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Round up: Britain’s National Identity Scheme

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:00 pm on 23 November, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, political liberties, British politics, the database state.
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Update (24/11/2008): I should of course emphasise that the fines for failing to update your details are upto £1000. My understanding is that they will start, for a first offence, at £125, according to a thread on the NO2ID forum.

Here’s a round up of recent news regarding Britain’s National Identity Scheme (NIS):

  • Starting on November the 25th 2008, all foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will be issued with a biometric identity card. The Register reported that the government estimates that it will issue 50,000 cards between November 2008 and April 2009.

    The government are selling this as the first step in setting up the NIS, however all that’s happening is that where people who needed a visa to live and work in Britain would get a stamp in their passport, they are now issued a biometric card. The National Identity Register (NIR) has not yet been set up, and thus whilst the applicants details are being centrally recorded, this is done on a database that will need to be merged with the NIR. A BBC report on the issuing of the cards to non-EEA nationals makes this clear:

    The cards partly replace a paper-based system of immigration stamps - but will now include the individual’s name and picture, their nationality, immigration status and two fingerprints.

    Immigration officials will store the details centrally and, in time, they are expected to be merged into the proposed national identity register. (emphasis added)

    The government has also suggested that people can pre-register their interest in getting a card and envisage handing out the first such cards in late 2009.

  • Until recently, the plan was that people would enroll for the identity scheme at a network of interview centres which would collect their details and biometric information. However the government has announced that it will be inviting the private sector to set up enrollment centres so that people could submit their biometrics via post offices, shops and other private firms. A consequence of this is that there will be price hikes for obtaining a card as firms charge for using their enrollment service. The extra charges are expected to be in the region of £20 to £40 pounds. Note that the cost of applying for a passport, which was £18 pounds when Labour came to power, £56 pounds in 2006 and £72 pounds earlier this year, is now set at over £100 pounds! The government claim this is to cover the cost of fingerprinting everyone. I suspect they are also paying for the NIS via the increased passport prices.

    A further consequence of this move is that now the biometric details will be collected separately from the rest of the registration process, raising questions about how secure the transmission of the data back to the government will be and how reliably they’ll be able to match up the correct biometrics with a given application. Naturally, the government assures us it will all be very secure, but they leak data like a sieve so why trust them?

  • Resistance to the ID card scheme seem to be growing amongst the trade unions, especially BALPA, the union for airline pilots. The government plans to start requiring airside airport works to enrol in the scheme from next year, but BALPA has expressed its opposition to this. According to the Register:

    News emerged today that government plans for a compulsory UK national ID card pilot scheme in the airline industry are deadlocked by industrial and union opposition, casting a blight over the unveiling of the cards’ design.

    The Financial Times reports this morning that the government’s intended rollout of the biometric ID cards among UK citizens - which was to start first among airport workers - is stalled. Both trade unions and industry bodies were adamantly opposed to the plans, and doubtful that the wider UK ID scheme would ever proceed given Conservative pledges to ditch it in the event of winning the next election.

    “We do not see the ID scheme bringing any security or business benefits,” Roger Wiltshire of the British Air Transport Association told the FT.

    “All we see is additional problems and costs.”

    Robert Siddall of the Airport Operators’ Association went further, telling the paper that the ID rollout “is not going anywhere, that’s for sure. You cannot run a pilot scheme in a sector where so many … are opposed.”

    Apart from air-transport management, it was also clear that unions were equally determined to resist the cards. The TUC has voted against them this month, and the airline pilots’ union Balpa threatened a legal challenge if the government tries to make ID cards compulsory for its members.

    More recently, the government announced that the issuing of cards to airside airport workers will only occur at 2 airports in 2009, namely Manchester and City of London, and BALPA are reported to be meeting to discuss how to ramp up their opposition.

  • NO2ID, the campaigning organisation devoted to opposing the NIS and other database state schemes, claims to have obtained Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s fingerprints surreptitiously. Guido Fawkes has also covered this.
  • The media have been helpfully reminding people that if they register on the NIR then they are required to keep their information accurate and uptodate on pain of a £1000 fine, e.g. see these reports at the BBC and the Guardian. E.g. failing to tell the Identity & Passport Service about a change of name or change of address could result in you paying up £1000 for the privilege.
  • The Scottish Parliament recently voted against the NIS, for the third time in a row. Although the Parliament can’t prevent the scheme being imposed north of the border, they can prevent Scottish public services from using the scheme and thus limit their use.
  • Finally, it has emerged that the government envisages that most biometric checks will not be done against the NIR, but merely with the biometrics stored on the card. The consequence of this is that a forged card is more likely to pass muster than if biometric checks were routinely done against the database.

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