Monthly Archives: January 2007


Accordiong to Henry Deedes, writing in the Independent’s “Pandora” column, the BBC is “planning a hard-hitting drama series tackling the thorny issue of government ID cards”: The series, called The Last Enemy, will star upcoming Blood Diamonds actor David Harewood. Set sometime in the near future, the plot centres around grizzly murders carried out with the assistance of ID card theft. “It’s meant to be an apocalyptic drama,” I’m told. “It’s aiming to paint a pretty depressing picture of the country if ID cards get the nod. I think the idea is that it will be quite Orwellian.” Either way, the series will aims to cause a stir on the prickly issue, which which may have been the reason the BBC weren’t keen to go into any details. “The series will be broadcast in five parts which we hope will go out later this year sometime,” says a spokesman for […]

BBC to turn identity card crisis into a drama



Tim Hall writes in the Daily Telegraph: Measures to tighten Britain’s borders will be announced today in the latest bid to crack down on illegal immigration. Border staff will be given new powers, including the rights to fingerprint and digitally store the photograph of any foreign national arriving in the country. The move is expected to pave the way for full biometric ID cards for all immigrants. … Later this morning the Home Office will introduce the changes in the Borders Bill – the fifth piece of legislation introduced in eight years in a bid to get more control over immigration. … Mr Reid’s expected measures have already been widely criticised. Phil Booth, national coordinator of NO2ID, which campaigns against the introduction of identity cards, said the Government was making a “devastating” mistake. He said: “We’re talking about people who contribute billions of pounds a year in tax to our […]

Government plans tougher border controls



Bill Goodwin writes in Computer Weekly: The Home Office was quick to deny a u-turn when it published its new Strategic Action Plan just before Christmas. But it is clear that the national identity cards project will now be radically different, and simpler, than originally envisaged. In the words of one industry commentator, “It is a u-turn of giant proportions.” Out go plans for a purpose-built population database and proposals to record the iris patterns of 60 million people. And the timetable for the mass roll out of ID cards has been quietly moved from 2008 to 2010. In a related article, Goodwin writes: The revised ID cards scheme is central to government plans to share data across government departments

U-turn cuts risks of ID card scheme


Tom Espiner writes on the ZDNet web site: The Home Office announced in December that the National Identity Register — the planned database behind the controversial ID cards scheme — would comprise three existing databases. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) databases would be combined to store people’s biometric and biographic information. This plan, which negates the need to build a single new database, has sparked alarm in the security space. The second government initiative worrying security experts is this week’s proposals to relax data-sharing laws that govern how civil servants access and share citizens’ personal data. At present, the privacy rights of the UK public are protected by the Data Protection Act. But, according to a Number 10 policy review published on Monday, “overzealous data-sharing rules may be an obstacle to improving public services”. Relaxing […]

Security experts criticise government database plans


Ann Rossiter, writing on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, defends government data-sharing plans against the criticisms of A C Grayling and others. Whatever New Labour is doing it is not, as AC Grayling wrongly suggested here, leading us towards some “bureaucratic despotism”, warned of by Weber. Look at current reforms – as many have been about limiting bureaucracy, through choice and market instruments, as have been about targets or management power. The best of New Labour’s reforms have been about empowering people, moving influence away from the monolith towards the individual. Successful data sharing will do the same. It will make information reflect citizens’ priorities not bureaucratic priorities. To do this the government must identify which services people expect to work together and what must remain separate. Data sharing should not provide an information free-for-all; it should be limited by people’s patterns of interaction with the state, doing no […]

Getting to know you



Computer Business Review carries a thoughtful article based on an analysis from Butler Group’s Sarah Burnett: Recent reports have suggested that the UK government is planning to create a super database to hold citizens’ details. Meanwhile, UK prime minister Tony Blair has denied the super database idea, but is planning to share data at a national level anyway. It concludes: Data sharing on a national scale is going to be very challenging, with many data quality and integrity issues and barriers. Such an ambitious aim is unlikely to be achieved. A different approach would be to learn from the private sector, and deliver service modernization at a more local level, without driving a coach and horses through much-needed privacy protection laws.

National data sharing – an ambitious aim unlikely to be ...


This week’s New Statesman includes a pull out supplement (downloadable here) recording a round-table discussion about ID cards between several individuals prominent in public debate so far. It’s well worth reading the whole thing – here are some snippets to whet your appetite … Professor Ian Angell (Professor of information systems, London School of Economics) makes a point which is particularly relevant to Tony Blair’s claim this week that intra-government data-sharing would improve government efficiency: Everyone has been talking about security. The real driver that I can hear as a secondary issue is efficiency; the trouble is that efficiency and security are not compatible. Secure systems introduce inefficiency as a means of safety, to stop the ease of the bad guy getting through. Efficiency is extremely dangerous, yet that aspect of it does not appear in the discussion at all. Commander Janet Williams (Deputy assistant commissioner, Police of the Metropolis) […]

Who do you think you are?


Plenty of coverage today of yesterday’s sanctioned leak of government data-sharing proposals, much of it negative. Unusually, The Sun gives prominence to the government’s critics. Andrew Porter writes: Tony Blair was accused of Big Brother government yesterday — over plans to log EVERY citizen’s personal details on a giant database. The scheme — which will give civil servants access to all information held on us — was slammed by the Tories. Shadow constitutional affairs spokesman Oliver Heald warned: “Step by step, the Government is logging details of every man, woman and child in Big Brother computers.” Meanwhile, James Kirkup writing in The Scotsman quotes NO2ID’s own Michael Parker making an excellent point: “Public interest has been redefined in terms of bureaucratic convenience. This is not being done for the benefit of the public, but for the benefit of the government and the state,” he said. “The most alarming thing of […]

‘Chance to snoop on every Brit’



Peter Griffiths of Reuters writes: Plans to create a national computer database containing millions of people’s personal details will be unveiled on Monday in a move slammed by critics as a further shift towards a “Big Brother” society in Britain. Prime Minister Tony Blair is due to propose easing data protection laws that make it hard for public bodies to share information, spokesmen for his office and the Department for Work and Pensions said on Sunday. Ministers say it would improve public services, but opponents fear it will fuel public concern over state “snooping” through security cameras, planned identity cards and computers. Reuters reports that privacy camapigners and politicians of all parties are lining up to criticise the proposals. The main source of this story seems to be the BBC, whose web site carries a long piece on the subject, seemingly based on an exclusive off-the-record briefing.

Database plan sparks Big Brother fears


Mark Ballard writes in The Register: The Department for Education and Skills is to reconsider the fingerprinting of school children after a four year campaign by parents. Jim Knight, schools minister, told Greg Mulholland, campaigning LibDem MP for Leeds North West, in a letter sent on 12 December, that he would “update the guidance on the use of biometric technologies” by schools. The letter said that the DfES had called for help on the guidelines from BECTA, the technology procurement quango, and the Information Commissioner. A spokesman for Mullholland said that the DfES had persistently said in answer to Parliamentary questions that school fingerprinting would not be reviewed. But now, he said: “This is a U-turn.”

Government to review school fingerprinting


The Sussex Argus reports comments from Ben Wallace MP (Conservative, Lancaster & Wyre) on the Project IRIS biometric immigration trial at UK airports. He’s read the Home Office report on the trial lodged in the House of Commons library at the end of the December: Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The pilot failed half its assessments: it wasn’t available when it was needed at the right level; when the system crashed, it took over eight hours to fix.” “Iris recognition is one of the main planks of the biometrics the Government said made their ID scheme foolproof.” “In an answer to me, the minister said that iris recognition had been chosen as a biometric because it outperformed all others.” “In this case, it doesn’t.” The Radio 4 interview can be heard here (RealPlayer required).

ID technology leaving passengers waiting



Bill Goodwin writes in Computer Weekly: The government has attacked its own information watchdog for failing to understand the workings of Whitehall, as it gears up to fight an order to publish confidential reports into the ID cards programme. The Office of Government Commerce, which is part of HM Treasury, claimed in legal papers that, by ordering the publication of Gateway reviews on identity cards, the information commissioner had unreasonably rejected clear evidence that publication of the project reports would cause “substantial harm”. The case, due to be decided in a four-day hearing at the Information Tribunal in March, could set a legal precedent that would force government departments to routinely publish Gateway reviews of public sector IT projects requested under the Freedom of Information Act, in line with a Computer Weekly campaign. Apparently the OGC thinks that: “Misquotation or out-of context quotation of frank and candid observations or comments […]

Watchdog attacked in battle over ID cards


Gavin Aitchison reports in the York Press how the possible imposition of Identity Cards is being used as a justification for other invasions of privacy: Thousands of children in York are being fingerprinted by their schools, including one without parents’ knowledge, The Press can reveal today. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show 11 schools in the city are using personal biometric data to identify pupils, but one said today they had suspended the practice, after a local politician voiced concerns. Human rights campaigners have reacted angrily to the news, saying the fingerprinting was unnecessary and an invasion of privacy, and questioning its safety. They said children were being “conditioned” into thinking it were normal to have to divulge personal information. But Chris Bridge, head teacher at Huntington Secondary, said the system was preparing pupils for a world in which terrorism was rife, and their privacy would be […]

Anger over York schools that fingerprint their five-year-olds


Paul Routledge, writing in The Mirror, comments on the Home Secretary’s December 10 warning that a Christmas terrorist attack was “highly likely”: Given that 52 people died in the July 7 bombings in London, it is only right that we – and the politicians – should be vigilant about possible further threats to our safety. But the government has ulterior motives for keeping public fears at panic levels. Ministers want to justify the war in Iraq. And there’s the multibillion- pound ID cards fiasco. And the £2billion bill for MI5 and MI6. And the £24billion plan for “son of Trident” nuclear weapons. For all these reasons, as well as our personal security, they have an interest in overstating the terrorist threat. Regular warnings of impending Armageddon bolster the government’s case for military spending, social controls and intrusion into our private lives. It is vital that we stay alert – alert […]

Don’t be spooked by Reid’s scare tactics