There has been a lot of points made by Martin at NO2ID, Spyblog, Chris Lightfoot, Pedant-General and others, in the comments, here and here. I will refute a sample of these points. But the general refutation is that the govt will obviously only support a scheme that works. The govt would be utterly stupid to foist an over budget, technically flawed system that is open to abuse, on the public just before an election in 2009. It just won't happen.
The current govt proposals are not set in stone, whether there is a scaling back of the biometrics or an advance in technology, by the time the scheme is voluntarily rolled out in 2008, it will work or the voters will hit Labour hard. The govt know this, they are not stupid.
First, a list of points in favour of ID cards..
1. ID cards are good in principle. NO2ID have no objections in principle to a ID card scheme, indeed they admit there are potential benefits to an ID scheme. Maybe they should change their name to 'NO to the govt's current proposals for ID' to reflect their position more accurately.
2. ID cards work in practise. Sweden has a compulsory NIR which brings many benefits. NO2ID oppose a compulsory NIR but cannot answer the question; if it works in Sweden, why not here?
3. All opinion polls that ask the neutral question; 'Do you want ID cards or not?', have more in favour than against. Of course if you feed them negative statements about the cost and technology and tell them none of the benefits, you will lower the number in favour, but that hardly makes it an unbiased survey, does it?
4. ID cards will not become compulsory until 2013. Before this date the system will have been running for 5 years, any problems will be ironed out. There will also be a general election before this date, so the public will have plenty of time to voice their objections if they are not happy.
5. In 2003, 101,000 people had their identity stolen in the UK, this has risen from just 20,000 in 1999, a 500% increase over 4 years. It is one of the fastest growing crimes. It is undeniable (even opponents agree) that ID cards and a NIR will make it much more difficult to have a false identity.
6. Even opponents of ID cards admit identity fraud cost (latest figure 2002) at least £150 million a year (they also admit this is likely to be an underestimate). The annual running costs of ID cards will be £85 million. So this alone, means ID cards pay for themselves, without all the other benefits in streamlining efficiency, controlling immigration, stopping electoral fraud, proof of age and general convenience. When we consider how fast identity crime is growing, it becomes apparent how important ID cards will be. At the present rate of growth, 1.1 million people in the UK could be affected by identity theft by 2008 when ID cards will be introduced.
7. Biometrics can be encrypted or distorted in such a way that they are almost totally secure and also changeable in the unlikely event of theft by hackers. As this article on 'bio payment' in the US explains;
"Representatives from Pay By Touch and BioPay said when it comes to security, users of biometric payment services can relax because both companies don't store pictures of fingerprints. Instead, tiny measurements unique to each finger are recorded as an algorithm. If a hacker breaks into the system, all he or she would find is a number rather than a usable image of a fingerprint, they said."
Now for some answers to specific points raised
1. Martin, asks about the safety of battered wives, spies, police officers etc. Wouldn't the system be open because all over the country, there are hundreds of thousands of people who can use a photograph to garner iris, face biometrics and gain access to the name and address?
See point 7 above, their biometrics characteristics can be changed so they are untraceable. Also anybody who abused the database machines and gave out any information would be easily caught and prosecuted unless they could hack the NIR from within.
2. Private companies hold a lot of our personal information, but it is with our consent and regulated by the data protection act.
Yes technically, but how much choice do we really have over having a bank account, ISP, mobile phone, credit/debit card etc? Everyone has one or more of these and these companies hold very personal information about us, that is totally open to hackers and relies on the integrity of staff not to abuse it. These are private companies that are only interested in making money out of us, yet we generally trust them. Personally I would trust the govt even more than say, Tesco.
3. I don't see how anybody's civil liberties are affected by false identities.
This is where we totally disagree. 101,000 people in 2003 had their personal information stolen. This would mean contacting police and being under suspicion of fraud and having to argue your innocence with banks, government agencies, loan companies etc. to ensure recompense for stolen money and have records corrected.
I know two people who have been victims, one had £600 stolen from his Barclays account, it took 3 months and much haggling to be re-paid. The other had her medical records changed, because a heroin addict had used her identity to gain extra methodone. This nearly lost her a job she was applying for, she only noticed something was wrong because on a visit to the doctor she just happened to notice on the card the receptionist handed her to give to the doctor, that she apparently had had a child (which was news to her). She later found out the same woman had been signing on in her name and had opened store cards in her name, luckily this was over 100 miles away, so it was easier to prove her innocence but it was very worrying. It took over a year to correct the records and it is still not totally expunged from her credit history. So I think this is a threat to people's civil liberties which ID cards would help stop.
4. You don't say how ID cards would help with so-called "identity fraud". I can't see how a biometric ID card would help with, say, Cardholder Not Present fraud.
The example 3 above provides perfect examples of how ID cards would help stop fraud. My friends had had falsified cards in their names that were used in shops. If the thief had had to produce biometric details at the same time, it would make it impossible for them to do. Ok they could still use the cards over the internet or phone, but this would make it a little more complicated for them and more likely to be caught by having to come up with an address where they could collect the goods.
5. A proportion, which the Government refuses to disclose, of seventy percent of the cost of the ID cards scheme, is money we'd have to spend anyway. The govt refuse to give a breakdown of individual costs.
You rightly point this out and I agree that it may not be the case that 70% of the cost of introducing ID cards is taken up by the cost of the new biometrics in passports, but it will still be a significant amount of the £5.8 billion cost that we will have to spend anyway to comply with the new EU and US regulations. The govt have refused to immediately release this information on the grounds that negotiations are still in progress and it would be commercially sensitive at the present time.
6. As to Germany and Sweden, I don't know what counts as liberal for you if you believe they're liberal countries in some sense.
I really don't understand this comment. Liberal for me, are countries that have a constitution that protects citizen's rights including protecting local democracy. Both are protected in Sweden and Germany and both have local govt that is extremely healthy. Compare that to how our rights and local accountability have been taken away in this country.
7. You're holding up Sweden as an example of a country we should imitate, which I would decry. Sweden was one of the very last countries to abolish compulsory eugenic sterilisation.
To cite Sweden's eugenics scandal as a reason against ID cards is ridiculous. This has nothing to do with ID cards and you know that.
You could find an example of wrong doing in any country. What relevance has that to the ID card debate? The point is ID cards work very well in Sweden, and you have not provided any answer to why that couldn't be the case here.
8. The scheme will not be voluntary for passport applicants. Please read the legislation before making false claims to the effect that the scheme will be voluntary.
Nobody has to have a passport, so it is a voluntary scheme. I know this is a bit of a cop out, but it is the same argument you use when you suggest it is voluntary to have credit cards or debit cards, bank accounts, use supermarket loyalty cards, the internet, the library etc. etc.
9. I'm pretty sure the pre-war Dutch government were a liberal bunch and would never have dreamt of using their system for such evil purposes, but the fact is that it could be and was used by people less liberal than the scheme's architects, when the Nazis used it in 1940.
If you are going to assume a Nazi invasion in the future, maybe we should get rid of all our govt's records about us, just in case. Its a bit of an exceptional thing to do. Lets make everyone's lives worse for an indefinite period just in case the worst case scenario ever happens. We wouldn't do anything if we thought like this. I just don't accept your accusation that this govt is fascist, you are being ridiculous. I don't actually think you believe it either, if the truth be known.
10. You keep arguing that (roughly) the NIR won't make problems of privacy, data-sharing and identity fraud any worse than they are now, because private companies already hold lots of data on us, and this is no more "voluntary" than the government's ID card proposals would be...but as a piece of evidence it argues for strengthening data-protection legislation, not weakening it as the Identity Cards Bill would.
I agree. But that is not an argument against ID cards. I think people are right to take the govt to task over their proposals. They should get them to make improvements, which I think they inevitably will have to make. But I think it is wrong to try and bring the whole ID card system down with it, because this system will bring us many benefits.
11. The private databases are much less intrusive than the NIR would be: for instance, your credit reference file doesn't record when you go to the doctor, as the NIR would.
The NIR would be much more secure than private databases and it doesn't have to record medical information. There are ways around this. I'm sure the govt has stated that medical records would be separate. I would be in favour of no linkage on these aspects, but even if there were, I think the dangers of hacking are wildly exagerated.