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

30 March, 2006

Losing Sleep...

To the HO

Dear sir/madam,

As you will know, the ID Card Bill was passed by the House of Lords on the 29th March of this year. The legislation, changing as it does the relationship between citizen and state, was deservedly controversial and needless to say, many of the issues with regards the workings of the scheme have yet to be satisfactorily resolved. With this in mind I have compiled a list of questions that, were I to be provided with reasoned answers, would put me at my ease. I thank you in advance for your patient handling of my enquiries.
The Bill passed on the proviso that until 2010, citizens renewing their passport will be entered onto the National Identity Register but will have the option of getting a card. The card is currently priced at £30. Am I to understand that those choosing not to receive a card will not have to pay any registration fee when being entered onto the database? If this is indeed the case, how does this effect the financing of the scheme as a whole?
The passport has recently suffered a price increase to cover the cost of incorporating an RFID chip so that it may contain a digitised passport photo bringing it in line with standards being brought in by the ICAO. Am I right in saying that no money from passport sales will go towards the National Identity Register? There have been accusations that the passport is subsidising the NIR allowing the ID Cards to remain at an artificially low price. Is this the case? Given that the ID card will be useable as a travel document within Europe, what level of impact is this likely to have on the sale of passports?
Mr Burnham has stated categorically that the idea that the RFID chips being used in the ID cards can not be read at a distance. Currently IBM’s advertising campaign suggests that RFID chips can be used to track to the mile goods in transit. Is the junior minister correct, or the computer manufacturer?
I understand from written answers given by Mr Burnham that business plans have been drawn up to cover the implementation of the NIR scheme in various arms of the government, and that these costs have not been included in the £6 billion budget laid out for the NIR itself. Do the various arms of government already have access to these business plans?
Nortrhop Grumman, the company currently responsible for maintaining the fingerprint database used by the police has stated that the ID cards will probably need replacing every three to five years. The Passport Office also believes that passport issue should move to a five-year cycle in part to prevent problems with the chips wearing out. Will citizens be charged a further £30 when renewing their cards? Will the cards be issued by post, or will they be issued face-to-face? Will the NIR scheme make use of card renewals in order to renew biometrics which, according to most experts, change over time?
It has been suggested that the NIR scheme will allow for tighter control of illegal workers. I have yet to see it explained how the scheme will be an improvement on the current system. It appears that employers who wish to employ people illegally simply fail to go through proper legal procedures. What will prevent them doing this with the NIR in place? Furthermore, am I to understand that when starting work a full biometric check will be carried out? If so, how will this work in practicality?
Mr Blair has intimated that the NIR will allow people to check their NHS records online, something that he says is impossible currently due to the need to prove an individual’s identity. How will the NIR allow people to check their NHS records online?
Much has been said about commercial confirmatory access to the NIR. Presumably this will be by way of biometric checks carried out on the premises of private businesses. Are we to assume that the government, and whoever wins the lucrative NIR contracts, will provide and maintain the biometric readers necessary? How will the Government safeguard against disreputable companies employing adapted biometric readers in order to collect data so that they may “spoof” it at a later date?
When has it been forecast that the scheme will start to make a return on the investment?
In July 2002 the figure of £1.3 billion was attached to identity fraud in this country. In February of this year the figure stood at £1.7 billion. Given that, as has been ably demonstrated by the media, much of this cannot be recovered through the NIR scheme, what is the moral grounding of using it a justification of the ID Card Bill? Has a more relevant figure been drawn up, and if so, what is it?
It has been suggested by IT experts such as Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft UK and the former senior MI6 officer Lady Park that the NIR will become a honeypot for identity fraudsters. What is the government’s position on this belief? What safeguards are to be put in place to prevent this from happening, given previous government IT projects susceptibility to crime. Charles Clarke believes that the consolidation of the entire countries personal information in one place will be in some way making things harder for identity fraudsters. How so?
We have been told that “lessons have been learned” with regards IT procurement. What lessons have been learned?
Given that cosmetic forgeries of ID cards came out in Japan four months after the genuine cards were released, what kind of anti-forgery measures will the UK ID cards incorporate to prevent the same thing happening over here?
Given the contentious nature of the scheme, what sort of get-out clauses will be in place with the contractor, should critics of the scheme prove to be right?
Does the home office believe, as Mr Burnham said on the Today programme on the 28th of March that we will be required to prove our identity “day in, day out”, or on the other hand, does it side with the view of Mr Burnham, who suggested in a letter to the Observer on the 26th of March that we will be required to prove it only “when it is important to verify identity. That is not an everyday occurrence for the majority”?

Yours sincerely,

Simon Scott.

28 March, 2006

Well I'd have sacked him by now

This lovely bit of about-face was pointed out today on the No2ID forum:

"I take the view that it is part of being a good citizen, proving who you are, day in day out," said Mr Burnham. On the Today programme today.

"The scheme will not track your life's activities. ID cards will be used when it is important to verify identity. That is not an everyday occurrence for the majority, [...]" Mr Burnham in a letter to the Observer last Sunday.

Of course we're all used to this sort of flip-floppery from Mr Burnhim, but, really, does the Government actually want him on their side?

25 March, 2006

Corridor People

Corridor People
Corridor People,
originally uploaded by Simon Scott.
Ian and I went up to our storage unit today with our former landlord Ivor Dembina. We're hoping to downside and down-expense our storage, and it's beginning to look achievable.

While sorting through stuff we found a box of Ivor's. Ian mentioned it to Ivor, along with the fact that the bottom of the box was falling out. Ivor said "Oh! That's my old love letters! No wonder the box is falling apart."

I liberated an SLR that my father gave me an age ago. The battery compartment is a little busted, but nothing a bit of tin foil hasn't fixed. I'm going to get some film and do some old fashioned pics.

I also found a load of undeveloped film which I shall put in for processing. I wonder what they are...

15 March, 2006

Would You Buy A Card From This Man?

I suppose it would depend on whether or not I were feeling lucky.

14 March, 2006

I'm lookin' over a three-leaf clover dat I overlook'd bethree.

As m'chums will know, I always find my birthday coincides with St Patrick's Day which makes drunken revelry a little arduous. It's certainly difficult trying to maintain that it's your special day when you're sharing a bar with a thousand people from Chicago and Australia who are inexplicably also Irish. I usually end up umming and ahhing over what to do, and then getting a bottle or two in with the boyf. However, when mid-ahh I was informed by a close personal friend that it's also sausage night at the Battersea Arts Centre. For a modest fee I get two of the things I love the most, comedy and a sausage. Hussah! What is more, the money spent goes to a worthwhile cause; the Battersea Arts Centre!

Acts confirmed thus far:

TV's TV Burp's Harry Hill,
TV's Mitchel & Web Experience's Mitchell & Webb,
TV's Feastival of Fun's Stewart Lee,
TV's Rise's Richard Herring,
Um... Paul Foot,
The lovely Simon Amstell (he's a very beautiful young man),
Lemn Sissay (yeah)
nudity's Arthur Smith,

and Natalie Haynes.

I wonder what they're going to get me!

13 March, 2006

Only one way to find out...

The man doesn't know when to stop. This is the latest tissue of lies coming from Mr Burnhim.

10th March 2006

Dear Colleague

I thought it might be helpful for you to have an update on the Identity Cards Bill before it returns on Monday.

Agreement has been reached on the issues of cost and the route to compulsion (ie primary legislation). The only remaining area of disagreement with the Lords is over the consequences of 'designating' a document. Clauses 5 and 8 mean that where certain official documents are designated (with the approval of Parliament) a person applying for one of those documents must simultaneously apply to be registered on the National Identity Register and be issued with an ID card.

The Government has always made clear its intention to designate the passport. This proposal was at the heart of the original Bill introduced before the last election. Biometric information (fingerprints and possibly iris) will be introduced into the British passport from around 2008-09. People will have to enrol such information when applying for a passport and this will require the UK Passport Service to enrol and store more information on an expanded database.

Our proposal is to use this development to create a clean database - the National Identity Register - as the source for the issuing of the biometric passport and identity card. It will mean that we can extend to our everyday life the benefits of much higher standard identification in international travel documents.

Last week, the House of Lords voted to weaken the consequences of designation, by rendering registration on the National Identity Register (and an application for an ID Card) optional extras when applying for a designated document. We will be resisting this amendment because it goes to the heart of our plans for delivering a successful scheme that we have always said should become compulsory in time. Our detailed reasons are set out here:

* We have a clear manifesto commitment to introduce the National Identity Register (NIR) and the identity cards scheme "as people renew their passports".

* The manifesto reference that this process would initially take place on a voluntary basis refers to the fact that no order setting a date for compulsory enrolment would be laid in this Parliament.

* It is a fact that people have an element of choice (albeit small) about whether to have a passport. However, all passports holders are able to choose when they renew their passport and can do so at any time.

* Irrespective of the Identity Cards Bill, people will have to register fingerprint biometric information when applying for a passport from 2008/09 to keep us in line with standards being adopted in the rest of the EU . Last week, the United Kingdom Passport Service began issuing first generation biometric passports to the public, containing an electronic chip with a digital facial image of the holder.

* Introducing the scheme alongside the passport allows for a managed introduction that will enhance the likelihood of successful delivery and keep overall costs down.
* Many members of the Lords have made clear that their principal concern is the creation of the biometric database. One of the perverse effects of their amendment would be to create two biometric databases instead of one - the NIR for those choosing to join and an expanded passport service database for those who don't - adding cost and complexity.

* It would mean that strong safeguards that the NIR brings would not extend to the other database. These include: the creation of the statutory National Identity Scheme Commissioner with powers to scrutinse the use of the NIR; the introduction of extra criminal sanctions for misuse of the NIR over and above what normally applies for misuse of databases ; and the provision of much greater information to individual citizen about use of their personal data (such as the audit log).

There has now been a long public debate about identity cards, but the fact is that this is a manifesto commitment that still commands majority support in the country.

It is also worth remembering that at the last CCLA the Commons disagreed with the Lords' amendments on designation with a healthy majority of 31.

I hope this is helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me on 0207 035 8796 if you need any further information.

Best wishes


Happily there are still politicians who take this whole politics business quite seriously:

Andy Burnham MP
Under Secretary of State
Home Office
50 Queen Anne's Gate

By email and post

Our ref: MIN/D0343/ID
Date: 12 March 2006

Dear Andy,

ID card and register scheme

Thank you for your letter dated 14 February, responding to some of my remarks on the World at One on Friday 10 February.

You say that it is ‘simply not credible’ to imply that the Government is proceeding by ‘sleight of hand’ because Home Office documents have made it clear that it will be compulsory for people to go on the NIR when they apply for a passport. However, as you know, our 2005 Manifesto stated the opposite. It stated that the scheme would be “rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports”. In the letter you sent to colleagues on Friday, referring to the Manifesto commitment, I note that you omit the first part of this phrase:

“We have a clear manifesto commitment to introduce the National Identity Register (NIR) and the identity cards scheme "as people renew their passports".

You then try and get around the fact this was supposed to be voluntary as people renew their passports by stating:

“The manifesto reference that this process would initially take place on a voluntary basis refers to the fact that no order setting a date for compulsory enrolment would be laid in this Parliament.”

How were voters supposed to know that? It is ridiculous to infer that this is what people would have understood without it being explained alongside.

Furthermore, in view of the fact that the Government has made much of the fact that further primary legislation would be required before the scheme becomes compulsory, it is perfectly reasonable to point out in interviews that, despite this, there will be compulsion for the majority of people through ‘designated documents’ which will not come through the ‘front door’ of further primary legislation.

Ministers have also frequently and repeatedly given the misleading impression that the scheme is proceeding on the basis of international requirements or is at least keeping up with international schemes, when in reality it goes far beyond these. During the last debate on 13 February, when I asked Charles Clarke which other countries propose to have 13 sets of biometric data on a centrally held database, he replied:

Mr. Clarke: A number of countries, including the United States of America, is the answer to my hon. Friend's question.

Following this, I asked the House of Commons Library if they could verify the Home Secretary’s answer. When the Library asked the Home Office 'what sources or authority the Home Secretary had relied on, when he said that a number of countries including the USA proposed to have 13 sets of biometric data on a central database' the Home Office replied “We have no specific information as to when other countries will move to using 13 biometrics.” Unless you or Charles have evidence to the contrary (that your officials are unaware of), I suggest it would be appropriate for the Home Secretary to apologise for misleading the House (I am copying him into this letter).

You state that limiting the document designation powers in the Bill will lead to higher costs, thus acknowledging that those in need of passports are expected to subsidise the ID card scheme. You make no reference to the fact that, if you had a less intrusive scheme then your costs could be as low as in other countries with biometric ID cards. As you state in your letter, all countries that issue passports and ID cards have databases to administer their scheme, but can you give details of any other scheme that proposes to have a live central database with an audit trail on the scale proposed under the NIR?

You suggest that raising the concern that the Government’s scheme may make the identity fraud situation worse is an ‘uninformed assertion’ as ‘with many criticisms of the scheme’ (without specifying to which criticisms you are referring). You state this despite the comments of the Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft UK that the Register would become a 'honeypot' for criminals. Is he ‘uninformed’? Furthermore, the European Commission’s Data Protection Working Party, in their publication Working Document on Biometrics looked at whether biometric information should be kept on smart cards and retained by the individual or whether it was acceptable to store the information on a centralised database. The House of Commons Library note on Biometrics states that the Working Party’s clear preference is for the former as it believes centralised storage presents an increased risk of data misuse. Is the Working Party ‘uninformed’?

Turning to your response to my comment that the Home Office are ‘making the scheme up as they go along’, I stand by this view, which is based on the answers I have received to Parliamentary questions, for example:

• In June 2005 the Government didn’t know how many enrolment centres there would be for the ID cards programme and have still not provided this information to MPs. Whilst it has been announced there will be some 70 centres for interviews for passports, the Home Office stated in a PQ tha, whilst these 70 centres form part of the ID card programme, ‘these offices do not necessarily form part of the enrolment centre provision’ and ‘at this stage it is not known how many of these facilities there will be’. Are we to seriously believe the Government’s estimated costs are realistic when such a major part of the project has not been worked out?

• In December 2003 the Minister stated that ‘The costs estimates which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out in Command paper 6020 were based on the assumption that this automatic replacement card would be provided free of charge’. In June 2005, when asked if this assumption remained the Government’s policy, you answered ‘No such assumption was made in CM 6020.’ We have still not been told what the policy is on replacement cards and who will bear the cost. On the issue of how much it will cost an individual to replace a stolen, lost or damaged card, in a recent PQ, answered 13.02.06, we are told that no final decisions have been taken.

• No detailed planning or cost estimates have been undertaken in respect of assessments of applications for exemptions for when the ID Card scheme becomes compulsory.

• When asked if the Home Office would be revisiting its cost assumptions in line with the recommendations of the KPMG review, on 25 October 2005, Tony McNulty answered that his officials were reviewing the recommendations of the KPMG review and ‘would be acting on them in future iterations of the costings’. Yet the Government have not revised their £584m figure or referred to these KPMG recommendations in their briefings on costs.

• The Home Office admit in their own Regulatory Impact Assessment analysis of 25 May 2005 that some benefits are ‘not yet quantified completely’. In answer to a PQ asking if the cost benefit analysis of the scheme includes estimates for these unquantified benefits, we are told it did but that further analysis was underway to ‘refine these estimates’. When asked what the results were of his Department’s further analysis, you answered that benefits were continuing to be identified and quantified and the analysis was ongoing. The Government do not say whether any of this analysis will have any impact on the Government’s cost estimates.

Regarding your claim to be consulting with industry, I have to say that talking to people from the industry with an interest in procurement within the scheme is not the same as listening to the concerns of independent industry experts. You cite Intellect as a source of expert guidance. Is my understanding correct that Intellect’s membership includes several companies who are likely to bid for contracts with the Home Office? I would be more willing to accept that the Government have really researched this project thoroughly with industry experts if you had provided satisfactory replies to the many letters my constituent, Andrew Hawker (who has had many years working in the industry and who now comments on this matter independently) has taken the trouble to write.

Despite your failure to address Mr Hawker’s questions on how the benefits of the ID card scheme have been calculated, Mr Hawker has taken the trouble to respond to your last letter of 20 February, your reference: M3198/6. A copy of Mr Hawker’s letter is enclosed. I should therefore be grateful for your response to the specific points Mr Hawker has raised in the enclosed letter (and previously) about the Home Office’s estimated benefits of the ID cards scheme.

In your letter, you state that cost reviews have been done by the Treasury, Office of Government and Commerce and KPMG but won’t publish these on the basis that a detailed breakdown of costs might have procurement implications and lead to higher costs. As you will note from Mr Hawker’s letter, biometric equipment is freely advertised and priced on the internet and companies regularly announce the value of other biometric contracts. Presumably there will also be competition between bidders anxious to win what must be extremely lucrative contracts (unless you are implying such companies are capable of price rigging). Both these factors render the excuse for not providing some cost breakdown of the ID cards project most questionable. Furthermore, the Government has never addressed the point that MPs like myself have only requested a broad breakdown of the estimated costs for the major components of the scheme. We haven’t even been told the likely cost of the National Identity Register!
Finally, I would like to raise the case of individuals who could be put in danger if their biometric details are accessible on the NIR, for example security personnel or victims of crimes such as domestic violence. The intended compulsory registration of UK citizens in the NIR may endanger individuals who are threatened by terrorists or organised criminals. For instance, witnesses threatened with revenge, would typically be relocated and given new identities. Were enrolment on the National Identity Register to be established on a compulsory basis, what guarantee could then be given to such a person that their whereabouts could be kept secret? I am sure you would agree that it would become impossible to carry out anything like a normal life without a functioning ID card. Thus a witness would have to be registered in the database under their new identity. But because they are identified by biometric information in the database, and that biometric information would not have changed with their identity, it would be possible to find them using biometric information recorded before they disappeared. (Or are you accepting that multiple identities will be possible with the same biometrics?)
As an example, a photograph of the person taken before they disappeared could be used to match the facial biometric information in the database enabling all the person's details to be looked up including their new home address. No doubt you will be aware that it is possible to identify a person using an ‘iris code' obtained from a photograph taken many years before as demonstrated publicly in the case of Sharbat-Gula, an Afghan woman who appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1985, and who was positively identified in 2002 from that photograph using an iris biometric. I accept that, on as large a database as the NIR, facial and iris recognition alone would not necessarity provide unique identification but presumably you are arguing that possession of all 13 biometrics would. Numerous Police officers and others would be allowed to perform this type of search without the subject's consent and, while the Bill would make unauthorised disclosure of information from the Register a serious criminal offence, this could not prevent an organised criminal from coercing an authorised person into performing lookups on their behalf.
Dose the Home Office have a solution to this problem?
I should be grateful for your response to the points raised in this letter. I apologise for its length but I hope you will appreciate the serious nature of the concerns raised.

Yours sincerely,


cc Charles Clarke, Home Secretary

Oh that my own MP could slip her ministerial straitjacket long enough to stand up against the torrent of bullshit the Home Office insists on fertilising their mad Bill with.

08 March, 2006

Opaque Government

Dear Mr Scott,

Thank you for your e-mail of 15 February 2006 in which you ask for all correspondence, internal and external, pertaining to the commissioning, calculation, drafting and intended use of the Home Office Identity Fraud Steering Committee’s figures on identity fraud that were published on 2 February 2006.

Your request has been handled in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

I can confirm that the Home Office does hold information on this subject. We believe that some of the information that you have asked for is already reasonably accessible to you. This was published in documents on 2 February 2006. A table showing data and calculations of the cost of identity fraud can be accessed from the home page of the Home Office Identity Theft Website – Information about the commissioning and use of the updated estimate of identity fraud is contained in a Written Ministerial Statement from Andy Burnham. This is available at: [link]

Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act exempts the Home Office from complying with the duty to supply you with this information on the grounds that it is already reasonably accessible to you. Should you have difficulties in accessing this information by the means listed above please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Other information was provided to ministers in relation to the updated estimate of the cost of identity fraud. After careful consideration it has been determined that this information is exempt from disclosure by virtue of Section 35(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act. This provides that information which relates to the formulation or development of government policy can be withheld where the public interest falls in favour of non-disclosure. We consider that the information contained in the briefing falls within this exemption.

In applying this exemption the Home Office has had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosing the information.

In doing so, we have had regard to the public interest in members of the public having access to information that enables them to understand how Ministers work and take decisions. We have also had regard to the fact that knowledge about the way government works, and the information on which it has based its decisions, may increase the public contribution to the policy making process, thereby rendering it more effective and broadly-based.

However, we have also had regard to a number of factors weighing against release. Disclosure of this information, which is in relation to an area of policy in the process of being formulated, could damage the ability of Ministers and their officials to seek and provide free and frank advice. If officials believe that their advice in relation to ongoing policy formulation will be disclosed, there is a significant danger of a reduction in candour on their part. Similarly, Ministers may be less willing to seek advice on certain matters if they believe that such advice might be disclosed. A reduction in the willingness of officials and Ministers to seek candid advice may lead to policies being formulated on the basis of poorer, more narrowly based advice, which would clearly not be in the public interest.

We have carefully considered where the public interest test lies in this case and concluded that the balance is in favour of non-disclosure.

We have also had to consider the confidential nature of the correspondence on this subject. After careful consideration it has been determined that the “in confidence” exemption, under Section 41 of the Freedom of Information Act, applies. This states that information is exempt information if:

(a) it was obtained by the public authority from any other person (including another public authority); and

(b) the disclosure of the information to the public (otherwise than under this Act) by the public authority holding it would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by that or any other person.

In applying this exemption we have had to consider that organisations supplied information to us in confidence. The information provided relates to financial losses and was supplied on the basis that only agreed information would be published. This agreed information is included in the table described above – see paragraph 3. To release any other information would leave the Government open to legal proceedings, harm our relationship with those supplying the information to us and potentially reduce the level of cooperation that we would otherwise have expected with future and on-going projects.

Section 41 is an absolute exemption, and as such we are not required to assess the balance of the public interest in relation to this exemption.

If you are dissatisfied with this response you may request an independent internal review of our decision by submitting your complaint to:

Information Policy Team
Information and Record Management Service
Home Office
4th Floor, Seacole Building
2 Marsham Street

Should you request a review, the department’s handling of your information request will be reassessed by staff who were not involved in providing you with this response.

Should you remain dissatisfied after this internal review, you will have a right of complaint to the Information Commissioner as established by section 50 of the Freedom of Information Act.

Yours sincerely

Kevin Burt
Identity Fraud Reduction Team

I can understand how some correspondence would be exempt, but not all. And given that I was requetsing information about how they'd drafted the figures on ID fraud (or at least their umbrella-like interpretation of it) the initial correspondance I received was from the "ID Card Team".

05 March, 2006

Goodbye To All That

Goodbye To All That
Goodbye To All That,
originally uploaded by Simon Scott.
If the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill enters the statute, will the last person leaving the House of Commons please switch off the lights.