keep them private then that is my right. If the government wants to put them in a huge database (one which I believe cannot be invulnerable to exploitation), then they can, pardon me, fuck right off. What business do they have demanding that I provide these details? None. End. Off.

Btw, Listen to the experts Mr Blair. They always know what's best. Not necessarily true of course, but I thought that was the Blair's attitude? Ah, don't you just love the selective application of principles? Such a fine display of intellectual competance...

Charlie's suggestion in the comments to this post echoed my own thoughts over dinner. To this end, I've set up a pledge.
I will write to Home Office Minister Andy Burnham expressing my principled objections to the ID card scheme but only if 10 other people will too.
Let's try to cure the poor man of his curious hearing affliction.

Contact details are a little hard to come by. I think the closest a non-constituent will get is through the Home Office but Andy doesn't seem to warrant much of a mention on the Home Office website or the ID card one. I'm open to better suggestions but this is the best I've got so far.
Contact us:
Andrew Burhman MP
Home Office
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF

With any luck, I'll get something more suitable before too long. If that's the best there is then I will, of course, be stressing the importance of passing on my letter to the Minister himself. Can't have the unfortunate fellow speaking more of that nonsense in future, it's embarrassing.

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