Filed under: Civil Liberties
Forget the complaints from Opposition MP’s about the scheduling of the second reading of the ID cards Bill to coincide with today’s Internation Fleet Review marking that the start of celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.
The Government could not have chosen a more apposite day for the debate given that its response to mounting opposition to the Identity Cards Bill takes it lead from Nelson’s famous actions at the Battle of Copenhagen where, holding a telescope to his blind eye, he ignored the intructions of the commander, Sir Hyde Parker, to disengage from battle with the words:
“I have only one eye,– I have a right to be blind sometimes… I really do not see the signal!”
Only Blair has no right to blind. Britain expects better from its elected leaders.
The Government’s proposals have been ruthlessly torn apart by almost every single independent commentator, every informed opinion that is neither aligned with Government nor seeking to profit from the introduction of this system.
The London School of Economics states that;
“the proposals currently being considered by Parliament are neither safe nor appropriate… the proposals are too complex, technically unsafe, overly prescriptive and lack a foundation of public trust and confidence… The concept of a national identity system is supportable, but the current proposals are not feasible.”
The majority of the IT industry press is against the proposals as they stand;
“The pro-ID arguments the Government has put forward… have been well rehearsed, some of them over a period of years, and are as flimsy now as they were in previous Parliamentary sessions.” - John Lettice, The Register
The Public Sector’s record in managing large scale technology projects is nothing short of abysmal;
“Anthony Sampson wrote in Who Runs This Place that the Civil Service doesn’t do project management, a statement backed up by the National Audit Office blaming the Home Office for ‘poor specification of expected outputs, weaknesses in service monitoring and inadequate control of purchases.” - Political Hack, May 28th
Government seems not to ever heard of the ‘Software Crisis’ despite it having been first identified back in the 1960’s - the suggestion, in the Wikipedia reference, that this has been ‘addressed’ by process models is, to say the least, premature.
Liberty expresses concerns about the civil liberties implications of a Bill which changes, fundamentally, the relationship between the citizen and the state;
“A cost of billions of pounds would be bad enough if the Prime Minister’s white elephant weren’t quite so dangerous.
When you add this to the huge social cost for race relations and traditional freedoms, you have an extremely rogue beast- born of political machismo rather than concern for Britain’s safety.â€? - Shami Chakrabarti
Then there’s NO2ID’s analysis
“Without reference to the courts or any appeals process, the Home Secretary may cancel or require surrender of an identity card, without a right of appeal, at any time. Given that the object of the scheme is that an ID card will be eventually required to exercise any ordinary civil function, this amounts to granting the Home Secretary the power of civic life and death.”
And my own humble efforts;
“…the National Identity Register does not create a ’surveillance state’. It does however put in the place the means the create such a state by providing a mechanism which enables a wide range of personal information held in a variety of locations, not all of them in government by any means, to be connected together to form a comprehensive ‘picture’ of who you are, where you are and, more importantly, what you’ve been doing.”
Even the Information Commission, Richard Thomas, has come out against the current proposals, describing them as “excessive and disproportionate” and noting that they could become part of a new “surveillance society”.
Faced with this opposition, informed opposition from a wide range of people who understand fully how databases, and therefore, the National Identity Register, could be used and misused, how does the Government respond?
It refuses to engage in any detailed debate with opponents, attempting to discredit the LSE’s research without ever revealing sufficient details of the practicalities and costs of its own proposals to allow for a full independent analysis to be carried out.
Blair has even said, only yesterday that it was too early to discuss a price cap on costs and argued that the legislation being sought by ministers was merely to allow government to investigate the practicalities.
Merely to allow government to investigate the practicalities? Isn’t that something you do before you introduce legislation?
Does this really suggest what I think it suggests? That the Government is introducing legislation for ID cards without knowing either that the system will work or how much it will actually cost? That my civil liberties and freedoms, not least the freddom to live my life free from unwarrented surveillance by Government are being denuded on the basis of little more than a bunch of back of a fag packet calculations based on numbers being pulled out of the Home Office’s collective arse?
The longer this debate goes on, the weaker the Government’s position becomes. Support for ID cards is dropping and will continue in free fall the more obvious it becomes that the Government’s ‘indicative’ costs for ID card are woefully underestimated.
At the same time, the Government’s other arguments get weaker by the day - this morning Charles Clarke, appearing on the BBC’s Breakfast news, suggested that one of reasons for having ID cards and the National Identity Register was to make data held on other databases, presumably tax records, medical records and even, you would guess, things like credit reference data, more secure, more accurate.
No only does this betray a wholesale lack of understanding of basic data security principles - one keeps personal data separate and unlinked precisely to make that data more secure, but it seems the Home Secretary has forgotten about the existence of the Data Protection Act, which exists in a part precisely for the purpose of ensuring citizen’s rights to scrutinise and correct information held about them by third parties.
The Government has failed at every turn to make its case for the introduction of ID cards, relying instead on half truths and sophistry to gull the public into accepting this Bill. Yet even now it has a choice. It can walk away having suffered no more than a little bruised pride and a deflated ego.
Better that than create Blair’s own personal ‘Poll Tax’ our of its own blinkered myopia.
The Government needs to remember Santayana’s admonishment that ‘Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ and look back at the lesson’s of the Poll Tax and what happens when Government, out of arrogance and hubris, chooses of its own volition to ignore the will of the people.
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 England & Wales License.
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