Monthly Archives: May 2007

Brian Glick, editor of Computing, writes in his diary column: Clearly, nobody wants to see George Orwell proved right. Privacy and personal freedom are fundamental tenets of our society and should never be compromised. But surely, adhering to knee-jerk reactions to any new technology that could be perceived as potentially infringing these rights is every bit as much of an example of the totalitarian tendencies that Orwell’s 1984 was all about. The only difference is that the jerking knee means the agenda is being controlled not by an intrusive state but by a reactionary minority with their own agenda and political dogma. I have often heard the argument that the danger with something like identity cards is how do we know a future government might not want to use the information in ways we can not foresee. Frankly, if we find ourselves with a government that thinks that way, ID […]

Pessimism over new technology must end

Mark Ballard writes in The Register: The Office of Government Commerce has appealed against an order by the Information Tribunal that it must publish official documents that assess the justification for the government’s identity card scheme. Meanwhile, speculation over Prime-Minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown’s support for the programme has been see-sawing for lack of any real substance. The clerk of Mr Robin Tam QC, the OGC’s legal representative, ran round to the high court this morning to file the office’s appeal against an order given by the Information Tribunal on 3 May that it should publish the Gateway Reviews it had performed on the identity card scheme in 2003 before the project was given official approval. The OGC refuses to publish Gateway Reviews on the grounds that their disclosure would discourage their contributors from making truthful submissions to the process. Aside from giving a traffic-light indication of a project’s health, early Gateways […]

Gov. resists ID card scrutiny

The FT leader-writer has learned that The Office of Government Commerce is to appeal to the High Court over the Information Tribunal’s ruling that the ID Cards gateway review should be published, and disapproves: [The] tribunal found that while a “safe space” may be needed for a time to conduct such reviews, the passage of time leads to the public interest in disclosure outweighing that. On a project as critical and controversial as ID cards, that is clearly the case. It is to be hoped that the High Court, too, sees it.

Brown should back open government

Ian Bell writes in The Herald: This is the most surveilled – apologies for the grotesque verb – society in the western world. Anonymity, discretion, a private life are no longer permitted. We have cameras like a voyeurs’ orgy on every village lamppost and a data file for every subject in every Tesco. We will shortly endure identity cards, bio-specific plastic parasites to match our store cards, without which ordinary life will become impossible. Loyalty, then, with bonus points, for all. And will we be more safe?

Assaults on our liberty will spark a real crisis

From the Guardian editorial: Most hardened lags coming to the end of their stretch inside would be minded to keep their heads down. Not Tony Blair. Ten years into his term, the prime minister yesterday came up with some fresh ideas for tackling the threat of terrorism. They include giving police officers in the UK the power to stop and interrogate individuals about their identity and their movements. Those questioned need not be suspected of any crime, yet failure to comply could land them with a criminal conviction and a fine of £5,000. New powers they may be, but the thinking behind them is well-worn. For Mr Blair further erosion of individual freedoms is a fair trade for greater security against the threat of terrorism. “We have chosen as a society to put the civil liberties of the suspect … first,” he wrote yesterday and warned: “This extremism, operating the […]

Stop and rethink

David Davis writes in The Independent: As Tony Blair reflects on his legacy, Taking Liberties, a film released on 8 June, documents how New Labour has undermined our ancient British freedoms over the past decade. The Government says the rules of the game have changed: the terrorist threat has escalated and we must trade some freedom for our security. That assessment is superficial. New Labour has undermined our freedoms, but the most damning indictment is the liberty taken with our security in the process. Each shortcut the Government takes with our freedoms masks a shortcoming in its counter-terrorism strategy. … The DNA database holds data on 100,000 innocent children, but serious criminals are left off. ID cards are touted as the answer to all our problems. But experts say that ID cards will cluster our personal information in one place, making it a prime target for criminals and terrorists.

David Davis: So, Chancellor, will you return the freedoms we ...

Readers may be interested to see the archaeology of previous government projects to track citizens at the Fuchs’ brothers website which has an eerie set of photos of the Stazi’s secret rooms where they stored files on every person in East Germany (and even jars containing underwear used to identify people by the smell). If the technology had been around then, they would certainly have been building a National Identity Register and DNA swabbing everyone they could. The images are a haunting portrait of a dangerously paranoid government. See more at the Fuchs’s site

Images of Government Snooping

Michael Cross writes in The Guardian about the dangers of creating a single point of failure (such as a National Identity Register) in any national government infrastrusture: A decade after we nerds started using the term, “e-government” has entered the chattering class’s lexicon. “E-government? Isn’t that what they call the town council in Yorkshire?” one of the wags on Radio Four’s News Quiz quipped last week. The reference was to a special case of e-government, Estonia, and the claim that its online existence was under attack from Russia. Estonia is a special case because the Baltic state has one of the world’s most advanced electronic administrations. On independence, it took advantage of small size and made a clean sweep of obsolete Soviet bureaucracy, installing a state-of-the art government machine. For the past few years, it has been hailed as an exemplary e-government, where citizens and businesses enthusiastically sign on to […]

Whitehall must learn from Estonia’s e-government

Victoria Macdonald writes in New Statesman: The Stasi was relentless in its pursuit of data collection, despite its lack of decent technology. The everyday details of the country’s citizens were instead logged meticulously by pen on paper. In the 21st century, the UK government is equally obsessed with charting our lives, from the pills we take to the type of sex we have. But it has one massive modern-day advantage over the east Germans – computers. From biometric passports, to national ID cards, to an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau, the data is – or will be – all stored for use by one authority or another that needs to know, or just wants to know, what we are up to. And it will all be accessible by thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people. After an explanation of the Children’s Index and NHS Summary Care Record databases, she concludes: This […]

Are our lives safe in their hands?

Sarah Arnott writes in IT Week: The procurement framework for the national ID card scheme will be in place by the end of the year, with the first contract awards scheduled for the second quarter of 2008, according to the latest timetable. Sources say formal bidding for inclusion on the framework list is expected to start before the end of June. A group of up to five major suppliers are expected to be included on a framework covering generic terms and conditions. Specific components of the scheme, such as customer services or biometrics, will then be allocated by mini-competitions within the four-year period of the overall deal.

ID cards deals primed to start

Five letters in the Telegraph respond to Joan Ryan’s letter of the previous day. The last one is representative of the mood: Sir – If identity cards are designed to safeguard, not erode, civil liberties, the legislation must inevitably include a clause to safeguard the citizen’s right not to have one. If it does not, it is itself an immediate and substantial erosion of the civil liberties that Ms Ryan claims it protects. Nick Parkes, Swansea

Identity card scheme is costly, open to fraud and should ...

Joan Ryan has had a letter published in the Daily Telegraph: Sir – The National Identity Scheme, which will link unique biometric data to a secure database with strict rules outlining its use, will be accredited by the Government’s security advisers to the highest standards (report, May 18). It is misleading to lump CCTV together with the scheme, or to talk about the scheme purely in the context of helping to tackle crime and terrorism. The Government’s proposals are designed to safeguard, not erode, civil liberties, by protecting people’s true identity against fraud and by enabling them to prove their identity more easily when accessing public or private services. The Government recognises that some people are concerned about the scheme infringing their civil liberties – that is why there are stringent safeguards built into the Identity Cards Act. The information that may be held by the National Identity Register is […]

ID cards will safeguard people’s liberties

Mark Tran writes on the Guardian Unlimited web site: The introduction of biometric identity cards for non-European immigrants may lead to “racial profiling”, a parliamentary committee warned today. In a report on the Home Office’s UK borders bill, the joint committee on human rights raised concerns about the planned legislation, which includes a measure to introduce ID cards for non-Europeans next year. The bill, introduced in January, will make it compulsory for all non-European foreign nationals living in Britain to apply for a biometric identity card carrying their fingerprints and a scan of their iris. They will be fined up to £1,000 if they do not possess one. The committee expressed concern over “the potentially discriminatory” impact of introducing compulsory registration for immigrants before British citizens face the same rules. “Even though the bill does not make it a requirement for such a document be carried, the fact that such […]

MPs raise fears of discrimination over ID cards

Marie Woolf writes in The Independent: A team of civil servants will “police” people who refuse to tell the state of any new address, and impose fines of up to £2,000 if they forget. The ID cards unit is to be responsible for checking that people inform the Government if they move house. The Government has admitted that under the ID cards law people will have to notify the ID cards database and the electoral register of address changes. The disclosure, in parliamentary questions tabled by the Tories, makes a mockery of Home Office claims that the ID cards scheme will mean people would only have to notify the state once of any changes. But the Ministry of Justice admits the database will not be linked to the electoral register at all.

ID card ‘police’ to levy £2,000 fines

Julian Cole writes in the York Press: Here’s a suggestion for Gordon Brown, and it won’t cost him a penny. More than that, it could save him untold millions, which should appeal to his famed prudence. While he trundles about the country, trying to win over voters before grasping Tony Blair’s tarnished crown, he should announce that he plans to drop ID cards. The projected costs of these cards are spiralling by the week, or maybe even the day. So the Prime-Minister-in-waiting could win himself what we can fairly call Brownie points by ditching the preposterous scheme in favour of respecting citizens’ rights and privacy. At a stroke of his well-chewed Biro – he looks like a man who chews Biros, and I write as one who should know – Gordon could save money and gain face. Opposition to the cards is to be found at both ends of the […]

Chance to earn Brownie points