Wednesday, February 21, 2007

ID cards Tony Blair is not listening

But he is emailing his propaganda to any one who signed the anti ID cards petition! Well, here it is, with my comments in between:
The petition calling for the Government to abandon plans for a National ID Scheme attracted almost 28,000 signatures - one of the largest responses since this e-petition service was set up. So I thought I would reply personally to those who signed up, to explain why the Government believes National ID cards, and the National Identity Register needed to make them effective, will help make Britain a safer place.
So bugger off, we don't care what you think, here is what you should believe.
The petition disputes the idea that ID cards will help reduce crime or terrorism. While I certainly accept that ID cards will not prevent all terrorist outrages or crime, I believe they will make an important contribution to making our borders more secure, countering fraud, and tackling international crime and terrorism. More importantly, this is also what our security services - who have the task of protecting this country - believe.

Right, so it won't prevent all crime or terrorism, but it might help. What is more, I can show you a dossier I downloaded of the Internet which will be about as believable as Iraq having WMD. The problem is this, the security services may or may not think ID cards would be a good idea. To some extent they always have. Ever since Winston Churchill scrapped ID cards they have wanted them back.

In any case how is it going to make our borders more secure? We don't monitor them all the time in any case, people can and do get in via unauthorised entry points in any case. If securing the borders is the intent then surely we need a border police force rather than ID cards?
So I would like to explain why I think it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to use biometrics such as fingerprints to secure our identities. I would also like to discuss some of the claims about costs - particularly the way the cost of an ID card is often inflated by including in estimates the cost of a biometric passport which, it seems certain, all those who want to travel abroad will soon need.
I see. So if I disagree with you I am foolish. How nice.
In contrast to these exaggerated figures, the real benefits for our country and its citizens from ID cards and the National Identity Register, which will contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card, should be delivered for a cost of around £3 a year over its ten-year life.
Loyalty cards are not compulsory, and neither is the data captured used by an agency which can remove your liberty. By the way, is the £3 per year a commitment? Does it include for dodgy chips?
But first, it's important to set out why we need to do more to secure our identities and how I believe ID cards will help. We live in a world in which people, money and information are more mobile than ever before. Terrorists and international criminal gangs increasingly exploit this to move undetected across borders and to disappear within countries. Terrorists routinely use multiple identities - up to 50 at a time. Indeed this is an essential part of the way they operate and is specifically taught at Al-Qaeda training camps. One in four criminals also uses a false identity. ID cards which contain biometric recognition details and which are linked to a National Identity Register will make this much more difficult.
Firstly, Tony, you should not start a sentence with 'But" let alone a paragraph, it's lazy. Secondly the ease of ID theft has more to do with people not having open fires on which to burn sensitive documents, and just putting them in the rubbish than anything else. Other culprits are the ease with which people can obtain credit on the Internet or via post without having to turn up anywhere. It is difficult to see how ID cards will fix either of these problems, as the person, ID card and vendor will not be in the same place, let alone have the equipment to verify the ID even if they were. What is more, you do not need ID cards to solve this problem, you just need to make it a requirement that credit should be applied for in person, which is what you would have to do to verify ID with a card in any case.

Criminal gangs and terrorists move undetected across borders, not because of a lack of ID, but because we have little control over our own borders. (See above). As for criminal gangs and terrorists using multiple identities, you would have to get them in a position to verify their ID in any case. Given the state of the borders, there seems little point in doing that until the borders are secure, which would be a better use of the money.
Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually. There is no doubt that building yourself a new and false identity is all too easy at the moment. Forging an ID card and matching biometric record will be much harder.
No it won't. Either you don't understand how ID theft currently occurs or you are just plain lying. As above, ID theft happens because of lax checks on ID and people getting services in someone elses name without having to attend with any ID what so ever. What a national identity register will do is provide a single point where ID data can be mined if a criminal gang can get people on the inside (as they have done in call centers) or some pratt walks out with all the data on a laptop as has also happened for it to be stolen.
I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.
I see, we are all to be potential criminals are we? Usually the police have to have reason to suspect an individual before they can acquire this sort of information. We are all to be suspects now. The Guardian has this on the subject, whilst the BBC has this. People say "If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear." It is a trite statement, it is also rubbish. Whilst we may all be happy that what is now criminal behaviour should be, what if we have a government that makes protesting against government policy illegal? Think I am mad? Well now you can't do that without police permission in many places already.
The National Identity Register will also help improve protection for the vulnerable, enabling more effective and quicker checks on those seeking to work, for example, with children. It should make it much more difficult, as has happened tragically in the past, for people to slip through the net.
Sorry, this is just more spurious nonsense. The sex offenders register is supposed to deal with this problem, and any failings in the system have been procedural, rather than something to do with false identity. Again, the money to be spent on on ID cards would be better spent fixing the actual problem rather than parading ID cards as a solution to all ills.
Proper identity management and ID cards also have an important role to play in preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. The effectiveness on the new biometric technology is, in fact, already being seen. In trials using this technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying illegally to get back into the UK.
There are other checks diligent employers are required to use to make sure they do not employ illegal immigrants, and those who do wish to employ illegal immigrants do so on the black market already, and are unlikely to stop unless caught. I can't imagine them wanting to check any ones ID any way. That is an argument for biometric passports, not ID cards, but again, how about securing the borders? Would that not be better? In any case it will not prevent illegal working unless it is a requirement for all employers to have the relevant equipment to check peoples ID cards prior to employment.
Nor is Britain alone in believing that biometrics offer a massive opportunity to secure our identities. Firms across the world are already using fingerprint or iris recognition for their staff. France, Italy and Spain are among other European countries already planning to add biometrics to their ID cards. Over 50 countries across the world are developing biometric passports, and all EU countries are proposing to include fingerprint biometrics on their passports. The introduction in 2006 of British e-passports incorporating facial image biometrics has meant that British passport holders can continue to visit the United States without a visa. What the National Identity Scheme does is take this opportunity to ensure we maximise the benefits to the UK.
I think there is a large misunderstanding of why commercial companies use biometrics for access to systems going on here. The issue large firms face is that your average computer user is a fool, who can't remember a secure password without writing it down for all to see. So if you have large amounts of valuable or sensitive data, and a lot of employees it makes sense to give them a way of getting into the system that they is not obvious (like someones first name as a password) or written down. Other countries that already have ID cards may be looking to have biometrics on them, but that is no argument for ID cards. The fact that passports may or may not need biometric data is a completely different issue as well.
These then are the ways I believe ID cards can help cut crime and terrorism. I recognise that these arguments will not convince those who oppose a National Identity Scheme on civil liberty grounds. They will, I hope, be reassured by the strict safeguards now in place on the data held on the register and the right for each individual to check it. But I hope it might make those who believe ID cards will be ineffective reconsider their opposition.
grounds. I have dealt with all the I see. Well, I oppose ID cards and the National Identity register on both civil liberties grounds AND practical grounds, and frankly the argument for them in practical terms is weak. I have dealt with the alleged 'fors' above. Also I have no confidence in the supposed safeguards as there already appears to be mission creep for the scheme. Let is be clear, ID cards will not solve the problems that Tony Blair claims they will. In fact so far, this is about the biggest non argument for ID cards I have heard. Note to Tony, must try harder, some of us aren't stupid.
If national ID cards do help us counter crime and terrorism, it is, of course, the law-abiding majority who will benefit and whose own liberties will be protected. This helps explain why, according to the recent authoritative Social Attitudes survey, the majority of people favour compulsory ID cards.
The majority of people favour hanging as well. Not much of an argument is it? Besides which the majority of people have not had to cope with ID cards yet, nor have they heard the arguments against. In any case the argument that it protects the liberty of the many is spurious. It doesn't. It makes us all suspects for a start.
I am also convinced that there will also be other positive benefits. A national ID card system, for example, will prevent the need, as now, to take a whole range of documents to establish our identity. Over time, they will also help improve access to services.
Firstly this is mission creep, secondly a lot of people get access to services without any ID over the internet already, which leads to the problem of ID fraud. If we are talking about government services, I can't think of many I have had access to requiring numerous forms of ID anyway.
The petition also talks about cost. It is true that individuals will have to pay a fee to meet the cost of their ID card in the same way, for example, as they now do for their passports. But I simply don't recognise most claims of the cost of ID cards. In many cases, these estimates deliberately exaggerate the cost of ID cards by adding in the cost of biometric passports. This is both unfair and inaccurate.
The difference between ID cards and passports is that I don't have to have a passport to live here. You have always had to pay for passports, you have not always had to pay to live here. Tony may not recognise the figures involved, but then the actual costs involved are not released as they are shrouded in "commericial confidentiallity", so no one can scrutinise the figures.
As I have said, it is clear that if we want to travel abroad, we will soon have no choice but to have a biometric passport. We estimate that the cost of biometric passports will account for 70% of the cost of the combined passports/id cards. The additional cost of the ID cards is expected to be less than £30 or £3 a year for their 10-year lifespan. Our aim is to ensure we also make the most of the benefits these biometric advances bring within our borders and in our everyday lives.

That is an argument for biometric passports, not ID cards. The costs argument is dealt with above.
Yours sincerely,

Tony Blair
I don't find any of your arguments sincere at all I am afraid.

You can view the petition here, which got 27, 985 signatures. I will be fisking the road pricing response later.


Andy Cooke said...


Further detail on the "£1.7 billion" claim:

"The first misleading calculation is the inclusion of figures from card payments body APACS totalling £504.8m. The number equates to the simple theft of a credit or debit card as well as genuine ID fraud.

APACS spokesman Mark Bowerman told that ID fraud actually cost the payments industry just £36.9m in 2004 and that for the first six months of 2005 it has actually dropped by 16 per cent, mainly due to the introduction of chip and PIN."

(from Ref 1 -,3800010403,39156140,00.htm?r=1)

So ... £1.7 billion - (£504.8m - 36.9m) = £1.2bn (unless the ID card Act is going to make itcompulsory to present your ID card and be scanned whenever you use your credit card and ban "over the net" and "over the phone" use.

""Missing trader" fraud, which involves avoiding paying VAT by shuffling goods between EU countries, sometimes using false identities and front people. The study guessed 10 per cent of this might involve ID fraud, giving a figure of £215 million per annum, but as one of the salient features of the fraudulent IDs here would appear to be they're non-UK, the ID card scheme does not apply."

(from Ref 2 - )

So £1.2 billion - £0.215bn = about £1 billion

"Customs & Excise also estimated (remember that these are old, old numbers Clarke and Co are basing their £1.3 billion on) that money laundering accounted for around £395 million per annum. But again, as most of those who'll actually qualify for a UK ID card will already be familiar with their banks constantly pestering them to identity themselves, the bulk of this will be carried out via non-UK ID."


"Today's figures include a total of £395m for "money laundering" despite the Home Office report admitting the overall size of money laundered in the UK is not known and that "no figures are available currently on the proportion of money laundering that relies on identity fraud"." (Ref 1)

£1billion - £0.395 billion = about £0.6 billion.

"The cost of administering security and ID checks and combating fraud on passport applicants by the UK Passport Service (£62.8m) is also included by the Home Office, despite that being a preventative measure and not ID fraud in itself." (Ref 1);

" The Home Office claimed that in Heathrow Terminal 3 alone around 50 fraudulent documents were found each month, and that the detection rate was at most 10 per cent (it wouldn't be hard to project this up to a nationwide, annualised border control catastrophe if that was what you wanted to do), and that it could save £6 million per 1,000 reduction in clandestine entrants. This produces the somewhat dubious 'ID fraud' cost estimate of £36 million for Heathrow T3 alone, but as they're foreigners just arriving in the UK they don't qualify for ID cards. Biometric visas might qualify, but that's a different Bill, not the ID Cards one." (Ref 2)

Another £100 million.

Down to £0.5 billion or so.

"£372m is an undefined figure given for losses due to ID fraud across the telecoms industry." (Reference 1)

So this one could be legitimate or could be as much of a big steaming pile of poo as the "credit/debit card" half billion.

"Department of Work & Pensions Regular readers will know the DWP has a new wild guess for this one, an impressive £50 million. In the 2002 study the ID fraud component of welfare fraud of "£2-5 billion" (a pretty tight estimate, that) was around one per cent, i.e. £35 million." (Ref 1)

This one is legitimate.

Basically, dependant on whether ID cards would stamp out fraud in the telecoms industry, they are either exaggerating by a factor of 3 or a factor of 15 or so. How would ministers scream if their salaries and expenses were exaggerated by a factor of 15 when the press were briefed?

John R. said...

As an American, I posted a similar (but shorter) response to Blair's reply to your concerns. Over here, we are facing the REAL ID Act which will "book" every American citizen and undermine the presumption of innocence. We are moving towards "Guilty Until Properly Identified."

Keep up the fight.

John R.

Benedict White said...

many thanks for the information Andy, I will try to incorporate it at some point.

John R, thanks for the info and support. I will look at your articles.

John R. said...


I find the comment that "store cards" carry more information than the ID cards will carry to be more slick-talk.

Do your store cards over there have your fingerprints on them? DNA info?

To me, a fingerprint is a LOT of information.

John R.

Anonymous said...

The police hardly go about hassling "dodgy-looking" [ie black/poor] people for their Tesco Clubcard, either.

I'm not getting an ID card. It's that simple. I will do everything I can to undermine such a system.

Anonymous said...

Also worth noting that "900,000 unsolved crimes" is an untruth manufactured from a factoid by loose language. "900,000 outstanding crime scene marks" was what the Home Office said, unsourced, in its self-justifying report to parliament in October. Like any Home Office figure, the 900,000 should be treated with caution, but even if it is absolutely accurate then the unsolved crimes it represents are <<900,000. The PM is also implying the unknown thousand or tens of thousands of unsolved crimes this represents in reality would be rendered soluble by one-to-many matching of latent prints and millions of NIR templates. This is wholly implausible. But it would create many thousands of, effectively randomly selected, suspects.

Benedict White said...

Timothy, Yes I can't see that either :)

Guy, thanks for the info.

I shall have to write a piece about government misinformation on ID cards.

Anonymous said...

Guy - Yes the abuse of fingerprint/DNA data is very worrying. It might be time to start keeping a detailed blog/diary so that you have a record of where you have been for when the police matche your DNA with a crime scene in wherever.

The chances of your DNA fingerprint randomly matching any other sample is about 1-in-6 million, but that still gives you ~10 suspects who would have to justify their whereabouts to the police, for each and every case.

Use of DNA evidence is just one of many abuses of statistics that the government perpetrates, but most of the others "only" risk wasting money, rather than sending innocent people to jail.

Jeremy Wickins said...

I'm doing PhD research into the possible risk of increased social exclusion from the use of these insidious erosions of our liberties. Government seems to have lost track of the idea that the biggest liberty is to be anonymous, unless due process requires otherwise.

With regard to the comment that employers will only be able to check ID cards if the requisite reader is present, it is clear from debate prior to the Act being passed that it is expected that this will indeed be the case, with a requirement to do this made by statutory instrument if necessary. Employers will be, more than ever, immigration control.

There is also another point, which is only a possibility, but it has some basis in fact. Lots and lotsof data will be stored, and it will be REALLY tempting for researchers to do work on it (e.g. do certain fingerprint characteristics relate to more criminality, or soemthing). How long will the government hold out against giving this data out? The basis in fact is that the DNA database is regularly mined by researchers - there is no ethical oversight at all, and no-one is informed that their data are being used, contrary to all good paractice. As far as I know that data hasn't been sold yet, but if the government are given a good enough offer, do you really think that they won't hand over the passwords to the database so that Tesco or whoever can "target" there advertising based on some information in there?

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