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

26 February, 2006

Hamilton's Brain Update Teaser - 1st March, 2006

I've finally sat down and drawn up a links page, linked by way of the paperweight. Also my mother surprised me recently by posting me a load of cartoons that I used to do for the Christchurch student magazine. I've scanned all fourteen of them and added them to the probe.

I also surprised myself by writing over a thousand words of a brand new short story. I'm hoping to get a rough draft completed and online in time for the update. I can just about squeeze it under the "Death In The Family" umbrella.

Back in real life, I've finished my work placement with Cancer Research. Hopefully I'll be working elsewhere from Thursday, and spending the intermediate days in self indulgence, working on my screenplay and getting the new story finished.

Books read in 2006 - You Will Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers, Rodinsky's Room by Rachel Lichtenstein & Iain Sinclair, Black Hole by Charles Burns. Next up, the Sailor & Lula novels by Barry Gifford.

18 February, 2006

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Learn its name and fear it.

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is currently going through the House of Commons, removes the need for reforms to be placed before the house. It will allow ministers to take an exisiting law and repeal, reform or replace it. The only "safeguard" is that the benefits must outway the drawbacks, but this decision will be left to the ministers want to put through the reform in the first place.

The reason being given for the Bill is that the world is running too quickly for our current democratic process - there is a real need to cut through red-tape, but putting a Bill through Parliament to excsise redundant laws takes too long. This is, surprise surprise, a lie. Departments are too slow in identifying such laws, and too slow in drafting replacements. What is more, the Government is generally not very good at drafting its Bills - as a certain Iraq protestor can testify.

The measure is unconstitutional and should be stopped. The Government pays lip-service to a need to tackle voter apathy, but voters are currently more impotent than they have been for thirty years - why vote when it makes no difference? When ministers start calling the shots irrespective of the will of the House then democracy ends.

It will further undermine the democratic process for the introduction of new Bills. Say, just to pluck an example out of the air, Charles Clarke concedes that the ID scheme will only move from its present form of creeping compulsion to one more compulsion on the introduction of a separate Bill. He will remove the particular piece of enabling legislation in the Bill. With the Bill in place, and the Home Office unsurprisingly fails to meet its 80% take-up by 2012 goal, there is nothing to stop Mr Clarke, or whoever is filling his chair by that point, saying "well there's clearly a case for enforced registration because we're currently spending stupid amounts of money and not getting any of those many benefits back" and just revising the Bill accordingly. Thus, with the L&RRB on the cards, there can be no further concessions...

14 February, 2006

Next Stop - Council Elections

If you, like me, were a little disappointed in the behaviour of our elected representatives last night, and writing to your MP is like shouting at a brick wall, your next avenue of protest will probably be the local elections taking place in May.

Dear Councillors Dixon, McHugh & O'Connell,

Last night the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, the Rt Hon. Tessa Jowell MP failed to vote in favour of amendments to the ID Card Bill regarding the removal of compulsion from the scheme. This measure would have at least brought the Bill into line with the Labour Party Manifesto pledge of the introduction of a voluntary scheme.

I have followed the issue of the ID Card Bill closely over the past few months and it has been made clear that the decision to instigate the scheme is entirely irrational. Tony Blair, himself a staunch opponent of ID Cards prior to his election as Prime Minister, stated in a press conference on 28th June 2005 that the ID Scheme would allow people to check their NHS records online, something that at present cannot happen because of fears over proof of identity. This clearly cannot be the case without every home computer being fitted with iris and fingerprint scanners. Gordon Brown on Sunday 12th February embarrassed himself in an interview with Andrew Marr by suggesting that ID Cards could in some way have had a bearing on the recent alleged Ricin plot (one which would never have worked and relied on multiple foreign identity documents beyond the scope of the ID Bill) and the 7th July bombings, which were perpetrated by British citizens working with scant resources. Every time a senior Labour politician opens his mouth to discuss the ID Card scheme we are treated to either lies or incompetence.

On 7th February Andrew Burnham sent out a letter to Labour MPs briefing them on the Bill. One of the statements made implied that Mr Burnham could not see why the London School Of Economics report suggested that a five year renewal of documentation and biometrics might be more feasible if the scheme is to work. In saying this he clearly is attempting to wilfully mislead members of the house. Northrop Grumman, the company that runs the national fingerprint information system stated in a Memorandum submitted to the Select Committee on Home Affairs in January 2004, that ID Cards will require replacing on average once every three years. The UKPS Corporate and Business Plans 2004 –2009 mentions the desire to have the new biometric passports renewed every five years, one of the reasons being to avoid a problem with damaged chips. Mr Burnham also calls into question the level set for lost or stolen ID cards, a figure the Home Office have based entirely on the current loss of documentation associated with passports. KPMG, in a report we know Mr Burnham has read, also advise him that the Home Office have underestimated this figure. Yet in his letter, Mr Burnham suggested the LSE have pulled the five-year renewal out of thin air. How are we to trust these people when they can't be called on to be truthful with their own colleagues?

I have had a frustrating series of attempted correspondence with Tessa Jowell in which she shows no interest in discussing her own beliefs about the ID Card Bill, or dealing with any of the arguments I have put forward in criticism of the scheme. Instead my letters have been forwarded to the Home Office, who reply with the very kind of ill-grounded dogma I have been complaining about.

In following the ID Card Bill I have become increasingly aware of the levels to which members of the Labour party will stoop in order to foist its expensive, intrusive measures onto an unwilling public. For all of Mr Blair's talk of listening, and Mrs Jowell's talk of wishing to win back the faith of the electorate, the Labour party has, if anything, become worse - relinquishing its whip only when it can't make its mind up. In reading about the scheme I am confronted with the same dilemma over and over again - is the speaker in question incompetent or corrupt? Whatever the answer, they should not be in power.

I believe the ID Card Bill to be one of the most important issues of the day, and as a result of Labour's handling of it, I feel it is my duty to not vote for you in the forthcoming council elections.

Yours sincerely,

Simon Scott.

13 February, 2006

Mo' Bullshit

This is the letter that Andy Burnham sent out to Labour MPs on 7th February, prior to the ID Card Bill vote that is taking place right now. In it he wilfully misleads members of the house in order that they vote in favour of the bill and reject the modest amendments made by the House Of Lords.

I thought you might find it useful to have a detailed note about the costs of the Identity Cards scheme.

Important context

Two changes to the British passport to improve its security as an identity document are now imminent. First, by the end of this year, all new and reissued passports will include an electronic chip, leading to a full biometric passport by 2009. Second, from October, all first-time applicants will have to apply in person. These changes are planned irrespective of the Identity Cards Bill. They have all-party support.
The question which the Bill puts before the House is whether to build on this step forward in identity protection and create a National Identity Register that can be used: (a) to issue the new passport and identity cards; and (b) to improve the standard and security of the millions of ID checks carried out every day in Britain by a range of public and private sector organisations.

In considering this question, colleagues will want to weigh the benefits of this development against the additional costs of the NIR and identity card over and above the changes to the passport. The purpose of this note is to inform that consideration. It uses figures from the business case and Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) published alongside the Bill. These figures have been independently verified as sound by KPMG.

Consumer costs

The RIA puts the unit cost of enrolling an individual onto the National Identity Register and issuing a full biometric passport and ID card at £93. The passport will account for about 70% of this cost.

The price of a passport will rise over coming years irrespective of the decision on identity cards. It recently rose to £51 and will rise again in 06/07 when application by interview begins. While we have yet to confirm next year's price, the unit cost of producing the passport in 06/07 has been put at £57.93. It will rise further when the full biometric passport is introduced and fingerprints are added to the electronic chip.

Within this context, the Home Secretary has announced that it is affordable to make available a stand-alone ID card at a fee of around £30. The card will be able to be used as a travel document within the European Union.

Running costs

A new agency, based on the UK Passport Service, will manage the N!R and be responsible for issuing the new passports and ID cards. In the RIA, the annual running costs of this expanded operation are estimated at £584 million a year.
There are two important things about this figure: first, the bulk of it relates to issuing passports (around 70%); second, it is not additional to the current annual running costs of UKPS.

Reflecting the changes to the passport, UKPS running costs will increase significantly this year and next. From its baseline expenditure of £219 million in 2004/5, UKPS will spend £293 million in 05/06 and expects to spend £397 million in 06/07.

It is simply wrong to suggest, as opponents of the scheme do, that the £584 million can be spent on other priorities such as policing. As today with the funding of the passport service, the costs of running the combined passport and identity card service will be predominantly raised through fees.

Set-up costs

To date, the Home Office has spent £30 million on the Identity Cards Programme. This expenditure has been made from Home Office funds voted by Parliament.
Once the legislation is in place, there will be annual costs to the Home Office above the current level of expenditure over the years leading up to the issue of the first identity card and the scheme reaching full issuing capacity. The Home Office will bear the cost of running a major procurement exercise and of building the IT infrastructure, including the purchase and commissioning of biometric recording equipment.

In line with best practice in major procurement, our estimated set-up costs have not been published. By doing so, we would provide information to potential bidders and restrict our potential to gain value for money. People are asking us to keep costs down on the one hand, but then on the other making requests that would limit our ability to do so.

However, these annual set-up costs will be much less than the annual running costs of the scheme as a whole and will be met entirely from within existing departmental budgets. Indeed, it is quite possible that suppliers may propose bearing some of the initial set-up costs and recharging them on an annual basis over the lifetime of the contract.

Integration costs

We expect that the NIR will be a valuable resource for other government departments and public bodies and enable them to make considerable savings by ending the current duplication of identity checking processes across the public sector. However, it is for each department to consider the business case for integrating their systems and processes with the NIR. Any costs they incur will be offset by benefits such as increased efficiency, reduced fraud or better service to the public so in the economic analysis there will be a net benefit to that organisation not a net cost.

LSE report

It is our view that the LSE 'Identity Project' report on the Home Office identity card scheme set out deliberately to inflate its costs. The cost estimate of £19 billion was based on a series of assumptions that do not correspond with the scheme we are proposing.

For example, the LSE report fails to explain why reputable research indicating 10-year reliability for biometrics should be discounted in favour of an assumption of a 5-year lifespan. If people have to be re-interviewed every five years, it adds enormous cost.

The LSE also allocated an inflated £1 billion marketing budget and assumed a much higher loss/theft rate than is the case for existing documents. In that way, the research generated headlines of the kind that read '£300 for an ID card' which some may say was the object of the exercise.


There has been much inaccurate comment on the costs of the scheme. Some of it has been intended to undermine public confidence in the principle of an identity card scheme.

As I hope this note shows, the investment needed to bring the National Identity Register and identity cards into being - on top of the considerable funds already being made available to improve the security of the passport - is both realistic and affordable for the Home Office, the Government and the individual citizen.
But, more than that, we believe it will bring the country significant benefits for years to come. The benefits case for the scheme is based on detailed work with other departments. It shows that the benefits of the scheme will far outweigh its costs when fully operational.

At present, the only document in Britain which provides a high degree of identity assurance is the passport. But, false passport applications are still made and, at 45-48 million records, the system does not cover the whole of our population. Indeed, it is people on the lowest incomes who are most likely not to have a passport and therefore more likely to miss out on the protection and convenience it provides.
It is the very lack of a comprehensive identity management system that makes it possible for identity fraudsters to exploit gaps in the system. Latest estimates show that identity fraud is growing and costs the country £1.7 billion every year. An identity card backed by a biometric National Identity Register will put the individual in control of the use of their personal data and cut the potential for identity fraud.

I also enclose a table detailing the Lords' amendments that I hope you will find useful.

Yours sincerely


Here we go then...

Important context

Again the myth is perpetuated that the NIR is a modest extension to changes being forced on the passport office by the world at large, but passport requirements are for an encrypted digital photo to be stored on a chip on the card. The recording of finger prints and iris scans onto an open-ended database recording every interaction with the state an individual has is not a modest extension. The less ambitious NHS database has already cost £6 billion. Bye bye context.

Consumer Costs and Running Costs

£584 million a year on UK Passport Service - 70% on passports themselves.

Which leaves £173.1 million a year on the ID cards - i.e. £1.73 billion, which is undoubtedly where the £30 a card comes from. The fact is the reason the cost breaks down in the favour of the passport is because the passport is carrying loads of stuff we don't need, unless of course it is utilised in the ever so cheap NIR. Not very subtle misdirection, and even worse considering the fact that the set-up costs have yet to be included.

Set-Up Costs

Mr Burnham is basically saying, "if we tell people how much it will cost, it will empower companies bidding for the contract." But he's saying this to Members of Parliament! The infrastructure does not exist that will allow MPs to know how much the set-up is likely to cost! The "commercial sensitivity" argument is a nonsense inasmuch as it suggests MPs cannot be trusted with this information. AB states it will be less than the annual running costs of the scheme. So that's alright then. The other aspect of the argument is, that we seem intent on giving the contract to the lowest bidder; we'll ultimately get what we pay for.

AB also confusingly suggests it won't be expensive because contractors may choose to put up some of the money to begin with and claim it back later... How does that make it any cheaper? How does it not make it more expensive in the long run?

Integration Costs

"It is for each department to consider the business case for integrating their systems and processes with the BIR." yet AB is certain that "there will be a net benefit to that organisation, not a net cost." So have these business cases been drawn up already? Apparently so, but you can guarantee they've not been distributed. In fact there have been written questions to suggest this actually hasn't happened, and the business cases don't exist. Burnham himself has stated that the infrastructure of the scheme has yet to be agreed on, so how can there be business plans worth considering.

LSE report

AB feigns ingnorance as to why the LSE report hazarded a five-year lifespan for both cards and biometrics might be prudent. Aside from the fact that the five-year renewal only figured in their more pessimistic costings of the scheme, it's a subject well worth making the most of, not least of all because Mr Burnham himself suggests that the impact on costs that a shorter renewal period than ten years would have would be astronomical.

Hansard 6th February 2006:
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department which international biometric databases are being used as exemplars for the development of the UK National Identity Card Register. [42804]

Andy Burnham: Since the final details of the design and implementation of the National Identity Register cannot be completed in advance of procurement stages for the Scheme, it is not possible to provide a direct comparison with another biometric database at present and as such there are no 'exemplars' for the Register. However, as well as looking at the outcomes of biometric research and testing and the advice of biometric experts, the development the National Identity Register will be informed by experience gained from the operation of other biometric databases including: IAFS—IND's biometric database, IDENT1—UK fingerprints database, Philippines Social Security Card System, Hong Kong Identity Card System, US Visit biometric border control system, US Department of Homeland Security border crossing database, US Department of State Mexican visa database, United Arab Emirates Iris Expellee Tracking and Border Control database.

LSE Report:
The RIA estimates an indicative unit cost for an ID card and passport at £93. This assumes a ten-year life for a card and a recorded biometric. However, all technical and scientific literature indicates that biometric certainty diminishes over time,
and it is therefore likely that a biometric – particularly fingerprints and facial features – will have to be re-scanned at least every five years. This cost must be taken into account. If the enrolled biometrics do not significantly match the re-enrolled biometrics, it may be necessary to conduct another full identity check. Northrop Grumman, the operator of the national fingerprint information system (Nafis) argued that cards would need to be replaced on average every three years.663 The question of how a card subject is accurately verified to receive a new card is unclear, but we feel that the process will necessarily be costly and time-consuming.
663 ‘Memorandum submitted by Northrop Grumman’, submitted to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, January
2004, available at cm200304/cmselect/cmhaff/130/130we40.htm.

So we have Burnham suggesting that the five year period is unfounded, yet also telling us that Northrop Grumman, the company that is perhaps in the best position of all to comment in that they actively use and deal with biometrics and biometric databases, is one of the companies being "listened to" in creating the NIR; a company that suggests the ID cards will have on average a three-year life span!

LSE Report wrote:
Furthermore, the UKPS is considering a reduction in the period of validity of a passport, from ten years to five years,556 which implies that for many individuals, passport fees will be payable every five years. The UKPS acknowledges that this will represent a major financial burden on customers, and that it could be operationally challenging, but
it would remedy potential problems caused by chip damage and allow for the updating of biometric information.557

556 UKPS Corporate and Business Plans 2004 –2009, page 18
557 UKPS Corporate and Business Plans 2004 –2009, page 23

So there we have it! Mr Burnham believes the five-year lifespan isn't based on anything concrete, yet not only is the card itself in doubt but the longevity of the biometrics themselves, and these are worries raised not by "partisan critics" but by the very people running current Governmental systems. By his own admission the five-year card renewal will lead to a dramatic increase in the cost of the scheme.

The report also makes the point that as we get older, our biometrics change yet more rapidly, but we already know that the HO have a no concessions policy on public NIR costs...

The report "assumed a much higher loss/theft rate than is the case for existing documents." It seems clear that ID card loss or theft would be much higher than for existing documents if the cards are to be in use for the "millions of ID checks carried out every day". Furthermore with the card in place, the number of checks carried out, and with it the opportunities for loss and theft, will definitely increase. This is something that KMPG, whose findings of the "robustness" of the Home Office's methodology (note "methodology", and not "findings"), even commented on, stating in the same report that the ten-year life span was not a belief to confidently cling to. KPMG also said the estimates for the levels of lost, stolen, damaged or faulty cards, based on passport figures, "appear low".


"Indeed it is people on the lowest incomes who are most likely not to have a passport and therefore more likely to miss out on the protection and convenience it provides"

People on the lowest incomes are less likely to have good credit ratings and therefore are not a target of identity theft.

"Latest estimates show that identity fraud is growing and costs the country £1.7 billion every year."

No it doesn't. The HO applies a much broader definition of identity fraud than not only the rest of the world, but the HO's earlier report. As has been widely publicised, little of the £1.7 billion would be recoverable from the ID card scheme. What is more, the criminal world is not static - the introduction of the ID card scheme will, in all likelihood change the way in which criminals get money, it won't stop them all together, something that "best value" calculations need to take into account.

Labour's understanding of food miles has little to do with apples in Tescos having come from half-way round the world, and more with Joe Public having the audacity to drive to out of town supermarkets to buy them. That is all there has to be said about Labour's perspective, and it carries through to the ID Card Bill. Ultimately, the financial victims of identity fraud are the credit card companies and compulsory public expenditure should not be used to further line their already pretty well lined pockets. As I've said elsewhere, if the Government brought in a law stipulating that credit card applications had to involve a face-to-face interview, and/or that the company retained a photo of the applicant, then a substantial amount identity theft would be ruled out immediately, the cost being met by the credit card companies who stand to take the biggest hit from ID theft in the first place. But Labour isn't interested in creating responsible lenders, so it'll be Joe Public that has to carry the can again.

06 February, 2006

Convenience Of The Daleks

Convenience Of The Daleks
Convenience Of The Daleks,
originally uploaded by Simon Scott.
One of the spoils from the trip to Brighton was this here photoshopportunity. What larks! I'll have to keep my eye out for further dalekable items.

03 February, 2006

And lo

It seems the report the HO have brought out, which Andy Burnham is keen to point out was only supposed to illustrate the fact that ID Theft is a growing crime, simply hasn't washed. Loads of newspapers have demonstrated how much the figures have been manipulated and misrepresented. What is more, some of the criticism has come from the finance industries themselves, who have a somewhat narrower definition of identity theft. Apparently the HO's figures even include money spent on police dealing with people who pretend to be gasmen and the like to gain entry to people's houses. Burnham has been backing out of the idea that the report was supposed to support the ID Card Bill, despite the fact that he has used the report to support the ID Card Bill and it's been released just in time for the vote. Had it been more negative, it would have been released on the morning of the vote, of course, and probably would've been a good deal longer. Nice to see how readily people are smelling a rat over it.

That said, with the recent embarrassment over the religious hatred bill, the whips will be working at the hurry-up, so anything could happen. A weird sort of balance occurs, though - if the ID card bill goes bye-bye then it will be an even bigger embarrassment for Tony, and that might be worth rebelling for, no matter what threats the whips will trot out.

Of course I'm stuck with Jowell. Can't be helped.

02 February, 2006

More Home Office Misdirection

The HO is set to release a report today that shows identity fraud has increased over the last two years. The increase is from the previous report which, as has been demonstrated by smarter people than me, does not single out theft that could be avoided by the ID Card scheme. I believe the amount from the previous report that fell into this category was between 50 and 80 million. I'm hoping that the HO has shot itself in the foot by releasing this follow up report, as I suspect counter-measures taken both on an individual and corporate level will show an actual decline in the kind of fraud preventable by the scheme (and only if the scheme is compulsory and taken up by all financial businesses).

I ought to add at the same time that the criminal world is not pickled in aspic, and that, should one opportunity disappear, they will merely seek opportunity elsewhere, something which has to be taken into consideration when working out if the scheme is good value. What is more, none of this negates the "honeypot" issue, and that it is likely the register will be a contributory factor to identity theft.

And the HO has recently embarrassed itself further by failing its bookkeeping audit. Not inspiring of confidence.