Thought, experience and memory from a brain in a jar, one that sometimes has control over a thirty-two-year-old Londonite.

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Location: Herne Hill, London, United Kingdom

31 October, 2005

Speakers' Corner

Christian Atheists
Christian Atheists,
originally uploaded by Simon Scott.
I'm currently reading Them by Jon Ronson and in it there was a brief mention of Speakers' Corner. Given that the corner is something of a last bastion of free speech in this country, a freedom close to my heart, and given that I live in London, I thought I should go along and soak up the ambulance.

It was thoroughly entertaining, and a little infuriating. I spent most of my time listening to a Protestan preacher who seemed more interested in mocking disbelievers than winning over anyone to his rather twisted and ill-founded belief system. This man (not pictured) denied that Daniel and Jonathan had a homosexual affair because Daniel had seven wives. He was insistent that evolution was a ridiculous notion, despite the mechanics being relatively clear and to some extent observable. I'm not claiming there are no holes in the theory of evolution - it never quite manages to explain where the new information comes from, or why birds spent so much evolutionary energy developing wings that must have been useless for most of the life of the life - however that is hardly evidence in itself for creationism. What I have come to notice more and more is the way in which people seem to be blinded by their own beliefs when encountering other points of view. One of the reasons the preacher didn't believe in evolution was because he couldn't see evolutionary sense of the Cicada, who lives underground for most of its life, emerging only to mate and die. It's a bit of a tightrope, because to doubt the wisdom of the cicada is to doubt the wisdom of God. However, a Cicada is relatively well hidden away from predators, and only emerges when it really needs another cicada. The point is, there doesn't have to be a reason behind evolution. Evolution is a mechanism. Creationists have a tendancy to look at evolution, find it Godless, and reject it on those grounds alone. Ask a creationist how God created the universe and they are stumped.

I tried and failed to get the preacher to acknowledge the fact that the bible seems to suggest that God, who ought to be changeless in his omnipotence, decided to change the rules for his creaton. The idea is that the old testament has one covenant and the new testament has another. I've heard the need for a change of rules as a "series of revelations" which does actually make sense to me, suggesting as it does a dialogue between God and its creation - and hints at the excellent 2001: A Space Odyssey. Preacherman, however, explained that God has set up one rule for one set of people and another rule for another. Hardly PC, what?

Speaking of which, he also went on to explain to an audience made up of Germanic female teenagers that (because men have XY chromosomes, and women have XX) women come from man, are subservient to men, were created to honour and obey, to sit around looking pretty (this is not much of a departure from what he said). This, he explained, is shown in the bible in the way that Eve was made from one of Adam's ribs. But Cain, rather confusingly, went over the hill to the land of Nod and married a woman he found there. Not a woman created from anyone's rib, just found over the hill.

Now, if his belief tells him this, that's fine. It's not like he's married. But then he took so much pleasure in exerting his authority over the women in his audience that the religious propriety of his point of view seemed totally absent. It was almost as though he had selected a religion that would allow him to maintain misogyny in a world long moved on.

There is a worry often voiced, that Speakers' corner is nothing more than token liberty. We are taught that it is a place that exists in the greatest spirit of freedom, yet it is given over by people such as this dodgy preacher and a hoarde of other equally cranky opinions. These cranky opinions deserve a voice, certainly, but sadly they serve to couple up freedom with eccentricity and wrongheadedness, and freedom suffers. Freedom of speech, it would seem, is most coveted by preachers such as he, who believes equality is overrated, that slavery is no bad thing, and is a black Jamaican. A man who denounces egotism from a pulpit.

Protest, the useful and necessary element of freedom of speech in this country should be a gentle and victimless overstep, but under the current Government protest is being boxed into an allowable space. The paradox of the permissive society is that it relies on someone to do the permitting.

Up To Date

Weirdness creeps in.

I've a friend from Bath by the name of Lyndsay and when the boyf and I moved to Herne Hill we learned that her sister lived a couple of streets along, although she moved soon after (nothing we did).

Last Monday I started at my latest assignment, joining a small team with Cancer Research working on a drug trial. Whilst looking through the file structure in which we keep the database queries I found a folder named Fenner. I don't know how common Fenners are but a quick Google comparison puts it at about .5% as popular as Smith. And lo, in conversation with Lyndsay later it transpires that, yes, her sister did once work there. It seems I am subconsciously stalking her sister.

19 October, 2005

Upset The Rhythm

Went to see Jandek last night at St Giles-In-The-Field. It was the second church-set gig I've been to, always a weird atmosphere, but definitely fitting for the bill.

Rhodrid Davies opened. He plays his harp with a bow, and sticks, fair bullying the sounds out of the instrument. He was accompanied on a violin under similar levels of distress. The overall impression of the piece was of two instruments desperately searching for a common language with which they can communicate. When they do, it is under an intense duress, as though they were locked in an unhappy partnership from which they daren't escape.

Jandek was remarkable. His persona is that of a mysterious travelling performer. Fifteen minutes after Davies had finished, and with the congregation chatting away to themselves, Jandek appeared in a dark purple shirt, black trousers and black fedora, carrying his guitar and a bound notebook. He took slow, slightly overlong steps to the chair and sat. The audience took some time to even notice that he'd arrived.

There was a comical length of time before he found the right page in the book. If you've heard him play (dark drawn out vocals over improvised guitar) you would be forgiven for wondering exactly what might be in the book. This again adds to the mysterious nature of the performer. Ian noticed much leaning forward on the part of various audience members whenever Jandek retuned his instrument. Apparently the exact way in which the guitar is tuned is a topic of debate; it's certainly "wrong" but few can tell exactly what the tuning is when its there. From my knowledgeless starting point I suspect that the tuning and the page finding has more to do with performance than any kind of musical exactitude. We are to go along with the notion that he knows where he is going and when he has arrived, but that it is such a singular journey that we couldn't possibly join him for it.

The songs were deeply melancholic but shot through with occasional bleak humour made all the more engaging in that the audience is left uncertain as to how funny Jandek wants his songs to be. The set, some 70 minutes, felt like half that. With much shifting in pews to maintain posterior circulation and improve my limited sight of the man, I failed, along with everyone else, to get much of a fix on Jandek's face at all. The shadow falling from his fedora turned most of his face into a featureless beige. Occasionally one could make out his eyes, but that was about it.

At the moment I'm reading about the history of stage magic and so am perhaps more mindful than usual about the space in which such performances take place. I felt there was a little of the magician in the framing of Jandek's performance - the way in which he came out of a particular door, played his songs without any explicit acknowledgement of the audience, then left through the same door, never being seen anywhere else prior to or following his set. Robert-Houdin said that a conjurer was "an actor playing the part of a magician." It is no criticism to say that Jandek is an actor playing the part of a musician.

Another Door Closes

Well the Bill got past its third reading last night with 309 votes to 284, a majority reduced further than when the Bill had its second reading, despite promised concessions. Nice to see the select committee process earning its dues, hem-hem.

With popularity dropping every day for the scheme (the media seemed much more interested in putting the boot in this time 'round, although they were handily distracted by the Tory leadership battle, another dirty trick pulled by Labour), we can but hope that the Lords will join in with the kicking. There is the belief that, with the scheme appearing in the manifesto, the Lords will feel dutybound to pass it. However, this is the House that has already suffered too often at the hands of the Parliament act, so the Lords overlooking such quaint traditions as shoddily founded mandates, and kicking the NID Bill back to the House Of Commons could well be on the cards.

What has also been fun has been the sheer audacity of Charles Clarke, who having been told that the treasury will not be putting up money for the scheme, and already having explained that the £5.9 billion [sic] budget is for the creation of the scheme, not the implementation of it throughout the Government, is now turning round and trying to touch other offices for the rest of the money. If I were Gordon Brown I'd run the guy out of town on a rail. I'm hoping that the Yes, Minister view of the civil service will bear out, and that interdepartmental machinations will ensure Clarke doesn't get a bean.

And I notice with some amusement that the Google Adsense bar is now responding to the post about the reading frenzy and purchase of a magic prop - thus next to the "Some Lies" article were adverts for card tricks and illusions. What a critic! And while we're on the subject, here are some additional lies that have been told:

We'll be able to log on to a web-site (yay! Websites!) to check who has been accessing our information.
Again, as there is no workable security system that will allow this, it stands as a great weakness to the security of the system. More of Clarke protecting us all from Data theft? I wouldn't trust him to look after my children. And I don't have any children.

The information held on the card will be the same as the information that appears on the (biometric) passport.
More misdirection - he's made no concession as to the information that will appear on the registry, and it is the registry that is the problem.

Information that won't appear on the registry includes NHS and CRB information.
Therefore either having attempted to touch the NHS and others to pay for the scheme, they won't get any benefit from it, or the NHS and CRB databases will be redesigned to include the NID number, effectively connecting them into one metadatabase. Note he's been careful in stating that no information from other databases will appear on the NIR, meaning that information can and will flow in the other direction. As soon as the unique identifying numbers appear in other databases then those databases become part of the database. Clarke's promise is empty, meaningless and dangerous. As usual we are faced with a minister who is either conniving or incompetent. Coin, anyone?

17 October, 2005

The ID Card Bill And Some Of The Lies You’ll Have Heard About It

According to the wisdom of Yes, Minister, every new government, sooner or later, is presented by the civil service with a proposal for an (admin intensive, budget increasing) identity card scheme. Whatever the problem the government faces, the ministers are told that a national ID card would solve it. Not just a subject for comedy, this is also borne out in the real world. We were finally rid of wartime ID cards in 1952, but a new scheme has been touted every few years after that. In 1974, despite the IRA bombing campaign, Home Secretary Roy Jenkins rejected a mooted scheme, considering it a waste of money. In 1978, the Lindhop Committee on Data Protection proposed a Universal Personal Identifier, but this was considered to be a “considerable threat to privacy, and perhaps the freedom of the private citizen.” In 1988, Tony Favell MP tried to introduce a Bill to introduce a card to counter the threat of hooliganism and crime. It was rejected with 172 votes to 114. Schemes were considered in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996, all rejected due to cost, privacy and effectiveness issues1.

In a queer bit of circularity, Blunkett introduced the current identity card scheme as a means of testing people for entitlement to services, so preventing benefit fraud. The fact that, as he is now perhaps too aware, most benefit fraud does not consist of people lying about who they are, but what they are entitled to, doesn’t matter too much to the Government as, if it goes ahead, the scheme will be self-financing. That is to say the government’s saving will be funded by public expense. Each problem the card has been said to address, terrorism, getting into cinemas, identity fraud, has been shown as largely insoluble by the introduction of the scheme, and where it may make some kind of marginal impact, that impact will only come when we hit compulsion at the magic 80% threshold. As we don’t know when that threshold will be reached, those choosing not to renew their passport before they will be forced to get one with a voluntaryish ID card won’t see much if any return on that investment for a long while yet.

Listed here are various misrepresentations and outright lies perpetrated by a Government suspiciously desperate to force the current overpriced and functionless scheme on a public dangerously close to sleepwalking into its own frightfully British elective dictatorship.

Lie 1. The ID Card Bill

The first lie you will have heard is the name of the bill itself. The title places all the emphasis on the little bit of pricey plastic the Home Office wish to lend you, and not on the vast and intrusive database the Bill also requires. This is the database that will record every interaction that you ever have with any aspect of the Government. A database on this level of intrusion has never been attempted before anywhere on the planet, which sadly accounts for much of the lust the Government has for the scheme. Because the scope of the database is potentially limitless, it is likely that the number of functions for which cards will be necessary will increase over time, making the card into an internal passport. This will of course be literally true should the Government decide at some point in the future to make the card compulsory to carry. It has also been suggested by critics of the scheme that following agreements with America there is the potential for the NIR information being shared with American Intelligence.

Lie 2. We Lose £1.3 billion and growing through Identity Fraud

The much quoted figure of £1.3 billion a year comes from "Identity Fraud - A Study", a document published by the Cabinet Office in July 2002. Close scrutiny of this document shows that, were a national database to be created, it would only serve to save £35 million of the £1.3 billion. All of that £35 million is represented by identity based benefit fraud, itself alleged by the Home Office as one of the key areas where savings are to be had. Slim pickings for such an expensive scheme. Furthermore the claim that it is growing is laughable inasmuch as it is the only study that has been undertaken, offering an idea of what the situation was like in the summer of ’02, but little else2.

Lie 3. The National ID Scheme is a cheap and logical extension of the new ICAO requirements for passports.

The ICAO guidelines with which we will soon have to comply insist on our passports carrying a digital photograph of the passport’s bearer. Out of all the puzzling subterfuge currently wafting out of Whitehall over the National ID Register, this is the bit that stinks the most. The scheme is not in any way an extension of the new passport requirements. It’s impossible, even, to see how it could be. The new guidelines are hardly any different from having a photo stuck to the passport, and certainly no more intrusive. For the government to take this as a lead to create the farthest-reaching citizen database ever attempted is utterly ludicrous. Indeed, were the ICAO to make it a necessity to have such a database, it would in effect forbid citizens of many of the poorer countries from traveling abroad. Most countries would simply not be able to afford such a thing. More importantly, they would not wish to force their citizens to comply with one.

Lie 4. “No more than £30 a card”

So said Tony Blair at the press conference prior to the reading of the Bill3. According to the Bill people will be charged when they are leant their respective National ID Card by the Passport Office, and that this will take place when they are sixteen. This means that the user end income is less than £1.8 billion. The overall budget for the scheme, going by the Home Office’s own enigmatic estimate is £5.9 billion. So where is the other £4.1 billion coming from?

Tony Blair has a long history of making statements in press conferences and landing various offices of the Government in trouble, having to turn his rhetoric into workable and affordable policy; it’s a constant theme as far as UK Foreign Policy is concerned4. It is likely that Blair’s £30 cap is no different, considering Clarke had made the empty promise of capping the cost of the card at an as yet undisclosed figure. Following the Bill passing its first hurdle, the Home Office have been scratching their heads trying to work out where the rest of the money will come from. What is clear is that it aint coming from the treasury; Brown has insisted the scheme be self-financed. It is likely then, that Clarke is turning to the private sector to foot the £4.1 billion (or £17.4 billion if you go with the LSE's more pessimistic figure).

Over the past few weeks HO representatives have suggested that biometrics could be used to confirm the identity of people starting jobs. This would, therefore, require either an HR manager and the new recruit to visit a passport office and validate their identities; or businesses owning or leasing their own readers. Either way, there will be a surcharge attached to the process. Previous statements from the HO have suggested they would charge businesses £750 for an NIR search. Bit steep, especially considering all that is being proved is the right to work, something currently taken care of by the existing National Insurance Card. It won’t prevent illegal workers, because they’re already working for illegal employers – these companies simply won’t comply in the same way that they don’t comply now with systems already in place. What is more, smaller companies won’t be able to afford to comply. But then, when have small businesses held any sway over Labour?

The same HO representatives have also suggested that NID cards could be used for access to work buildings. Presumably this would rely on the rather poor Chip & PIN functionality of the card, making it probably a more expensive and no more secure system than the existing proximity cards employed by many companies.

Does the Home Office really believe that businesses are going to see any need to buy into the above schemes5? Presumably both are just symptomatic of the way in which the HO is beginning to question its own fag-packet figures and realising that the cash will still have to come from somewhere. Surely if the scheme were to go ahead your NIR number would be linked to your National Insurance number, already required to work in this country, and as such any kind of biometric scan would be needless - effectively another of those "trivial searches" they're suddenly beginning to worry about.

They've been quick to point out that private sector companies won't have anything beyond confirmation access to the NIR, which means they expect businesses to query the NIR every time an employee goes through particular doors in the business's premises (or that they lied). Surely, biometric searches or no, this would mean a colossal workload for the NIR network. Note that even at this late stage, there doesn't seem to be any kind of joined-up thinking coming from the HO in relation to the NID scheme. We have one set of "experts" desperately looking for ways of funding the NIR, and another set of "experts" trying to turn the scheme from the unworkable mess it is in currently to something technologically feasible. Pity that both efforts seem to be pulling in completely the opposite direction.

Lie 5 “The card will only need to be renewed once every ten years”

There are three issues with regards how often cards need to be renewed. The first and foremost is biometrics. Biometric information changes over time, further weakening an already rather dubious technology6. The Home Office experts tell us that as a result of this, we will need to reregister only every ten years. However, it being an untested technology, and there being no improvement to biometric change what with it being a human characteristic, and not a characteristic of the technology itself, we should also be lending an ear to those who say that biometrics change much faster.

The second factor is how quickly forgers can create copies of cards. In order to baffle forgers the Japanese government recently spent three months redesigning the ID cards they require foreign visitors to carry. The forgers had professional-level copies on the streets within four months of the real cards going into circulation7.

The third factor is the workload that renewal will require. Currently the passport office is just about keeping up with the 6 million annual renewals. This is all set to change with the introductions of face-to-face interviews, but it seems likely that the ten year renewal requirement comes not from anything as central as the technology of biometrics, or the security of the system, but of the existing Passport Office infrastructure. Passports must be renewed every ten years, therefore NIR biometrics must be renewed every ten years.

Lie 6. “The NIR will allow for speedier checks with the Criminal Records Bureau”

Presumably one of the reasons being given for the speed with which CRB checks could be increased would be the biometric angle, but then why the need for taking everyone’s biometrics and then setting up a list of those biometrics belonging to people with Criminal Records? Why not just take the criminals' biometrics? That way you’re not searching for biometrics against the entire adult population of the United Kingdom, finding a match and then checking the NIR entry, just looking through the much smaller number of known criminals, and if the test is negative, assuming the individual in question isn’t among their number. Also given the fact that a check until recently was only necessary for jobs in sensitive positions, this is a problem that Labour has artificially created. And why are the checks so slow, considering the CRB database system has just been updated? Would that be another overpriced, underdelivering Labour IT scheme?

Lie 7. “The NIR will allow citizens to check their NHS records online.”

Another baffling statement from Blair’s press conference. He explained that the £12 billion NHS database, much less ambitious than the £6 billion NIR, can’t be made accessible online at the moment due to concerns about security and data protection. With the NIR scheme in place, however, citizens will be able to gain access to their records. But how will the scheme affect how we prove our identities to a website in the comfort of our own home? Again it would seem that biometrics won’t have much of a part to play in this, unless PCs start coming with iris, fingerprint and facial scanners fitted, and I’d imagine that would be something the Home Office would be quick to control, as it would make illegal access to the NIR all the easier. As far as can be determined, the NIR won’t improve the security of the NHS database in a way that will allow individuals to log on to their own medical records. Indeed, if the system requires you to enter your NIR PIN then it could make the scheme less secure than what would exist if access was made available now through the employ of a separate, user-changeable, (asymmetrically encrypted) password.

Lie 8. “We’re called on to prove who we are on a day by day basis...”

No we’re not. Unless they mean at ATMs (which if they only require the NIR PIN will be no better off than existing bank cards), or at work (more of that later). If the NID scheme goes ahead then it will guarantee that we will be called on to prove who we are more and more, and for more and more trivial reasons. The NIR are selling us tight shoes so we can benefit by taking them off. Wartime ID cards were brought in as a means of identifying members of the opposing forces yet before they were abolished were being used as a measurement against bigamy. The fact that this was the only requirement for them did not stop people being arrested for not carrying their papers.

Lie 9. “...the scheme will merely provide an easy way of doing this.” Andrew McNulty

The HO is already talking about downgrading most checks to a chip and PIN style of verification. Chip and PIN, itself a move from credit card companies away from biometrics towards other means of verification, will mean that anyone who has lifted a card and has the PIN will be able to access most services with impunity. The extent to which this is possible was recently the subject of a talk by Dr Emily Finch of the University of East Anglia8. She and a male colleague ran a rough and ready experiment in which they paid for goods with each other's cards. They were never questioned as to their identity, the shop assistants not even picking up on the fact that the cardholder was of the wrong gender. Of the ID scheme, Finch says "the more people rely on the production of a particular piece of identification to verify identity, the less vigilance people will exercise themselves - that's the problem. If there are ID cards we will trust them to be unassailable."

Lie 10. The scheme will reduce identity fraud

In an era where individuals who have a mind to can hack their way into the defense systems of the United States of America and ground various networks for a period of weeks, the government wish to protect our personal information by storing all of it in a single place. What this will do is create a honey-pot, a one-stop shop of personal information that, once retrieved, can be sold to nefarious organisations (terrorists, child pornographers, government sanctioned bogey-men) who can then use it to commit identity fraud. In America the social security database was given a colossal overhaul and each individual was given a social security number. This number was rapidly added to various other databases that made use of it as a handy unique identifier. When something like that takes place, a vast virtual database is created, with the identifier becoming a key with which a vast amount of information can be gathered together. In America, just as will happen here should the NIR go ahead, benefit fraud increased dramatically as a direct result.

Lie 11. The scheme is not insisting on compulsion to carry

Compulsion to carry is a logical extension to the scheme. The HO is intent on compulsion to register. It will only be possible to police this if people are required on request to provide their card or biometric information at some point, and many will decide it prudent to take their card with them wherever they go, to potentially save them the bother of going to a passport office, or more likely a police station, to prove that they are on the register. Furthermore the non-insistence only exists inasmuch as the Bill doesn’t currently require it. As we know from past experience, a Government assurance is only good for the current term. Given that the funding for the scheme seems non-existent it is highly likely that compulsion to carry will be introduced “to reap further benefits from the scheme” and reap the financial benefits of new civil offences. In Holland, where compulsion to carry was recently introduced, the first 50,000 fines have been issued, totaling£1.7m. The cash registers ringing in the Netherlands will be giving the British Government’s treasury-starved scheme some very serious ideas.

Lie 12. “I’m looking forward to the debate.” Tony Blair

The Bill has so far enjoyed very little debate in the House of Commons. And the select committee passed less than a handful of the 200+ amendments put before it. The costs of the scheme can’t be debated because the calculations are a secret and the contracts have yet to be awarded. Correspondence between citizens and New Labour loyalist MPs or Home Office representatives have taken the form of rebuttals, not open discussion9. Andy Burnham went so far as to label all those protesting against the scheme as criminals – serious allegations indeed!

Lie 13. “It’s worthwhile if it saves just a single life.”

What does £5.9 billion buy you? How much chemotherapy? How many organ transplants? Forgive my opportunism, but how many avian flu vaccines?

Lie 14. We’ve learnt from previous mistakes concerning IT procurement.

Except that despite the delays they’re sticking to their previous timetable. And they only seem to be listening to companies keen for the contract, not the vast majority of IT professionals that claim the scheme may not work, and certainly won’t come in on time and within the budget. What is more, the fact that the scheme is a bill looking for a purpose, there can be no clear indicators of success for the scheme. Clarke is already downgrading aspects of the scheme as the reality of the cost and timeframe become clear.

Lie 15. If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear

Except it’s not you that decides whether you’ve something to hide, it’s the government. Governments do things like repatriate natives so that they can lease their island to America10, or infiltrate anti-apartheid groups11, or set fire to farmers stock and then delay when it comes to paying them their compensation. Governments can put people on no-fly lists without even telling them they’ve been put on no-fly lists, or why. We know that, for every ten mad conspiracy theories, there is an eleventh that is absolutely true. We know that Governments are capable of atrocity, and so we ought to be extremely careful with how much information we allow the Governments to keep. We ought to be even more careful when it becomes likely that the information will become flawed, or disappear all together, as has happened with previous schemes. The DVLA database is fantastically flawed, the CSA database is fantastically flawed, the Tax Credit database is fantastically flawed, the CRB database is fantastically flawed. If the ID card will become as useful as the Home Office suggests12, and when it becomes our own responsibility and not the keepers of the database that the information held is correct, the errors that will creep in will have dramatic and troubling effects. We won’t need to have our identities ripped off by criminals, as the Government will be messing up our lives well enough on their own.

Lie 16. Yeah, but most people who worry about civil liberties are just being paranoid.

We are currently under the yoke of a government who are intent on detaining people for three months without charge, on monitoring every vehicle in the country, on opening a file of passive surveillance on every individual in the country, on impeding the right to protest, on removing trial by jury in certain cases, on introducing past charges brought against defendants and of labeling children as having criminal tendencies at the age of three (which will be recorded for ever on their NIR, making a handy bias for the police to take on board). Regarding the NIR scheme and its pantomime road show, people have been arrested prior to protesting, or have been otherwise removed when leafleting against the scheme. We have a Prime Minister that has lied in the house, and treats the possibility of his impeachment, let alone his accountability, as a strange joke he cannot understand. A New Economics Foundation13 think tank recently showed that only one in forty British voters have a fair share of power in elections. At the last election the Liberal Democrats received 22% of the votes, but only 11% of the seats. Democracy and liberty are falling apart at the seams, and claims of paranoia and delusional conspiracy theories are partly to blame. The fact that those who are concerned with such outmoded things as civil liberties, justice, the democratic process, are perceived as cranks is one of the greatest and most dangerous travesties in this country.

These are just some of the lies currently being employed in an attempt to win over not just us but the MPs who are quite rightly questioning the wisdom of the scheme. The Home Office recently ended their road trip with a visit not to a public place, but to the Home Office itself for an audience of MPs, designed no doubt to offer further reassurance to the MPs it had previously lied to in order to get the Bill past its second hearing. Promises were made for amendments that have not happened, which means we should be in a ludicrous position where the Bill has fewer supporters after the select committee than before. The present Government, obsessed by its place in history and saving face at any cost, will not concede; it will merely tell bigger lies and make bigger threats.


1 Identifying Risks: National Identity Cards, Wendy M Grossman, 19th January 2005.


3 Monthly Press Conference, 28th June 2005.

4 See Blair’s Wars by John Jampfner for more on this.

5 for the scheme is as low as 25% according to the London Chamber of Commerce.

6 Iris scans fail more frequently if you've brown eyes. Finger print scans fail more frequently if you work with your hands. Facial scans are notoriously poor as lighting, expression, aging, shaving and baldness all tend to cause problems. Basically as long as you're a blue eyed office worker with no beard and a healthy head of hair, you'll be fine. If you're an ethnic minority, old, disabled then expect life to get a little more frustrating than it already is.



9 This has certainly been my own experience. I have asked my MP to vote against the Bill, but she has chosen to forward all my letters on to the Home Office and forward me their replies. She takes the “mandate” position, that as it was in the manifesto she ought to vote for it, despite the scheme only being discussed in a single sentence, and certainly not outlining the scheme in question. However, if it was in the manifesto that she jumped off a bridge...

10 See Lying In State by Tim Slessor for more on this and other Whitehall deceptions.


12 and given the fact that many of the uses will be artificially created by introducing the requirement of proving ones identity where before there was none, it will be.


Responses from the House

Dear Mr Scott,

I enclose a copy of a further response I have received from the Home Office which I hope you find helpful in addressing the issues you asked me to raise on your behalf.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell MP

I'd actually asked her not to vote for the Bill, but there y'go.

Dear Tessa,

Thank you for your further letter of 22 September on behalf of Mt Simon Scott [...] about indentity cards.

Firstly, I can confirm for Mr Scott, on the issue of "off-shoring" IT elements of the proposed Identity Cards Scheme, the EU procurement regulations place a legal requirement upon the Home Office not to preclude a contractor on the basis of their ocuntry of operations and the Home Office will award conrtacts on the basis of best value for money. However in the case of identity cards, security considerations particular to the requirements may preclude contracts from being performed outside the UK, at this tage of requirement deginition however, no decision has been made on this.

Secondly, I wish to clarify for Mr Scott that the Bill has been drafted to enable flexibility in the applications procedure to cater for different requirements from applicants. Cause 18 was drafted to make clear that there may be no requirement on individuals by organisations to produce an identity card as the only acceptable proof of identity before it is compulsory for that person to register. I can assure Mr Scott that we have made amendments to the Bill to include prohibition on requiring identity checks on the Register before compulsion as well as on requiring cards themselves.

In addition, following race and refugee organisations' responses to the draft Bill constitution, we have amended the Bill:
  • to extend the remit of the National Identity Scheme Commissioner;
  • clarifying in clause 14 the information that may be provided;
  • amended the false documents offence so it does not include those who knowingly use false documentation to enter the UK to apply for asylum here which is lawful under Article 31 of the 1951 Convention.
However, we do know that most concerns are not over the Bill but about how the scheme will be used in practice.

All I can do is reassure Mr Scott that 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.

I note Mr Scott's comments opposing the proposed Identity Cards Scheme and am grateful for the time he has taken to comment further on this issue.

Best wishes,


pp Charles Clarke.
No engagement with most of my criticisms, just a "don't know" over the off-shoring issue and the usual groundless flim-flam about identity fraud. I'm not sure what the race and refugee bit was about either, except the possibility that it refers somehow to the issue of illegal immigrants having contagious illnesses that go unchecked as they can't gain access to medical services.