UK Liberty

Same old tripe from the Government

Minister of State Michael Wills in the Guardian:

A new dialogue on data

We need a rational, respectful discourse if we are to properly consider the benefits and flaws of using databases. …

… the increasing sophistication of data management has sparked concern about data protection and civil liberties, most acutely over the measures government takes to protect its citizens. This tension is serious, complex and inescapable. In modern democracies it will always be hard to strike the right balance between protecting the public from the threat posed by crime and terrorism and the need to protect civil liberties.

Reconciling the goods of liberty and security and opportunity, which all speak different languages, is never easy. The only way that it can be done is through rational and mutually respectful discourse, wary of anyone, on any side of the debate, who claims a monopoly of wisdom.

But that’s what the Government does, isn’t it? Claims a monopoly of wisdom, I mean.

Unless people agree with the Government, in which case those people are wise too…

The basic principles for using personal data are that it should be proportionate and necessary. That goes for debate about it too.

Sadly, such a rational, respectful discourse, so essential to the creation of public policy on this crucial issue, has been largely absent in recent years.

Government must take its share of the blame. Too often, we have been overly defensive and dismissive of criticism.

Rather understating it, seeing as Government Ministers have smeared and traduced their critics and called them “intellectual pygmies“, among other things.

But equally, opponents have been too quick to assume the worst of government, without any evidence to support their assumptions, replacing argument with rhetoric.

The Rowntree report, Database State, exemplifies this flawed discourse. Riddled with factual errors and misunderstandings, it reached conclusions without setting out the evidential base for doing so. The government has now published its response.

Which itself is riddled with factual errors and misunderstandings and reaches conclusions without setting out the evidential basis for doing so.

… We can never be complacent about databases – the challenge in getting the balance right between seizing the opportunities they offer and avoiding the risks they pose is evolving as fast as the technologies themselves. Whenever changes need to be made, we will make them. But we can only do this on the basis of a rational dialogue between all concerned.

Government Ministers aren’t interested in dialogue, nor are they interested in supporting their assertions with evidence.

They continue to waste our time and our money on half-baked, unsupported, proposals, and post hoc insincere apologies and justifications.

This is not “rational and mutually respectful discourse”, this is treating the world as a write-only medium and our money as their largesse.


Ignorance or mendacity?

Posted in database state, DNA database, ID Cards, law and order, politicians on liberty, propaganda by ukliberty on December 8, 2009

(hat-tip Andrew Watson)

Today the Government published its response to the report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust on the Database State.

I’m reading the response and will update this post as I wade through it.

So far it can be summed up as “The Government doesn’t do anything wrong.”


I have that familiar but confusing sensation of being simultaneously amused and slightly frustrated.

Their comments on the effectiveness of the DNA database and eBorders are cases in point: there are no stats relating to convictions but examples of individual cases are, as usual, held up as proof that these are worthwhile, necessary and proportionate systems to have.


The ‘Database State’ report suggested that there was ‘little evidence of effectiveness’ of UKBA systems. However, the following case studies illustrate some of the benefits of e-Borders and outline some of the different ways the data can be used: [synopsis of three cases]

That’s it! There is nothing else offered to refute the claim that there is “little evidence of effectiveness”. Nothing. Possibly because there is little evidence of effectiveness.


ID cards

The [Database State] report also noted ‘the growing public opposition to ID cards’ as part of the explanation for a red rating but there was no reference to support this suggestion – the majority of public opinion polls over the past five years have shown that the majority of people support identity cards and recent research has shown a consistent level of support for the National Identity Scheme of around 60%.

OK, it appears to be a bit remiss of the authors of Database State not to substantiate their claim here. But it seems to me any follower of the polls would, if he is honest, suggest there does indeed appear to be growing opposition to and declining support for ID cards.

Plot, for example, the results made available in table form by Polling Report:

What I hope you can see (and I’m sorry if it isn’t clear enough, do let me know) is that I’ve plotted the results of the polls over time for TNS/Home Office polls.  Looking at a particular poll result over time – the result for ‘support ID cards’, for example.  This is the pink line, to which I have added a dotted red line to show the linear trend.  It is clearly in decline over time.  Look too at the cyan (light blue) line, which represents the Home Office poll’s result for ‘oppose ID cards’. The dotted turquoise line represents the linear trend.  Opposition is clearly growing over time. And remember, this is the Home Office’s own poll.

And have a look at the TNS report from June 2009:

Support for the service has decreased this wave, with only 56% agreeing strongly or slightly with the plan. This continues the general downtrend in levels of support over time.

The results for ICM/NO2ID polls tell a similar story: decline in support, growth in opposition.

(Note: the ballpark percentages for and against differ between the polls because of the different methodology – there is a much closer gap in the ICM/NO2ID results.  Also, I haven’t plotted ‘don’t know’ or ‘undecided’)

Incidentally, TNS/Home Office changed the methodology of their poll since (and including) their February poll.  They inserted this new question:

Q.1a How concerned or worried are you about protecting yourself against identity theft?

Before this question:

Q.1 Are you aware of the Government introducing a national identity scheme, which includes the Identity Card?

This could explain the jump in support (regardless, support remains in decline).


(hat-tip Andrew Watson)

The Yorkshire Post:

ANYONE tuning into the Radio 4 the other day may well have frozen half way through a mouthful of cereal or choked on their coffee. They were listening to Meg Hillier, the “Minister for Identity”, being asked why the people of Manchester should spend £30 on an Identity Card, ahead of this week’s launch of the Government’s voluntary pilot scheme. Ms Hillier’s response was astonishing.

“Really for a lot of people it’s a convenience thing… For a lot of young people… often take their passport to prove their identity in nightclubs and bars… I’ve got one and it’s very useful… the way I’m using mine at the moment is to prove who I am at the post office when I pick up a parcel.”

So let’s get this clear. The Government thinks you should pay £30 and give them 49 separate pieces of personal information, so you can go for a beer and collect some mail. They can think of nothing better for the ID Cards to be used for. As former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “This is a far from robust defence of one of their most expensive follies.”


Posted in database state, ID Cards, stupid by ukliberty on December 3, 2009

Angela Epstein, Manchester Evening News:

I’M so proud I could almost burst I haven’t felt this good about cradling something small and pink since my daughter Sophie was born.

All right, so I’m exaggerating a bit. But honestly, when you’re the first member of the public to be issued with a brand spanking new national identity card, it’s a seminal moment.

Well, it is for me, anyway. You may not agree. After all, in a city of two and a half million, only 1,386 have actually applied for these hotly-disputed ID cards. But more of that later.

The fact is that when the scheme, which is being trialled here in Manchester, opened for business on Monday morning, I was thrilled to be invited to be first in the queue (well, small queue) to apply for one.

And how did I manage to bag poll position? Thanks entirely to this column, which I’ve had the privilege to use as a platform from which to venture encouraging opinions on the introduction of voluntary ID cards.

Yep.  Not because of first come first served, which would be fair, but because Epstein shills for the Government.

Though taking this view has always triggered furious debate, I didn’t realise that I was such a minority voice. But the Home Office did.

Really?  They’ve been telling us even since the scheme’s inception that it was really popular…

Which is why they asked me if I wanted to lead from the front. Such is the power of this fine newspaper.

I won’t rehash all the arguments in favour of ID cards – that they are a small, convenient and portable way to prove identity. Nor will I try and convince opponents that they are not an infringement of English civil liberties. Everyone is entitled to their view.

Instead, let me tell you what I actually had to do to get one.

Actually it nearly didn’t happen. Thanks to a small burn on my index finger (roast potatoes can be lethal) the plaster I was wearing scuppered my prints, foxed the scanner and baffled the interviewing officer at Manchester’s Passport and Identity Service in Piccadilly. But we put our heads together and agreed that removing it (the plaster, not the finger) would resolve the situation.

Now we can all sleep soundly in our beds.

Incidentally, Epstein was interviewed by the BBC t’other day (skip to 42mins) and she implied something quite different about what happened as a result of her burned finger.

However before we got to this stage, I’d filled in a form, not dissimilar to a passport application, which was checked over and imputed into a computer by a charming but slightly nervous lady whose badge said Pauline – was that her ID, I wondered?

I think she means Pauline inputted, not imputed, which means something else.

I was then asked to choose five ‘password’ questions from a list of 20 which were unique to me and could subsequently prove who I was. They included name of first pet, favourite song and best subject at school. Cute but slightly bonkers, perhaps.

She also said in the BBC interview that one of the questions is “what is your favourite food?”

Thanks for sharing that with the Internet and increasing the risk of ID compromise.

After this I was taken to a curtained booth to have biometric particulars taken down: not as saucy as it sounds but simply my photo, prints and electronically recorded signature.

The card normally takes four to 10 working days, but because I was first and there’s no backlog I was told I’d get it the same day. Actually it wasn’t ready until the following morning as it had to come via, er, Chadderton, but I won’t split hairs.

So it was late.

When I went to pick it up a Roy Cropper wannabe complete with diagonally placed bag was eagerly awaiting his turn while a middle-aged man with a nice wax jacket did the crossword. No apparent need for crash barriers.

Even though only three people went through the process.

You may think the £4.7bn scheme is a waste of money and I would admit that the thinking has been flawed in parts. But that’s the beauty of a voluntary scheme and a democratic society.

What is?  That a government in power on the basis of votes from 22% of the electorate has wasted £4.7 bn on a scheme that won’t work as advertised but will infringe our liberties?

Yes, that’s the ‘beauty’ of democracy.

You can choose to have one or not.

We can’t choose to be on the database or not.

We will be forced to be on the database if Labour has their way.

The Tories have pledged to junk them if they win. And when I had a shmooze with home office minister Meg Hillier on Monday she wouldn’t say whether I’d get my 30 quid back if that happened.

But I genuinely felt proud and excited when I was finally handed my card. I loved seeing my name, face and the words British citizen on this tiny piece of plastic. That’s who I am, and why shouldn’t anyone know?

Don’t people already know who you are?  Your family, friends, the people who read your stupid articles?

As I’ve said before I understand why people have their reservations, but I personally can’t see what there is to lose if you’re a law abiding citizen with nothing to hide.

Of course.  I look forward to Epstein volunteering to have all her communications monitored, her home filled with CCTV cameras, and her medical records spread about the public sector.

And if it’s another weapon in the fight against identity fraud, illegal workers and terrorism, then that can only be for the good.

Really?  No consideration of necessity or proportionality?  If it is of some help it is absolutely the right thing to do?

Slipping it into my purse and slinking off into the gloom of an icy winter afternoon, I felt like I was pocketing a piece of history.

Thank god it will be history when the new government comes into power.

(Fingers crossed.)

Weirdly, in the same BBC piece, Home Surveillance Office Minister Meg Hillier claims ID cards can’t be revoked.  Erm.. what happens when they are compromised or stolen, Meg?

£5bn for proof of age card = money well spent?

Posted in database state, ID Cards, politicians on liberty, stupid by ukliberty on November 30, 2009

The Guardian:

The home secretary, Alan Johnson, showed off his [identity card] as he travelled to Brussels for a meeting of EU ministers yesterday.

“The many benefits of the national identity card can now be enjoyed by members of the public in Manchester,” he said.

“The first applicants will soon be taking advantage of the voluntary card as a means to prove and protect their identity in a quick, simple and secure way.

“It can be used by young people as a convenient and universal proof of age and as a credit card-sized alternative to the passport when travelling in Europe.”

It’s really popular in Manchester, too*:

Since applications opened a fortnight ago, 1,386 people out of an eligible population of 1.7 million [or 0.08% – ukliberty] in the area have requested an application form.


The scheme’s launch was overshadowed by the revelation that the cards are only available to people who already have a passport or whose passport expired this year.

Anyone else wanting a £30 card will first have to sign up for a passport at a cost of £77.50.

So it will cost you £107.50 to have an identity card…

More details of the Manchester scheme on SpyBlog.

* sarcasm.