UK Liberty

Blair’s response to ID cards petition

Posted in ID Cards, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 19, 2007

[hat-tip: AlanG]

The ID card e-petition is now closed, after gathering about 28,000 signatures. Tony Blair emailed the signatories with the same old arguments, which I refute below (while not reproducing the email verbatim):

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.

It is actually the Government that included in the total cost of the scheme the costs for passports and identity cards, and no we don’t all need a ‘biometric passport’ if we travel abroad – we just need a passport that complies with ICAO requirements, which is a normal passport with a chip that has a digital photo of the owner’s face stored in it.

What the Government has consistently said is that the cost of the scheme without identity cards – just passports – would be 70% of the current estimate of over £5bn, and therefore we might as well go ahead and spend the difference of over a billion – easy come, easy go eh?

(of course, none of this addresses why the passport system even costs 70% of £5.6bn. Passports were £21 apiece in 1999)

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,

Regarding the store cards argument, as James Hammerton pointed out on this very blog, it is

irrelevant to the “big brother” argument. The database the identity cards link to (the national identity register) will contain (amongst many other things) your current and all previous addresses, plus the details of each ccasion on which your identity is checked. Neither of these are stored on the passport or your storecard.

Also, the info from your storecard cannot legally be shared with other parties without your consent, whereas the info in the national identity register will be, and the government is planning to remove the barriers to sharing data between government departments (allowing sharing “in the public interest”), whilst the national identity register will provide the technical means of linking all that data together.

i.e. it is not particularly important how much information is being stored, but what information is being stored, and who is able to access it.

Also we have a choice about whether or not to sign up to a store card.

should be delivered for a cost of around £3 a year

No, that is the setup and running cost of the scheme, not the cost of making any use of it.

over its ten-year life.

Regarding life, The Register recently reported that the chips in the new ePassports have a two (not ten) year warranty, so it seems doubtful we’ll get a ten year warranty for the chips on our identity cards.

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.

An oft-repeated claim, never cited, and one wonders how we know! Was there a survey?

If you Google the claim, you discover that some of the “major terrorists who have been arrested have had up to 50 identities each” – presumably identity cards, passports, driving licenses and so on. Well, if that is worth a significant proportion of over £5bn, let’s see the cost-benefit analysis.

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.

They never spell out how.

What criminals – i.e. what crimes are they committing – where false identities are a significant problem? Where is the cost-benefit analysis? You know, does it make sense to spend £5bn in order to prevent this sort of crime?

Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually.

An estimate criticised by SpyBlog and Silicon, among others.

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.

Sure but why forge it when you can buy it?

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.

Whatever – is it cost effective, will it work?

Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

Big Brother Europe” as today’s Telegraph puts it.

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.

Again, they never spell out how. And again, will it be cost effective, will it work?

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.

Was it cost effective? How many people weren’t discovered trying to illegal re-enter the UK? Is the National Register a pre-requisite for the use of this method of preventing illegal immigration?

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.

Er… yes, for the specific and limited purpose (a key principle of data protection) of allowing staff in particular areas, not for such vague, ill-defined purposes as “preventing illegal immigration”, “protecting the vulnerable”, “preventing terrorism” and so on – and as far as I know such companies don’t share this data with all and sundry.

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.

All my neighbours are replacing their lawns with gravel, should I pop down to B&Q?

Are these countries proprosing to construct a database equivalent to the National Register?

The introduction in 2006 of British e-passports incorporating facial image biometrics

No, it’s just a picture of the face, not a biometric.

has meant that British passport holders can continue to visit the United States without a visa.

And this has what to do with the Identity Cards and National Register Scheme?

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 capital punishment Tony. Why don’t we have capital punishment?

The majority of people think you’re screwing up the NHS. The majority of people disapprove of your handling of the invasion of Iraq. The majority of people favour the Conservatives on issues of law and order, taxation and immigration. Why don’t you let the Conservatives handle those issues Tony?

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.

Like, how many? One or two?

I opened a new bank account last year – gave them a passport and a utility bill.

We’re going to spend over £5bn to save people carrying a sheet of A4 o the bank every now and again?

Over time, they will also help improve access to services.


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.

Er… You and your mates tied the costs together throughout the debates on this scheme. Example from Hansard:

Our current best estimate of the average unit cost of getting a combined passport and ID card package-as we have said since the outset-is £93. Some 70 per cent. of those costs would be incurred anyway, because of the worldwide move to biometric passports.

That was former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, not some pinko liberal.

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.

According to ICAO requirements we need a photo of our faces on the chips in our passports. It says nothing about a National Register.

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.

The setup and running cost of the scheme, not the cost to the public sector of actually using it!

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.

Identity cards being used in our ‘everyday lives’ – what a scary thought.

And another thing, as Phil Booth pointed out on CommentOnThis,

Does anyone else think we need a recount? This new plan and official statements about it drop a couple of the fundamental elements on which the cheme was originally ‘sold’, namely the new, clean database, and iris scans which were the only plausible candidate for one-to-many checking at enrolment – though it looked like they wouldn’t work out). Parliament and the public have been sold a ringer…

Update 20 Feb 2007

The content of the email is reproduced on the Downing Street website.

The Register has an article primarily on the proposed fingerprint fishing exercise.

NO2ID has issued a press-release claiming the email is fact-free. There is some more detail than I have provided above on the claim that identity fraud costs £1.7bn pa.

It also points out that a Home Office Minister, Tony McNulty, assured MPs in 2005 that the database would not be used for fishing expeditions.


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