UK Liberty

ID myths

Posted in ID Cards by ukliberty on March 21, 2007

The Home Office Identity & Passport Service has made a web page that attempts to dispel some myths surrounding the ID card plans.

You’ll have to carry a card

You will not have to carry an ID card, although you may find it simple and convenient to do so. In fact the Act specifically prohibits making the carrying of an ID card compulsory.

I can’t see where it says that. Regardless, a key part of our constitution is that Parliament is not bound by its predecessors.  In other words, Parliament could pass a law making it compulsory to carry an ID card.

The police can demand to see your card

The police have no new powers associated with the scheme and they will not be able to stop you and demand to see your card.

See above.

The money could be better spent on other public services

70% of the costs incurred will be spent in any event on necessary security enhancements to passports. There is no ‘pot of money’ which could be spent on other things like ‘bobbies on the beat’ or prisons. Other than some of the initial setup costs, the scheme will be funded, as with passports, mainly through fees charged to those applying.

Of course if you asked them to prove it they would respond that they cannot answer on the grounds of commercial confidentiality!

I wonder how much the passport system would cost if there was no central database (National Register) storing all the information given by Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act. Surely all we need to know is that the passport is not fake, and that the holder is the person to whom the passport is issued.

Regardless, however the government obtains it, it remains taxpayers’ money – whether the money comes from the public purse or the individual pocket at the point of sale, it is money that could otherwise be spent on the police or prisons.

The database will know everything about you

Only basic personal information will be held to prove your identity – such as name, nationality, age, address and gender.

The use of the word ‘basic’ and the examples following ‘such as’ is is disingenuous at best.

The types of information that may be stored are given in Schedule 1 of the Act, and it is a much more extensive list than just your name, nationality, age, address and gender. For example: “(a) particulars of every occasion on which information contained in the individual’s entry has been provided to a person; (b) particulars of every person to whom such information has been provided on such an occasion; (c) other particulars, in relation to each such occasion, of the provision of the information”.

In summary:

  • every name you’ve ever been known by;
  • every address you’ve ever lived at;
  • every immigration status you’ve ever held;
  • a photograph of your face; your fingerprints;
  • the number of every official identity document issued to you, such as driving licences, passports, visas, etc; and,
  • the details of every occasion on which your identity is checked, and who it was checked by, and thus a record of, for example, each time you register with a doctor/clinic, sign up for benefits, enroll your kids in a state school, access any public services to which you have to prove entitlement, open a bank account, apply for a credit card or take out a mortgage.

By the way, when you are interrogated interviewed on applying for your first passport (and presumably the process will be similar for identity cards) you will be expected “to know answers from a pool of around 200 questions about [your] ancestry, financial history and previous addresses.”

This is no different to what is already held by the public sector, e.g. for issuing National Insurance numbers and driving licences.

Well, it is different, the information is currently held in separate databases, and it is (hopefully) limited to the purpose for which each database exists – a very important Data Protection principle, albeit an inconvenient one.

So important, in fact, that it is mentioned in Schedule 1 of the Data Protection Act 1998: “Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes. Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed”.

Unrelated information such as religious beliefs, tax and medical records cannot be held. In fact there are strict limits in the legislation which expressly prevent this.

Again, Parliament cannot bind its successors. Also note that in the other databases, such as those held by the NHS, DVLA and so on, there will be a record of your National Identity number. Bristol No2ID has posted an excellent explanation of why this is important.

ID cards can stop global terrorism and crime

No-one has ever claimed ID cards are a panacea for global terrorism or crime. But we do know they will make a contribution to tackling crimes such as illegal working, money laundering and benefit fraud, which are enabled by the possession of multiple identities. Terrorists are known to use multiple identities to avoid detection and hide their activities. ID cards will make it much harder for criminals to build up multiple fraudulent identities by securely linking one person’s identity with one set of unique biometrics.

You hope.

An ID card will cost £300

This figure is complete nonsense. The relevant cost of the ID card is the premium over the cost of a standard British biometric passport, currently £66. An ID card will add less than £30 cost on top of that. This is less than £3 per year over a ten-year card life.

You hope. We do not yet know how much the scheme will cost – the estimate is over £5bn over ten years, but we all know what happens to government IT projects – costs tend to spiral. The cost of £300 is an estimate in an independent report produced by the London School of Economics.

If the Government already has a lot of info on me, why do we need an id card?

You are right that whether it is medical records, or information about your driving licence – the Government does hold information about individuals on specific issues. As do many private companies from Sky to Tesco.

Private companies are covered by the Data Protection Act but the IPS (and Government) has been made exempt from the DPA in some ways. Furthermore, it is voluntary to give your information to Sky and Tesco, but it is made quite clear in the Act that the Government can compel you to register, and the Government has made it clear that in the future they plan to compel people to register once enough of the population has already done so.

But what the Government does not have, and nor do you, is a fail proof system

Of course the Identity Card and National Register scheme will not provide a fail proof system either!

that can prove you really are who you say you are. The long established ways of linking us to our identity – a signature or a photograph – are no longer enough. ID cards will link your basic personal information to something uniquely yours – like the pattern of your iris,

Irises have been dropped from the plans at present.

your face shape

Presumably they are talking about the photograph of your face here – facial recognition is not part of the public plans at present.  Indeed facial recognition isn’t very good at present.

or your fingerprint. It will protect your identity from people fraudulently claiming to be you and make it easier for you to prove your identity when you need to – like opening a bank account, moving house, applying for benefits or starting a job.

Most identity fraud is ‘customer-not-present’ fraud. Difficult to see how the identity card will prevent that.

Also, as the intention is that the card be the Gold Standard of identification, it seems conceivable that criminals will invest a lot in attempting to abuse the system. How this abuse will be prevented and dealt with has not been discussed in public.


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