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Tony Blair emails anti-ID scheme petitioners

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:34 pm on 23 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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On Tuesday 19th of February, I received an email from the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Mr Blair has apparently written to all 28,000 people, myself included, who signed this petition against the government’s identity card scheme. His letter to petitioners is also up on the Downing Street website.

There have been several detailed responses to this email from various commentators, illustrating the tendentious nature of Blair’s attempted defence of the scheme:

  • UK Liberty has responses here and here. To quote from the first of these, on Blair’s claim that opponents of the scheme have been exaggerating its cost by talking about the combined cost of the card and a passport:

    It is actually the Government that included in the total cost of the scheme the costs for passports and identity cards, and no we don’t all need a ‘biometric passport’ if we travel abroad - we just need a passport that complies with ICAO requirements, which is a normal passport with a chip that has a digital photo of the owner’s face stored in it.

    What the Government has consistently said is that the cost of the scheme without identity cards - just passports - would be 70% of the current estimate of over £5bn, and therefore we might as well go ahead and spend the difference of over a billion - easy come, easy go eh?

    (of course, none of this addresses why the passport system even costs 70% of £5.6bn. Passports were £21 apiece in 1999)

  • In his email, Blair writes:

    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.

    The Register has a detailed response concentrating this specific point, pointing out that it effectively means the police will treat everyone on the NIR as suspects (eventually that’s the entire resident adult population of Britain) and also casting doubt on the viability of the scheme. For example:

    And how would they do it, anyway? Fingerprints taken for biometric ID systems aren’t particularly compatible with the fingerprint systems historically used in criminal justice systems. The point of an ID fingerprint system is primarily to confirm the identity of a known individual, comparing a standard format fingerprint previously gathered with a real fingerprint presented in a standard way.

    Criminal justice, on the other hand, needs to be able to deal with partial fingerprints and indistinct marks, and to have systems in place to support one to many searches. This explains the historical use of ‘rolled’ prints, which record a greater area of print. The kind of print recorded by criminal justice systems has been changing, but it clearly isn’t possible to get burglars to leave prints under controlled conditions.

  • On Blair’s claim that the NIR will contain less data about an individual than that collected by the average store card, Not Saussure writes:

    well, that’s as may be, but rather ignores the facts that people chose, or not, to have store cards and chose, or not, whether to use them. It also ignores the facts that store cards don’t contain unique identifying numbers that can be used to cross-reference all manner of different records that have nothing to do with each other apart from the fact they relate to the particular individual.

    And, while you might not object to Tesco’s marketing department knowing what you buy from their stores, you might not want a third party to have access to this information and to be able to cross reference it with your bank, tax, NI and health details. Nor, had you to produce this store card every time you conducted virtually any sort of transaction anywhere, might you particularly want a third party to be able to study an audit trail of where and when you’d used it.

    It also comes as news to me that many store cards contain your fingerprint records and, if they do, that these are shared with the police

  • NO2ID, the main campaign group against the ID scheme, issued a press release, suggesting Blair’s claims on this subject are “fact free”. More specifically they say:

    (2) Other pseudo-facts used by the government in ID propaganda include:

    * £1.7 billion as the annual cost of ‘identity fraud’ - see Andrew
    Gilligan, Evening Standard, 20/6/05:
    http://www.spy.org.uk/spyblog/2005/06/evening_standard_andrew_gillig.html or
    Silicon.com, 2/2/06:
    http://www.silicon.com/publicsector/0,3800010403,39156140,00.htm

    * 900,000 crime scene marks (which might be multiple, or indistinct
    – leading to false ‘matches’) are misrepresented as separate crimes.

    * Changes to the passport are required due to “international
    obligation”. UK passports are already ICAO-compliant, and continue to
    qualify for the US Visa Waiver scheme, due to the inclusion of RFID chips
    and machine-readable data on the photo page. The NAO reports that the total
    cost of this ‘upgrade’ was just £61 million.

    The government refuses to detail how it intends to spend £378 million per
    year (”70%” of its current 10 year estimate for the Home Office costs of the
    ID programme, divided by 10) for the next 10 years on ‘improvements to the
    passport’ - let alone the ‘additional’ £162 million per year that it implies
    is for stand-alone ID cards. If these changes are required anyway, what is
    it hiding?

I shall produce my own detailed analysis of the Blair email shortly.

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