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Blair responds personally to ID card critics

The road pricing petition isn’t the only protest getting an email response from Tony: anti-ID card signatories are getting an email too. Although it’s easy to summarise – “I’m in ur base, eroding ur civil libertiez” – here’s the whole text. As you’d expect it trots out the usual crap – ID cards preventing benefit fraud, fighting terrorism, stopping children from being abducted by evil wizards and forced to mine salt in the centre of the Earth, that sort of thing.

The petition disputes the idea that ID cards will help reduce crime or terrorism. While I certainly accept that ID cards will not prevent all terrorist outrages or crime, I believe they will make an important contribution to making our borders more secure, countering fraud, and tackling international crime and terrorism. More importantly, this is also what our security services – who have the task of protecting this country – believe.

So I would like to explain why I think it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to use biometrics such as fingerprints to secure our identities. I would also like to discuss some of the claims about costs – particularly the way the cost of an ID card is often inflated by including in estimates the cost of a biometric passport which, it seems certain, all those who want to travel abroad will soon need.

In contrast to these exaggerated figures, the real benefits for our country and its citizens from ID cards and the National Identity Register, which will contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card, should be delivered for a cost of around £3 a year over its ten-year life.

But first, it’s important to set out why we need to do more to secure our identities and how I believe ID cards will help. We live in a world in which people, money and information are more mobile than ever before. Terrorists and international criminal gangs increasingly exploit this to move undetected across borders and to disappear within countries. Terrorists routinely use multiple identities – up to 50 at a time. Indeed this is an essential part of the way they operate and is specifically taught at Al-Qaeda training camps. One in four criminals also uses a false identity. ID cards which contain biometric recognition details and which are linked to a National Identity Register will make this much more difficult.

Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually. There is no doubt that building yourself a new and false identity is all too easy at the moment. Forging an ID card and matching biometric record will be much harder.

I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

The National Identity Register will also help improve protection for the vulnerable, enabling more effective and quicker checks on those seeking to work, for example, with children. It should make it much more difficult, as has happened tragically in the past, for people to slip through the net.

Proper identity management and ID cards also have an important role to play in preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. The effectiveness on the new biometric technology is, in fact, already being seen. In trials using this technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying illegally to get back into the UK.

Nor is Britain alone in believing that biometrics offer a massive opportunity to secure our identities. Firms across the world are already using fingerprint or iris recognition for their staff. France, Italy and Spain are among other European countries already planning to add biometrics to their ID cards. Over 50 countries across the world are developing biometric passports, and all EU countries are proposing to include fingerprint biometrics on their passports. The introduction in 2006 of British e-passports incorporating facial image biometrics has meant that British passport holders can continue to visit the United States without a visa. What the National Identity Scheme does is take this opportunity to ensure we maximise the benefits to the UK.

These then are the ways I believe ID cards can help cut crime and terrorism. I recognise that these arguments will not convince those who oppose a National Identity Scheme on civil liberty grounds. They will, I hope, be reassured by the strict safeguards now in place on the data held on the register and the right for each individual to check it. But I hope it might make those who believe ID cards will be ineffective reconsider their opposition.

If national ID cards do help us counter crime and terrorism, it is, of course, the law-abiding majority who will benefit and whose own liberties will be protected. This helps explain why, according to the recent authoritative Social Attitudes survey, the majority of people favour compulsory ID cards.

I am also convinced that there will also be other positive benefits. A national ID card system, for example, will prevent the need, as now, to take a whole range of documents to establish our identity. Over time, they will also help improve access to services.

The petition also talks about cost. It is true that individuals will have to pay a fee to meet the cost of their ID card in the same way, for example, as they now do for their passports. But I simply don’t recognise most claims of the cost of ID cards. In many cases, these estimates deliberately exaggerate the cost of ID cards by adding in the cost of biometric passports. This is both unfair and inaccurate.

As I have said, it is clear that if we want to travel abroad, we will soon have no choice but to have a biometric passport. We estimate that the cost of biometric passports will account for 70% of the cost of the combined passports/id cards. The additional cost of the ID cards is expected to be less than £30 or £3 a year for their 10-year lifespan. Our aim is to ensure we also make the most of the benefits these biometric advances bring within our borders and in our everyday lives.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Blair

The nice people at No2ID have a rather different perspective.

14 replies on “Blair responds personally to ID card critics”

If there was ever a more clear and flagrant money and power grab by a Government, with a more poorly argued and illogical premise, I don’t remember it.

On rereading, it’s fascinating: the political equivalent of people who think they’ll magically be understood by people who don’t know English if they just SHOUT VERY LOUDLY AND GESTICULATE. Heaven forfend the critics could possibly have any legitimate concerns whatsoever.

> If there was ever a more clear and flagrant money and power grab by a Government, with a more poorly argued and illogical premise, I don’t remember it.

Oh I don’t know. The stated purpose of income tax was to fund the defeat of Napoleon.

I’m p[articularly impressed by this:

“In many cases, these estimates deliberately exaggerate the cost of ID cards by adding in the cost of biometric passports. This is both unfair and inaccurate. As I have said, it is clear that if we want to travel abroad, we will soon have no choice but to have a biometric passport.”

Stop me if I’m barking up totally the wrong tree here, but hasn’t the British Government had a teensy weensy bit of influence over forthcoming new passport regulations?

The Home Office throughout has behaved precisely as Gary suggests. A lot of this stuff and nonsense has been repeated word for word by ministers to endless parliamentary committes and other expert critics with valid questions.

However, the nice people at NO2ID (thank you), have also identified a couple of new and exciting elements in the PM’s email, including one genuine misrepresentation – 900,000 untraced crime-scene marks is not the same as 900,000 unsolved and potentially soluble crimes. See notes here.

You know, I can’t make up my mind about this. Most of the time I think it’s not orwellian, and that the ID thing is just the latest demented product of a government in thrall to IT firms that tell it technology is a magic wand to fix all the world’s problems. Then I read a book such as Stephen Poole’s Unspeak, which does a fantastic job of covering linguistic double-speak and political slipperiness, and I start to get really scared and hide under the desk.

On a related note, Mr Eugienides writes about the email and in particular, the unsolved crimes angle. He then goes on a reassuring tangent about our wonderful, oh-so-accurate DNA analysis system:

It was reported in November that fragments of the bomb used in the Omagh bombing of 1998 had enough usable DNA on the bomb’s toggle switch and tape to reconstruct a suspect DNA profile using the LCN technique. When cross-referenced against the UK DNA database, this profile produced a match.

A 14 year-old schoolboy from Nottingham.

Worth reading in full.

My favourite bit from the road-pricing one – “I know many people’s biggest worry about road pricing is that it will be a “stealth tax” on motorists. It won’t.”

I agree entirely. It’s a blatantly obvious tax.

>will be a “stealth tax”

Will be? It *is* a stealth tax. I’m not worried that it might turn into one, it already *is* one by design.

Oo! Here’s another bit of weaselling:

ID cards and the National Identity Register, which will contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card

Well, obviously: your store card records what you buy. Over a couple of years, that could be thousands and thousands of individual items, compared to, on the ID database, merely ten fingerprints, two retina scans, one DNA profile, one signature, etc. Far more information on a store card, but far more intrusive information on the ID card.

And has anyone told Blair that store cards are voluntary and free?

Actually, the Government appear to have decided to appropriate our store card data anyway, in what would be blatant violation of the Data Protection Act if it weren’t for the usual “Oh, unless it’s us, in which case it’s OK” clause. Time to ditch those cards, then.

I think there are a number of issues that worry me, over and above the bullshit reasons we’re told mean we should embrace ID cards.

First, systemic incompetence. When it comes to ambitious IT programmes, the government’s proved time and time again that it couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. There are much better things to spend billions on – just in crime and terror stakes, investing in cops and security services.

Second, individual incompetence. We’ve all experienced “computer says no” bullshit, whether it’s trying to get ebay accounts unfrozen or persuading councils to let you pay council tax. When – not if – that incompetence affects ID cards, it’ll make Kafka seem like a cheery optimist.

Third, bad data. DVLA with 10 million more cars than exist on the roads, loads of cars not on the database at all. Massive error rates in PNC. THousands of people wrongly described as criminals when being background checked. etc.

Fourth: Mission creep. With any system like this you need to look not just at what it’s intended for, but what it can be used for. The “income tax to fight napoleon” thing is a good example of that, as are anti terrorism control orders. Temporary powers almost always become permanent powers; possible uses almost always become everyday uses.

And there’s mission creep in the outside world too: enabling police to randomly stop motorists was intended to fight drink driving, but I’ve been stopped in checks to make sure my tyres were legal, because one of my passengers looked like he might take drugs, because I was driving near a red-light area, because the police were doing a crackdown on burglars… you get the idea.

It’s far too long to quote, but there’s a superb section in Unspeak that shows how anti-terror stuff can be twisted – so for example the legislation means that if your gran sends money to a charity thinking it’s feeding afghan orphans, but said charity turns out to have been compromised and some funds redirected to Osama, then your gran is an “enemy combatant” and can therefore be held indefinitely and subject to repetitive administration of justified force – ie, beaten to within an inch of her life.

Christ, I’m depressed now.

> the government’s proved time and time again that it couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.

I wish they really had proved that. I wouldn’t mind paying a load of tax to see the footage.

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