29 October 2005

Once more unto the breach. A response.

This is my response to some of Talkpolitics's latest points on ID cards.

"I appreciate your efforts to put detailed counter arguments to those of us who have argued forcefully against this bill but don't you think this is something that the government should have been doing?"

Quite simply, yes, but the fact that they are not making good arguments doesn't means ID cards are a bad idea. This govt have failed to make the case for a lot of policies that when implemented have proved of considerable benefit to us.

"The bare comparison of Britain and Sweden you are making ignores 1400 years of British history..."

I do not care much for tradition...tradition does not mean anything if it is wrong. This just sounds like a typical Tory argument for the status quo when they haven't got very much else to say. I'm not of course suggesting this is your reason for using it.

"We have no written constitution and no constitutional bill of rights"

Well its about time we did then. This is another area where the Tories use the 'tradition argument' to defend something that should have been changed a long time ago. They have been doing this ever since the reactionary Edmund Burke criticised the ideals of the French Revolution. Compared to Scandinavia, Britain is a crap country to live in when it comes to protecting our rights and preventing criminals using our identities.

"[about opinion polls] the actual differential between the two figures could run anywhere from a 9% differential in favour of ID cards to a 3% differential against."

All I said was that all the opinion polls so far show more in favour, which they do. This is a minor point anyway, its pretty obvious that public opinion is very malleable on this subject, a couple of years into a successful introduction and opposition will melt away. I think one of the polls said 70% know little or nothing about ID cards. This is hardly surprising, I reckon most people know little or nothing about a lot of govt policy. Even if 99% of people opposed ID cards, I would still argue for them and try and persuade them they were wrong, a bit like I'm doing here. The opinion polls just give an idea of where people stand on an issue. It doesn't necessarily mean an issue is right or wrong, but it is important they do support an issue for obvious reasons, and when the benefits are shown they will support it.

"Do you seriously believe that were there to be a change of government at the next general election, the Tories – the only opposition party which could take power – for all their parliamentary opposition to the present Bill, will actually repeal this legislation outright and dismantle the entire system that Labour will have, by then, put in place?"

Wheres your confidence gone? Surely if ID cards are going to be the costly and technologically flawed disaster you are predicting, the Tories will ride to victory on a promise to get rid of them and be crucified if they don't carry through their policy. You obviously aren't quite so sure it is going to be a disaster are you?

"you should know better by now that to cite a source like CIFAS"

As long as the figures are correct, it doesn't matter where you get them from. Ok I misunderstood cases as meaning people, but there has still been a 500% rise in cases between 1999 and 2003. This will mean 1.1 million cases by 2008, if it continues at the same rate.

"ID cards, far from deterring efforts to obtain a false identity will actually make such efforts all the more attractive, particularly to terrorist organisations and organised crime."

Why do 21 out of 25 EU countries think its worth it?

"Just look at the history of 'copy protection' on software, music and now films. Billions have been poured into the development of systems designed to prevent theft of intellectual property"

And why do you think they spend this money and continue to spend even more to this day? Obviously the billions they are spending maintain sales that they would otherwise have lost, and this figure is larger than what they spend. They are commercial companies. If not spending this money made their profits bigger, they wouldn't spend it.

If you make something harder to do, less people do it. You admit yourself that ID cards will make it harder to get a false identity. You don't just say 'oh well its not perfect, lets just have no protection at all and let the criminals have it easy'.

"suppose you are, once ID cards are introduced, a victim of ID fraud...How, then, are you going to prove that none of this was down to you, that your identity was, in fact stolen?

The same way you prove it now, by showing you were at work, or having evidence you were somewhere else when the crime was committed. Basically the crime will be much rarer, so this is less likely to happen to you in the first place. But if it did happen, the govt is going to have to address the problem, and they wouldn't do that by locking up innocent people. If they did this, they would just bring more attention to the problem, a problem that would eventually get worse. It would be a case of constantly keeping one step ahead of the criminal, just like they do to stop counterfeit money. They don't just give up and say 'oh its too expensive to add more security features' or say 'lets get rid of money altogether and rely on bartering instead'. You stick with the most cost effective system and ID cards will be more cost effective.

"even if it turns out the system is insecure, will the government and its users even admit to it, knowing that without absolute confidence that the system is secure, public confidence in it will evaporate overnight. Let me give you a clue as to what's likely to happen in that scenario...Matrix Churchill"

The govt were found out, made to look idiots and lost the next election. If they tried this with the ID card scheme, it wouldn't last very long. The govt doesn't deny there is counterfeit money about, it just keeps it to a minimum by using advances in technology. They will do the same with ID cards.

___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.____

"Again, you quote figures from unverifiable government sources"

These figures are taken off spyblog, an organisation that opposes ID cards. Even they accept these figures. The fact the £150 million figure is 3 years out of date, means this figure is probably far higher, especially when you think of the 500% increase between 1999 and 2002 in identity cases. There is no reason to believe this rate of increase hasn't continued.

"Who are Biopay and Touch-and-Go?"

Biopay and Touch-and-Go are two of the biggest biometric firms in the US, and are expanding rapidly because they provide a cheaper service than card based systems and it is more reliable.

I'm begining to think opponents of ID cards are just the equivalent of latter day luddites smashing up looms. You just don't like the 'sound of it all'.

Even if someone managed to hack into the system. Explain to me how data of someone's fingerprint, iris and face measurements would be useful to a criminal? Then maybe I would change my opinion.

And finally;

"neil..if the government announced plans to repeal the Law of Gravity would you jump out of a plane without a ****ing parachute?"

I'm a bit disappointed you put this. You've said in the past, that you have liked posts on here. I'm sure you must know that I have written posts criticising govt policy.

I hope you realise that when I say I believe in ID cards, I do it because I genuinely do believe in them. If you or someone else can persuade me otherwise I will change my mind.

I just haven't heard a convincing enough argument. I agree the govt's proposals have many flaws and you have pointed out some technical issues that I didn't know about. But technical flaws are irrelevant because, that is not the real reason you oppose ID cards. You and I both know (because it is happening in other countries) that a system can be devised that works. You believe that the govt will proceed with a system that doesn't work. I can't see how the govt would find that beneficial.

13 comments:

  1. "Even if someone managed to hack into the system. Explain to me how data of someone's fingerprint, iris and face measurements would be useful to a criminal? Then maybe I would change my opinion."

    Not quite the point. Criminals would want to hack the system so as to place, not extract, fingerprints, iris and face measurements.
    Any ID system connected to the internet (as this will have to be) can be hacked, eventually, and this is why it will be. Criminals will be able to place new identities into the system, or, place their id onto your name.

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  2. You are arguing in favour of an id card scheme. Do you mean the currently proposed one or some other fictional id card?

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  3. "You and I both know (because it is happening in other countries) that a system can be devised that works."

    Can you please define what you mean by "works". I've no idea what problem the id card is meant to solve.

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  4. With the daily use of an ID card, it would very quickly become apparent that someone's details had been hacked.

    The banking system seems to manage internet hacking quite well without too many problems and so would an ID card scheme.

    If you want to see a system that works, look at Sweden. Or any of the other 21 (22 if you count Denmark who have an NIR) countries in the EU that have ID schemes.

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  5. If you want to see a system that works, look at Sweden.

    Ok. I'll ask again. What would be your definition of "works"? What probelem are these cards supposed to solve?


    I also asked: "Do you mean the currently proposed one or some other fictional id card?"

    Am I to take it that you are for a Swedish model of ID card rather than the one proposed by our Dear Leader?

    Please note that there is no use of unreliable biometrics, and no repellent national espionage database tracking the movements of the Swedes. If this is the model you are a proponent of then you should modify your position as the currently proposed scheme is very different.

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  6. Why do 21 out of 25 EU countries think [ID cards are] worth it?

    Tradition, I think. It's much harder to get rid of these things than to bring them in -- as I've mentioned before, a very good reason to be very cautious about their introduction.

    I'm begining to think opponents of ID cards are just the equivalent of latter day luddites smashing up looms. You just don't like the 'sound of it all'.

    There are sound philosophical reasons to oppose the thing, but I get the impression you're not very interested in them. But your statement, later, that, "technical flaws are irrelevant because, that is not the real reason you oppose ID cards" is immensely foolish: you imply that you are prepared to support policies which will not and cannot work simply because people you do not like are opposed to them. That is a consistent position, but it is not a sensible one.

    We have discussed the technical flaws at length elsewhere, but on one of them:

    Even if someone managed to hack into the system. Explain to me how data of someone's fingerprint, iris and face measurements would be useful to a criminal? Then maybe I would change my opinion.

    You've already been given two distinct examples of this. Firstly, the biometric data are useful to the criminal in the same way that they are useful to the state -- they can be used to find people who do not want to be found. Victims of domestic abuse and witnesses in violent crime cases are two obvious examples.

    The second use is to forge the biometric identifiers, so as to impersonate the person so identified. This, of course, comes down to the same problem as the first one: you can't change the biometric.

    Here's an analogy. Let's say that your bank said, "Right Neil, your PIN is now going to be 8120, and in future using this PIN will be the only way to access your account. Oh, and before you can get at your money, we'll need to tattoo it indelibly on your forehead." Does that sound like smart security engineering to you?

    You and I both know (because it is happening in other countries) that a system can be devised that works.

    ID card systems in other countries "work" in the sense that people register, show their cards, etc., and are punished for not doing so. If that's the sort of thing that turns you on, go for it. Simultaneously, those countries suffer from the same problems of terrorism, identity fraud, illegal immigration and whatnot that we do. Generally when proposing a policy it is important to identify some specific real improvement which it could plausibly produce. You (and other ID card proponents) haven't managed this yet, though your persistence in repeating the misleading arguments of other proponents is certainly impressive in its own way.

    I don't think the following was addressed to me specifically, but it's a fair point, and I'll answer it on that basis:

    You believe that the govt will proceed with a system that doesn't work.

    This government has proceeded with lots of things that don't work. I'll re-use two examples. The Millenium Dome was supposed to be the envy of the world; instead it was a grubby laughing stock. The Iraq War was supposed to disarm Iraq of "weapons of mass destruction", prevent terrorism, and sow peace and democracy in the Middle East; instead it has created a bloody quagmire and encouraged terrorism at home.

    I can't see how the govt would find that beneficial.

    I dare say it won't!

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  7. "What would be your definition of "works"? What probelem are these cards supposed to solve?"

    Look, I think I've answered this repeatedly in a number of posts here. But briefly.

    Why does the UK have the worst ID fraud in Europe?

    Look how effective CCTV is, in catching criminals. ID cards will make it more difficult to have a false identity.

    All I want is reduced crime and better public services. I can see beyond the petty ideological block and dislike of this govt to see that an ID scheme will help provide this. I have no axe to grind, I'm nothing to do with this govt and have written many articles here criticising some of their policies.

    I use the Swedish system as an example of how ID schemes work, I think the govt's scheme will work and obviously there will be teething problems, but nothing that can't be overcome. I'm going to write a new post on this in the next day or so.

    Chris,

    "Victims of domestic abuse and witnesses in violent crime cases are two obvious examples."

    Give me some numbers, how many potential victims are we talking about. These people will not be ignored. I will write to my local MP on this point and post his response here. The govt will not become more intolerant and less responsive because of ID cards, in fact I believe that it they will become more responsive, because any problems will be high profile. All the negatives you point out about ID cards will have an equal and opposite positive. Overall ID cards will be of benefit because govt are 'in the balance' a force for good. I would suspect that it is this crucial point on which we disagree that leads to our different conclusions.

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  8. Why does the UK have the worst ID fraud in Europe?

    Does it? Let's see some real figures, rather than something dreamed up by a chap promoting an anti-fraud website. But before that, you should perhaps define what you mean by "identity fraud", so that you can tell us how you think that ID cards will prevent it.

    (Hint: much ATM fraud is described as "identity fraud" by people who, like you, are interested in inflating the apparent amount of identity fraud around. Another typical example of identity fraud is ringing up a bank for a loan, and giving somebody else's name but your bank details to have the money paid in to. Passing a dud cheque is also "identity fraud", for the identity fraud enthusiast. Which of these problems do you regard as being identity fraud? Which of them do you think identity cards would help?)

    Look how effective CCTV is, in catching criminals.

    Not very, it turns out. From Home Office study:

    "Although there is some evidence that there was a reduction in fear of crime following the installation of CCTV, there is little to suggest that this is attributable to CCTV. It is more likely to have been a reflection of the reduction in the level of reported victimisation within the areas. CCTV certainly has not led to a measurable change in avoidance behaviour."

    Give me some numbers, how many potential victims [of domestic abuse] are we talking about. These people will not be ignored. I will write to my local MP on this point and post his response here.

    BCS reported lifetime incidence for domestic violence against women is about 25%; 2003 survey of patients in a hospital A&E ward gave a similar figure. So, that's up to five or six million women who might at some point in their lives want to escape a violent partner, at current rates of incidence, and who therefore would be deterred from doing so by a system which will make it easier for their partner to find them again.

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  9. Why does the UK have the worst ID fraud in Europe?

    Maybe because banks like to do things like send you pre-filled in application forms for credit cards.

    Is this it though? ID theft, a problem true, but a small one, costing far far less than even the governments estimates for what the ID card and espionage database will cost. Surely there is a better way to deal with this problem.

    Is this your only justification for this pernicious bill? This seems like using a thermonuclear device to open a walnut.

    I use the Swedish system as an example of how ID schemes work.

    All ID schemes are not equal. It would muddy the waters much less if you argued for (or against) WHAT IS ACTUALLY PROPOSED, instead of an imaginary system that is not on the cards.

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  10. Peter Clay1/11/05 1:15 pm

    Having read the article about the Swedish scheme, I can see some important differences:

    - Sweden has a working Freedom of Information Act

    - the Swedish system builds on a completely different tradition of national registration, completely unlike the UK one (see Willcock v. Muckle)

    - the Swedish government hasn't recently been reducing civil liberties left, right and centre like the Labour government (control orders! religious hatred bill! Terrorism Acts! etc.)

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  11. Chris, in Sweden they have a totally open register that anyone can access. They have 16 deaths a year from domestic violence, thats 1.6 per million of the population.

    In the UK we have 140 deaths per year from domestic violence, thats 2.3 per million of the population.

    It seems quite clear that access to someone's name and address makes little difference to this problem.

    Of course the NIR won't be totally open anyway. It would be much more difficult for someone to find out information than in Sweden.

    As for CCTV, the report you cite outlines a large fall in crime where it is in use. That seems pretty significant to me, also what about the help CCTV gives in catching the perpetrators?

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  12. Chris, in Sweden they have a totally open register that anyone can access. They have 16 deaths a year from domestic violence, thats 1.6 per million of the population.

    In the UK we have 140 deaths per year from domestic violence, thats 2.3 per million of the population.


    The figure of 140 comes from a projection, not actual reported figures. According to a table in this page, the annual incidence of homicide of women by male partners and ex-partners in the UK has in recent years varied from about 90 to about 115 year on year (see also p20 of this report). The average for the twelve years to 2002/3 is about 98/year, giving a rate of something like 1.6 per million, about the same as the Swedish value you quote (though as with any international comparisons of crime statistics, we should be very careful about differing reporting standards etc., so such figures should be taken as vaguely indicative only).

    It seems quite clear that access to someone's name and address makes little difference to this problem.

    More information on the Swedish system.

    Note that (a) the Swedish scheme is not biometric, so a threatened person can simply get a new name and identity number to escape tracing; (b) there is provision for concealing the details of vulnerable persons: (p8 from the above link)

    "... the principle of public access means that anybody normally has the right to obtain information from the population registers. Under the Official Secrecy Act an exception is made if there is special reason to assume that the person to whom the information applies will suffer disadvantage from the divulging of the information. An example is information concerning the address of a person who feels threatened or harassed."

    There is no such exemption in the Identity Cards Bill, though it could possibly be brought in by secondary legislation. The Swedish system seems to work by means of notification from the register to other bits of government, which makes access-control much easier to implement, and therefore it ought to be possible to prevent unauthorised access more easily.

    To add a safety feature like the above to the government's NIR plans would mean relaxing the fantasy about preventing multiple enrollment, which the Home Office is unlikely to do.

    I'm also not sure that deaths from domestic violence is the right thing to measure here. After all, by the time somebody's been killed, it's a bit late to be thinking about protecting them from a violent partner/ex-partner. Really what you want to compare are the options a vulnerable person has to escape from an abusive partner, whether that is by having the abuser arrested and imprisoned, or by themselves escaping.

    As for CCTV, the report you cite outlines a large fall in crime where it is in use.

    Only because there was an overall fall in crime during the period of study. This is why it is important to compare to the control site. See p25 of the study, where they state,

    "The cluster around the relative effect figure of 1 (excluding Hawkeye) is precisely what would be expected if CCTV had no crime reduction effect and these effect sizes (including those individually significant) were due to random errors of the size shown by the confidence intervals in the graph."

    That is, on average there was no significant change in crime levels in areas where CCTV was installed, compared to similar areas without CCTV.

    ... also what about the help CCTV gives in catching the perpetrators?

    This is a fair point -- I don't have figures, but I assume CCTV is helpful here -- but remember that the systems were advertised as preventing crime.

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  13. Remittance Man3/11/05 3:53 pm

    "We have no constitutional bill of rights".

    Actually, you do. It's called the "Bill of Rights" strangely enough. It was drawn up in 1684 and is still on the statute books as a peice of constitutional legislation. It formed the basis of the first ten amendments to the US Constitution (also called "The Bill of Rights").

    However, thanks to the criminally bad state of history education in Britain, very few people are aware of it (vide your own comment). That's how several recent governments have managed to pass laws in direct contravention of the Bill of Rights with impugnity.

    Now it may be outdated (it still protects the right of men to carry arms after all. Obviously that should be rewritten to include women) but don't say Britain has no Bill of Rights. Brits are just too poorly educated to know of it and fight for the freedoms it supposedly protects.

    RM

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