Mistaken Identity at the The Old Theatre, London School of Economics – 19 May 2004
So here finally, are my notes from Mistaken Identity, which was described as a public meeting on the proposed national identity card.
Note that I can’t do shorthand, and if I’ve misquoted anyone, or misinterpreted the points that they were making, let me know and I’ll correct them. I don’t think that this is likely since voices at the meeting did tend towards one direction. Note that within each section, I’ve tried to reflect what the individual, or consensus was, rather than putting my own thoughts in – they follow at the end. Anything with brackets is to an appropriate link or source that I’ve tried to find. Oh, and this is a long entry, for which I don’t really apologise!
Proceedings were initially delayed a little because, as we all now know, some protestors had taken it upon themselves to throw powder into the House of Commons (Two men have since been charged). A number of the initial speakers were to be parliamentarians and as a result there were delays in them getting to the theatre.
Simon Davies of the London School of Economics (LSE) kicked things off, and then made the point, later re-iterated that no members of the Government, their representatives, or even police authorities had accepted the offer to attend. Those Labour members who were there were not in their capacity of members of the Labour Party.
The result of a YouGov poll were also presented. The summary can be found here. [PDF] Note that I do have issues with the YouGov methodology of polling online with a self-selecting sample, but I believe that their finding remain indicative.
The Register, one of the co-sponsors of the meeting alongside Privacy International, Liberty, Statewatch, Stand.org.uk, The 1990 Trust and The Foundation for Information Policy Research handed out an excellent guide called Everything you never wanted to know about the ID card.
The first panel comprised of David Davis MP, the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary, David Winnick MP, Labour member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Simon Philips MP, Plaid Cymru, and Lord Phillips of Sudbury, Lib Dem. The format of the packed afternoon was to be brief speeches from each panellist, followed by a short public Q&A. Various prior commitments meant that not everyone would be able to take questions.
David Davis MP, Shadow Home Secretary
David Davis began by speaking about how Australians had been 80%:20% in favour of an ID card system prior to its introduction, but that it had swung to 20%:80% after it had actually been introduced [See here for more details about Australia]. He made the point that the government should lead, and not follow. The illegal immigration argument that the government has put forward was “not worth a penny”. There should be four criteria which any scheme should be measured against: Will it work? Can we protect privacy? Is it cost effective? Can the Home Office implement it?
He said that with privacy, it was the database that was real issue. Over the years we’ve seen the breakdown of many separate databases across government departments into larger cross departmental ones, with little or no primary legislation. Serious legislations should be put in place to protect individuals’ privacy.
He gave the example of the Republic of Ireland who don’t have ID cards, and have no plans for them. Yet they are allowed to freely cross borders into the UK. Jack Straw, he said, had spoken of this some time ago and pointed out that high level discussions were needed. Many other people from around the EU and elsewhere are allowed into the country without an ID card for three months. There are also 15 million UK nationals who live abroad.
And then there was the issue that even though it might be compulsory to have a card, it wouldn’t be compulsory to carry it.
He said that three billion pounds could surely be better spent as the amount the system is said to be going to cost. The Home Office record to date in introducing such systems is not good – look at the Passport Office problems from a few years ago.
David Winnick MP, Labour, Member of the Home Affairs Committee
As the only Labour politician present, and not speaking in an official party capacity, he was very doubtful about ID cards. He saw the scheme as being solutions to other problems. He said that if ID cards could be shown to be a deterrent to terrorists then he and others would change their minds, but he didn’t accept that it’d make any difference in either Istanbul or Madrid. Both countries have ID cards.
He quoted a statistic [from the Privacy International report, Mistaken Identity; Exploring the Relationship Between National
Identity Cards & the Prevention of Terrorism (PDF)] that says “Of the 25 countries that have been most adversely affected by terrorism since 1986, eighty per cent have national identity cards, one third of which incorporate biometrics. This research was unable to uncover any instance where the presence of an identity card system in those countries was seen as a significant deterrent to terrorist activity.”
He asked to consider the Morecambe Bay tragedy or the sad case of the Chinese immigrants who suffocated in a lorry – ID cards would have made no difference in those instances.
He said that introducing ID cards would not be taking us halfway to totalitarian state, or some kind of “1984“. This is not an underhand thing that’s happening. He reminded us that we lost many civil liberties during the Second World War, but that there had been good reasons at the time. We have a different tradition in the UK – we had no Nazi occupation or Franco.
He thought that the carrying of an ID card would inevitably change from being voluntary to compulsory. He said that Health Minister John Hutton was already looking forward to asking people for their cards before they got NHS care.
Finally he said that it was all a case of “Function Creep“.
Simon Thomas MP, Plaid Cymru
He began by mentioning again the incident in parliament involving flour and that a six hundred thousand pound security screen [note that it seems to have got cheaper once installed!] had been rather easily circumvented. ID cards are a technological solution to the problem. The three billion could be spent another way. The government is stepping away from the argument.
He said that “Aunt Sallys” had been set up some time ago, and that the Home Secretary had cranked up these ideas. He also suggested that the system would begin as being voluntary, but would slowly become compulsory as it reaches the Home Office and the legislation becomes hidden from Parliament.
He asked us how many of us had driving licences with an old address on? [A lot of hands went up – possibly because we were in a student environment?] He said that the government really wants a big database. Other countries have written constitutions and Bills of Rights. We don’t.
He said that Benefit fraud would probably only see the recovery of 190-200 million, but that only 35% of terrorists have more than one identity. ID is not the main issue and maybe the cash should instead be spent with the security services. He also mentioned that we have our own Guantanamo Bay in Belmarsh Prison.
He said that there’d been no debate. He also pointed out that since Wales and Scotland were devolved, they didn’t have to ask for ID cards to be shown when people seek NHS treatment there.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury, Liberal Democrat
He began by saying that he didn’t view David Blunkett as the devil – just ill advised. He said that the tabloids would be in favour of ID cards, and that we’d commonly hear that “if we have nothing to hide, then we’ve nothing to fear”. He said that this was a touchstone issue for him that he found difficult to explain. He returned to what David Davis had said saying that if one terrorist outrage was circumvented then maybe the card was worthwhile. Not the case in his view. This approach is wrong – we shouldn’t be trying to stop terrorist events happening – we should stop them starting in the first place.
A phrase that he said that was commonly heard amongst the Jewish of a certain age, was that they like being in this country “because I’m on no one’s list.” We’re not. He was worried that we’re going down a path where the State has files on all of us: bank balances, convictions, fingerprints. “Ha ha!” was his response.
He said that 50,000 sets of fingerprints are stored when they should no longer be, because it’s “not in the public interest” to get rid of them from storage.
Once more, he said that he feared that secondary legislation would be where all the really serious things would happen.
Phillips also mentioned the fact that there was now too much law! He said that last year there 12,500 pages of new law, and that it wasn’t all properly framed. Therefore such organisations as the Egg Marketing Board and Charity Commission have been listed as having access to some of this information, and the Anti-Terrorism Act had framed all crimes as acts of terrorism so poorly had it been drafted at one stage. He didn’t believe that cards would only be held voluntarily for long.
We are swamped with law and building a land fit for lawyers. The Interception of Communications Commissioner is the person who stands between “the rape and pillage” of our private information. And if my information’s been misused in some way, he can say absolutely nothing.
In passing, Phillips also mentioned that the Human Rights Act is not as good as you might think.
In the question and answer session that followed, one of the key points made was that the National Insurance number should be able to prevent illegal working – but employers are willing to employ on the grey economy and therefore aren’t interested.
David Cameron MP, Shadow Leader of the Commons
Cameron began by explaining that as a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee [like David Winnick], it was his duty to “sit on the fence” and listen to evidence presented to him.
However he was against the ID card because:
– it would change the relationship between the citizen and the State. (One thousand pound fines for not informing the State when you move).
– the argument for it kept shifting: first terrorism, then immigration, then crime prevention of health tourism. He implored us to read the Home Office evidence that they gave to the committee [transcript uncorrected at time of writing] describing it as “very flimsy”.
– IT issues. The more information you put into the database, the more useful it is, but you’re putting all your eggs in one basket.
– the technology and cost
How will it make a difference? It’s not compulsory and the police can still not stop me without reason. He said that it’s part of an “excuse culture” – a “catch-all solution”.
He said that every new Home Secretary for years has had some Home Office officials come up to him and present the ID card idea. Only Blunkett has bitten so far. He said that some of his fellow committee members were openly hostile to the idea, and that others were sceptical.
The NHS “spine” already has many prescriptions and medical records recorded.
He wanted to look at the background of the full underlying registry that holds the data. He wasn’t sure that there are real wrong motives. However, the arguments don’t stack up. Excuses seem the likeliest reason – it’s convenient to parade the ID card as doing something. He said that he didn’t feel that it was naivety, but it knowingly plays well with the press.
Khalid Sofi, Muslim Council of Britain
Standing in for Dr Iqbal Sacranie, Sofi spoke of how the Muslim community in Britain feels marginalised in the current climate. He said that the only link between them and terrorists such as those from 9/11 was a shared faith.
With this background, ID cards will provide a further reason for officialdom to harass Muslims – particularly the younger ones. He said that it was an excuse to further question people about anti-terrorism and immigration. “Islamaphobia” is what it led to – with the community no longer feeling part of society.
And it won’t stop the terrorism. The Government has introduced a series of legislation that erodes civil liberties – people being held without charge in Belmarsh prison for example.
Mark Oaten MP, Lib-Dem Home Affairs spokesman
He began by reiterating the “nothing to hide” issue, and spoke about the fact that before he got into this legislation, he’d previously thought differently and could see no reason for not having ID cards. He had, however, now changed his mind.
Is it the most effective way to spend three billion pounds? More police and more intelligence services might have greater impact. He also thought that this was a very conservative figure.
Is it an effective way to combat terrorism? It didn’t work in New York or Madrid (which he is soon to visit to see what learnings have been made from that tragedy). Certainly there are different forms of ID in those places, but someone determined will not be deterred by a “piece of plastic”.
Is it practicable? A voluntary card will surely become compulsory (and he felt that this was a fudge to get the issue through [a reportedly divisive] cabinet). Then of course, you didn’t even have to have a card in the first three months.
The benefits issue is not about false ID, but about people over claiming. The “Health Tourism” issue is a non-issue. We’re not being flooded with health tourists (quite the reverse!). Will every post office, hospital and pharmacy have the kit to check the card and the biometrics contained on it? This is all cloud cuckoo land. The three billion figure will certainly end up higher.
Illegal working. We already have powers and documentation to combat this, but only two arrests have been made under the existing legislation. How are the police going to know who to ask? Would it be on the basis of the colour of one’s skin?
He said that he’d oppose the legislation mainly on the grounds of effectiveness as it’s the best way of arguing the case publicly.
The question and answer session that followed highlighted the fact that there’s a difference between privacy and secrecy. It was also noted that we expect there to be an election forthcoming.
A particularly scary scenario was painted whereby a future Government would have access to our identity and be in the position to identify certain elements from it for whatever reason�
Finally, a recent Mori poll was mentioned, and I thought that it was worth linking to. It’s worth noting that the company that commissioned this research, Detica, do seem to have some specific interests in the field. According to their website, their customers include HM Customs & Excise, the Military Communications Service, “UK Defence Agencies”, & “Government Agency”. Note that their site also has a fuller version of the Mori report, but you need to complete a free registration to get a copy.
Tony Bunyan, Editor, Statewatch
He began with a potted history of biometric measurements – well the fingerprint anyway. 1902, was the year that the first conviction was made on the basis of the fingerprint.
But he spoke of whole series and sets of data being captured – biometric, movement (mobile phones, trackers in cars), personal lives. And if we don’t comply, we could be cut off from some service. He talked about how “President” Bush [sorry – can’t get out of that habit] wanted to promote biometric passports, and that Blair was his ally in this, with the UK and US pushing it through the G8.
He doesn’t believe that Data Protection works at all in this country, and spoke of a working party that sat from May 1998 to April 2001 before being abolished that looked into protecting rights.
He said that there’s a lack of powers and resources, and there isn’t the ability to do the job. Data protection doesn’t work in the EU.
On a practical level, he spoke of 5 million passports being issued every year, each of which will need people to attend “enrolment centres” to receive. And they change every ten years, and driving licence will be similarly limited. The data collected will be facial and fingerprints.
He noted that the NHS database is in fact an opt-out one, and that BT was running it.
All third country nationals in the EU will also need biometric visas, as well as biometric passports and ID cards. Could all this data end up on one card? And this information is to be shared throughout the EU.
He also gave quoted back from a Czech national who spoke about not knowing what you’re losing until you’ve lived under communism or fascism when you gave away your rights. He ended by saying that he wouldn’t trust David Blunkett.
Karen Chouhan, 1990 Trust
Chouhan began by speaking of the criminalisation of black minority communities and the re-emergence of racism. She said that the citizenship debate had changed over to “oaths of allegiance”.
She vented her anger at the appeasement of the far right, with Jean Marie Le Pen allowed to speak while Louis Farrakhan isn’t.
She also said that in the context of society where asylum seekers must apply at their point of entry, the ID card became very scary.
There was some anger that the Trevor Phillips at the Commission for Racial Equality was not doing as much as he should. [Simon Davies explained that he’s spent sometime trying to get either Phillips or someone else along to the meeting to clear up the issue, but had been unsuccessful].
She urged us to read the appendices of the draft bill for a fuller picture of what were likely to be the biggest effects.
She spoke of how blacks are eight times more likely to be stopped by the police, and that this disproportionality will continue. Finally she said that the Race Discrimination effect was supposed to ensure that policy is changed if any legislation is likely to have a disproportionate affect on a minority.
Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty
She began with an ironic aside about posters that are currently appearing on the side of buses and tube stations – “Presumed Guilty Until Proven Innocent”. This is in relation to unattended baggage.
She said that this was a populist, and therefore dangerous, home affairs agenda. It is time to sit up and worry. This was something that could haunt us for years to come. The Government should be leading the populace away from fear, and not acting tough.
She found the legislation incredibly dangerous and sinister. Politicians are very short-termist, and don’t really consider the larger ramifications. They’re aware of the financial costs, but not the social costs. This was the death of presumption of innocence. Not in a criminal justice sense, but in a wider democratic society.
She referred to a quotation made by Tony Blair in his conference speech in Bournemouth last year:
And of course the criminal justice system with its rules and procedures was a vital step of progress when poor people were without representation unjustly convicted by corners cut. But today in Britain in the 21st century it is not the innocent being convicted. It’s too many of the guilty going free. Too many victims of crime and always the poorest who are on the front line.
She said that there were plans afoot to try to make the whole of the metropolitan area of London a “stop and search” zone. She also spoke of Belmarsh, and those who’d been incarcerated for two and a half years – “just a few anonymous foreign subjects”.
Liberty’s viewpoint was that there’s no such thing as voluntary. Even President Bush doesn’t countenance an ID card. [Couldn’t find an out and out denial despite searching all over the place. The closest are some of the links here] The card will become compulsory and will signify a major constitutional shift, with no other common law country having them. This would have dire consequences on the 30 years of racial relations building.
The Government are being too casual about the value of personal privacy. It’s not secrecy.
The Q&A that followed mentioned interoperability within Europe and the various working parties.
There was mention by a journalist from The Voice of a search for a rapist in south London, and the fact that all those who were being asked to submit DNA to rule themselves out had found themselves to have committed previous minor offences, down to speeding points on their driving licences.
The point was made that DNA is now routinely kept even if the suspect was either cleared completely or found not guilty.
Peter Williamson, President of the Law Society
[I did take copious notes of what Williamson said, but it was so well structured and spoken, that it seems a shame not to link directly to his address]
His essay can be found here (PDF).
Roger Smith, Director, JUSTICE
The legislation will fail or succeed on the basis of acceptability, and most people don’t like the fact that they’ll have to pay around thirty five pounds for their card.
A Home Office official is said to have said, in a memo, “I can’t see that these proposals are a vote winner!”
Smith was full of praise for Privacy International, and said that The Register’s piece was very much worth reading. He also urged us to read both the Government’s White Paper as well as the Draft Bill.
He highlighted Clause 23 of the bill which is about the “Power to authorise other disclosures without consent” – in other words to let others look at records held without any need to have a good reason.
Smith also talked about secondary legislation as being where the full ramifications would be felt, and noted that it had only been overturned three times. He said that 2013 was a key date, since we know that neither Blair nor Blunkett will still be in power then, but that more draconian measures could go into force.
He said that we should make no bones about the fact that there is some support for the scheme. But are the proposals proportionate? He mentioned a very sober Cabinet Office report from last year on lost or stolen passports. [I think he might have referring to this report (PDF) from July 2002 entitled Identity Fraud – A Study. The key paragraph seems to be this (8.45):
Such a card would carry a huge premium around its secure issue and reissue, and would reinforce the case for the issue of documents used as evidence of identity to be based on checking of “historical footprint” (ie checks of biographical identity) and face to face interviews in hard cases. Processes for issuing cards would have to be made more secure than current processes, as it would otherwise be the single ticket for a fraudster, giving access to a whole range of services.]
Smith continued saying that the costs are disproportionate. IT projects are costly and they over-run.
Finally he related an anecdote about himself that happened to take place on the day of Princess Diana’s funeral. He was about to fly to Australia when his visa was refused electronically since it turned out that a drug smuggler shared his name. He eventually spoke to a department specifically set up for such mistakes in Canberra!
Paul Whitehouse, former Chief Constable, Sussex Police
He said he’d been a policeman for thirty years, and was against ID cards. The real costs had been left out of the Bill, with costs going into other departments (training, equipment etc.).
Whitehouse compared this kind of legislation with generals who are preparing the fight the last war.
He said that it was more important that we try to establish why people are driven to terrorism. He then explained that when he’s started years earlier, you weren’t able to just radio in and get a vehicle licence plate checked. So you had to use your initiative, and if you saw a suspicious car you pulled it over. You’d then ask the occupant to tell you what was in the boot – not because you were interested but because if they could tell you, it was probably their car. The Spanish police pulled over a car involved, but because it checked out when they radioed in, there was no reason to open the boot, and they let the car go.
He also asked how you can be certain you trust the people who write the algorithms that’ll be used to encrypt the information. He also said that this would lead to lessening of the trust between members of the public and those in authority. He said that race relations would be hampered (and mentioned that in places like India and Kenya where people may have happily used ID cards, they were members of the ruling classes).
Wrongly arrested people cost money, he said. And then there was the 2013 effect. And he left us with the thought that Hitler came to power by election.
In the Q&A at this point, the fact that ID cards had been renamed from the previous “Entitlement Cards”. It was also suggested that this was all a Home Office scheme for getting money to clean up their existing databases.
Professor Ross Anderson, Cambridge University Security Group
Anderson began by telling us how he’d recently been reading Dick Clarke’s book [I assume, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror] in which it he talks about how the rationale for invading Iraq was conjured up. The initial response to 9/11 was do double MI5 numbers – fine. But that left nothing for the Home Office to get into.
At this point he related a story about how recently he’d tried to withdraw fifteen hundred pounds in cash, and had been presented with a leaflet explaining how this had to be done in light of new money laundering legislation. He’d known better, and it turned out that the new rules didn’t comply with UK law.
He explained that this is a displacement activity – solving an easier neighbouring problem. He said that there was empire building going on, with plum contracts for the boys etc. He also said that he was unconvinced on a technical level, referring us to his website [where we can in turn read his written and oral evidence to the select committee].
He also mentioned 2010, and the GPS devices which should need to be fitted to cars [maybe using the Galileo system?]
He said that at some point, cumulatively, people will say that they’ve had enough. He referred to the Kroger affair – when a husband and wife were using various methods to change identities and spy for the Soviets. He said that they still could use the same techniques even with ID cards, since all their IDs were legitimately gained.
It was all, he said, about inconveniencing our citizens without as much inconveniencing of our enemies.
Jonathan Bamford, Assistant Information Commissioner
He said that his office was looking at all data protection aspects. He said that the name of legislation (ID cards) did no describe what we’re really talking about, which is a register with a National Identity Registration Number. Of course there are already existing numbers including the National Insurance number.
He noted that there was no provision for non ID versions of driving licences or passports. And there were still biometric issues.
What kind of chip would be employed on the card. Some can be “eavesdropped” so safeguards would need to include contact chips, and there is also the question of encryption.
And would someone who buys, say, fertilizer, black bins, and a stop watch be tracked via their ID card?
He said that the information minister would make his response.
Finally he talked about Function Creep. At the time in WWII when ID cards were introduced, there were three reasons for them. By the time ID cards ended, there were 39 (including stopping bigamists!).
To conclude procedings, Simon Davies spoke about how no2id.net had been set-up as a “non-aligned diverse group of people who stand against the attempts to introduce intrusive, expensive and ineffective control of personal identity.”
So there you go. That’s what I took from a very informative afternoon. There’s enough there to keep everyone very busy reading up on it all.
The stated reasons for the UK having an identity card, as laid out on the Home Office website are:
– to deter illegal working
– to tackle immigration abuse
– to strengthen security by disrupting the use of false and multiple identities by terrorists and organised crime groups
– to ensure free public services are only used by those entitled to them
– to help protect people from identity theft
All worthy aims, and absolutely none of them are going to be properly stifled by the introduction of the one of the most radical assaults on British civil liberties ever made.
You really should read this: The Draft ID Cards Bill (227k PDF)
UPDATE: Stand now have OGG and MP3 audio of all the speakers in full!