My last post defending ID cards caused quite a stir. Tim Worstall criticised my assertion that most political bloggers were more affluent, middle class and unrepresentative of the general population, a general population who favour ID cards. He criticised it but he didn't deny it was true.
Anoneumouse has no problem sharing his fingerprint biometrics with the whole world. Which just highlights how petty the opponents' argument about biometric privacy is.
Strange Stuff just called me a twat, and that insulting comment seemed to sum up the level of coherence and lack of accuracy (of course!) of the rest of his post.
Pub Philosopher said I am the closest he has found yet to an out and out supporter of ID cards. I admit, I do have a few reservations about how the govt might introduce them (who guards the guardians), so there are more fervant supporters of ID cards than me...though the principle is right and introduced correctly, the price and practicalities are right as well.
Monjo points out that he has been supporting ID cards since May, though he does have some very worrying views on other issues (especially the age of consent).
Although I have rebuffed a lot of the criticisms of ID cards, Paul at Free Speed Nation pointed out that I had disappointed him by promising but not detailing any advantages of ID cards. I hope to put that right below.
The Pedant-General-Ordinary argues via the-register that I am deluded in thinking that the general population is more in favour of ID cards than bloggers. However, this MORI poll from April claims 80% of the public in favour of ID cards compared to about 1% (my estimate from blog searching) of bloggers in favour. Bloggers must be unrepresentative somehow.
Looking at an early Talkpolitics argument against ID cards, it dawned on me that although a lot of people talk about the civil liberties issue, they are in fact only arguing for the liberty to abuse the system. I have yet to see a detailed explanation of 'why' these certain liberties they are arguing for are important. There is just an assumption that once you use the term 'civil liberties', you must be arguing for something good, regardless of the facts. What about the civil liberties of those affected by false identities and the extra tax we all have to pay? Civil liberties are not a one way street, they are not just the civil liberties of the individual, there are civil liberties of the whole community to consider as well, the two are not necessarily the same.
The more this discussion evolves the more I realise how right I am to defend ID cards. I hear a lot about 'erosion of civil liberties' but when I ask people for examples, they talk of surveillance, access to medical, criminal, supermarket, ISP, bank, credit, mobile phone records etc. None of this relates to ID cards. The government could access these records without ID cards if they wanted to (indeed they do), it is a separate issue.
Also no-one seems concerned that all these details are currently in the hands of private companies that just want to sell you things. People say they have a choice on these things. What choice do people really have? Nearly all of us have credit, debit and loyalty cards, mobile phones, use the internet at home, etc. etc. and this gives out more information about us than ID cards ever will. Do I see anybody complaining about this, going on demonstrations? No. And the reason is that they are not actually that bothered about these things.
This 'civil liberties' argument is just a red herring. It is just an argument for the freedom to have a 'false identity', so you can avoid tax, abuse benefits and commit fraud. And NOBODY should have the freedom to do that. ID cards just assist in the fight against this 'freedom' to have a false identity. Other countries have recognised this for years. They have no problem in using the latest technology of biometrics- to make this fight even more secure. To do otherwise is luddite. Did anyone object to photos on driving licences being introduced? No. Because they recognised it would reduce the number of people driving under a false identity, and reduce the danger from unqualified drivers on the road. The ID card is exactly the same argument, just using better technology and applying it to more aspects of life.
Ok, now for some specific facts in favour of ID cards;
1. In the summary of the conclusion of the LSE report that those opposed to ID cards like to cite, it says this;
"The Report concludes that the establishment of a secure national identity system has the potential to create significant, though limited, benefits for society. Secure identity, if implemented in the right way, can reduce identity fraud and promote the development of the e-commerce environment."
This is from a report critical of the government's overall plans. What makes me suspicious of those bloggers opposing ID cards is their incapability of admitting any benefits to an ID card scheme. Ok, criticise the govt's plans, which are still being formulated and will evolve over the initial 5 year voluntary phase of the scheme, but why can't opponents even bring themsleves to admit the 'potential' benefits of the scheme. Is it because to admit this, would undermines their entire objection-on-principal argument?
2. Over 70% of the cost of introducing ID cards will be incurred anyway with the introduction of biometric passports in 2006.
3. Organised crime alone in the UK has been estimated at £20 billion annually. Just a small percentage reduction in this figure would pay for ID cards. It is estimated that 35% of criminals make use of a false identity. Identity based benefit fraud costs an estimated £50 million p.a. It is likely these figures are underestimated rather than overestimated.
4. Over 90 million people enter UK ports each year, without biometrics it is impossible to properly keep track of these people and make sure they abide by their entry conditions.
5. The scheme will only become compulsory if the following conditions are met;
(i) The first phase of voluntary ID cards over 5 years, had already delivered significant coverage of the population.
(ii) Clear acceptance of the principal of a compulsory scheme amongst public opinion.
(iii)Vulnerable groups and those on low incomes are not being disadvantaged.
(iv) The scheme was making a significant impact on identity fraud.
(v) The technology was proven to work.
And even then, only after passing legislation through both Houses of Parliament would ID cards become compulsory.
*Update*, Devils Kitchen has posted a reply to my argument in favour of ID cards. It basically amounts to a load of swearwords calling me everything under the sun, but each to their own style I suppose.
*Update #2* Talkpolitics letter to Lord Holme explains in excellent detail about the importance of the NIR number and of 'zero knowledge systems'. Worth a look.
It is obvious the extensive knowledge he has in this area and I wouldn't question his technical observations about the system, I completely agree with his judgement here. Where I do disagree is over the principle of ID cards. If they can be made to work abroad in the rest of the EU, they can work here. I don't see Germany or Sweden as illiberal countries, quite the opposite.