Monday, November 06, 2006

New Labour, new ID cards

Tony Blair is pretty determined to bring in ID cards. All non-EU nationals will need them to work or access public services from 2008, and they will be introduced for Britons from 2009, he confirmed today. From 2010, they will be compulsory.

Until now, I haven’t really seen ID cards as too big an issue. Other European countries have long had them, I reasoned, and haven’t turned into police states as a result.

But I am starting to develop major reservations. For starters, the very term ‘ID card’ is truly a misnomer on a grand scale.

If the object of the exercise was simple identification, a photo, a thumb print and a PIN number would more than do the job. Have you seen the full list of data the cards will be able to contain? I mean, date of death? How the heck could the government know that?

They will be ineffective. If it isn’t compulsory to carry them at all times, what’s the point? If it is compulsory, what’s going to happen when people lose their wallets or purses?

What about errors in the data, which will inevitably occur? Will people risk arrest or be refused permission to leave the country because of a finger slip from a data entry clerk?

What if the data is abused? Most private investigators can already get personal information on just about anybody from police mates with access to the police national computer. Many more people will be able to log on to the national ID card database, so this problem will be greatly exacerbated.

And given the long and sorry history of massive cock-ups in major public sector IT projects, expect huge – and costly – over-runs on delivery. The government reckons the cards will cost £93 each, although independent experts reckon £300 is rather more likely.

Throw in such parallel developments as pervasive CCTV and DNA profiling, and the government will know rather more about each and every one of us then it really needs to do.

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