31 October 2005

Why the ID database will work.

Lets remember why this NIR is much more likely to be a success than past IT failings. Some advantages of the ID database are as follows;

It is being produced from scratch.

Many of the problems of the other failed IT projects have been because of the difficulties of upgrading or transferring from another system. This time, there will be no bored data inputters trying to read off illegible handwritten records and the obvious mistakes this causes.

Face to face interviews.

Anybody who's worked in the information gathering business will know how important this is to accuracy. This vastly improves the accuracy of the system. Each entry will be carefully input by the same person dealing with the applicant face to face.

The 5 year time span of the voluntary introduction.

Because it is being introduced over a 5 year period, this will spread the workload and give more time to rectify errors or problems in the system.

The daily use of ID cards.

This will mean that errors and security problems will be quickly noticed and rectified.


  1. Remarkable. Face to face confirmation. Really? How long did you wait for your passport? I waited three hours and had a half hour interview. Plus a follow up a week or so later. You have 60,441,457 people in the UK, and if if only one in four were to be interviewed,that would be 15110364 half hour interviews, using up, of course, seven million, five hundred and fifty thousand (odd) interviewer's hours. At a clerks pay of merely ten pounds per hour, (surely though it is more that that though!) that is going to set your treasury back seventy five million pounds. And thats just interview time. Now you have to buy some computers. And a building. That will double the cost, for sure. And dealing with births, deaths, immigration, and citizens abroad. Missing documentation and return visits, plus periodic updates! IT and physical security! Also, prisoners, shut ins, pensioners, travelers, street people, illegal immigrants, and inmates of institutions who can't get to the local ID office, and must needs a personal visit. And the inevitable IT upgrades. My oh my! Wish I had your budget!

    Honestly Neil, I am just in awe of your support for this boondoggle! Particularly since virtually everything else you have written on this blog makes such gosh darned sense, this crusade seems so, um, misplaced. Oh well, fortunately, what I say doesn't matter, I am just a colonial on the outside looking in, and marveling at the goings on! We got our own problems! (And boy oh boy, do we EVER have problems! Liberal Party antics don't differ much from one side of the Atlantic to the other! And those Tories! OMG!)

    Funny thing though,it might just work. However, I think it will become so expensive that it will collapse in a pile of broken careers; and of course I would have thought a national DNA data bank for sex offenders, or criminal fingerprint data bank would have been a better use of any monies freed up for this purpose. Or mandatory fingerprinting of children to enter into a data bank to be available in case of abduction. (Not such a dumb idea...In Canada, we have a voluntary program like that....)Or don't you have children going missing in the UK?

    Regards from across the pond...

    documentation follows....
    (a speech about costs of creating a data base from scratch....this one just happens to be about gun control, and was designed to register the guns owned by only eight percent of the population.)

    (backup documentation about how it can all go wrong!)(The five year plan is shown to be a red herring)

    (population levels)


  2. The 5 year time span of the voluntary introduction.

    The daily use of ID cards.

    These two would seem to be mutually exclusive. IF you're going to make it hard for me to live my life without a card (which you allude to in other postings), I won't be able to wait five years to get one. And if it's going to be easy to do without - why would anyone bother to pay their 30 quid?

  3. It is being produced from scratch.

    No it isn't. It will be reliant on previous documentation. How are people going to prove who they are when they go for these interviews otherwise?

    Face to face interviews.

    In this case I think the £18 billion price tag is far too low an estimate. This is going to be the most expensive waste of public money in history.

    The 5 year time span of the voluntary introduction.

    This is not voluntary. One of the many lies bandied around by the government on this subject.

    The daily use of ID cards.

    This is an idea that turns my stomach. I have to prove who I am when I travel abroad or getting large sums of cash out of the bank, hardly activities that I do daily. Yet in future I will be expected to prove who I am on a daily basis? For what purpose? To make sure this stupid card and even more stupid NIR is working correclty?

    Just another reason why I hate this legislation and loathe this despicable government.

  4. The daily use of ID cards.

    See my previous comment on this. At the moment the government is not planning for daily verification of ID cards, which is what would be required to prevent forgeries circulating. And note that here we're just talking about security measures to protect the scheme itself, not to obtain any of its alleged benefits to other systems!

  5. The database itself may be being produced from scratch, but to achieve the benefits you claim here, to whit:

    "Preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. Tackling Identity theft, benefit fraud and abuse of public services. And finally aiding anti-terrorism measures and enhancing a sense of community."

    ... it is going to have to integrate with other, existing, difficult and expensive to modify computer systems. Do you agree?

    The German address registration system has recently suffered a disastrous upgrade. If the Germans can't get this right, who can? I note in passing that the biometric NIR would be both unconstitutional and unpopular in Germany. Compelling people to register their biometrics? You might as well tattoo a number on their arm. It's more reliable and doesn't need computers or a central database.

    How is this going to prevent illegal immigration? It won't prevent people from physically entering the country, and once they're in from certain countries it's illegal to deport them. Would you issue them with ID cards, or just compel them to live as a permanent underclass?

    What are the face to face interviews for?

    What do you have in mind by "daily use of ID cards"?

    How would ID cards help against terrorism, exactly?

    How does this fit in with the aborted children database scheme?

  6. Remittance Man3/11/05 3:08 pm

    My experience with IT projects has been as a recipient/victim in the private sector (with a very large company), but I strongly believe that governments would create the scenario in exactly the same way and this is why I am confident that the reasons the ID database will fail are threefold.

    Firstly there is the budgetary aspect. In order to keep the project "acceptable" to scrutiny the original budget estimates are understated so that approval is easily obtained. If you don't believe this is possible look at how many assumptions there are in a project budget and how changing them marginally can have a big effect on the bottom line.

    Then, the project managers make sure that the "infrastructure" to manage the project is in place. Usually this includes large, well furnished offices, numerous support staff and a "fact finding travel" budget. The boss\ministre\bureaucrat in overall charge also gets worried about budgetary control and adds all sorts of "compliance auditors" to the plan without increasing the budget. When the time comes for implementation the project managers look into what they beleived was a big bag of money and realise that they cannot now hire the top notch, whizz kids, they were told were part of the plan. Since it's still too early to go back to ask for more cash the pm's hire whoever they can afford. Unfortunately the budget versions don't always manage to perform the same miracles.

    Fixing stuff ups later always costs more money than doing it right in the first place, but somehow we never learn.

    Secondly we have function creep. Bosses, ministers and bureaucrats can't help meddling, it's in thier genes or something. Thus even if the second division IT hacks are on top of the original job they will constantly be bombarded with demands to "just make it do this as well". In my experience, just making a system do something extra usually doubles the workload of the implementation team. Since the "little extra something" wasn't in the original architecture and there isn't time or money to completely redesign the system it gets bolted on to the side often in a crude manner. Do this often enough and you are guaranteed failure/budget overuns/ time overruns or all three.

    And the final reason for failure? The low computer literacy of the users. Most people who use computers are used to Microsoft products and microsoft style front ends. There's nothing wrong with this and 99 times out of a hundred this is quite acceptable. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, the nice microsoft style front end is usually one of the first things to be slashed. What is left is a complicated and scary looking thing that most users will hate or fear.

    Still under computer literacy we have training. Training is also very prone to budget slashing. This is particularly the case when the top boss\minister\bureaucrat is not really computer literate himself. "I can use microsoft word and learning that was easy," he thinks. (Or worse still: "Doreen the typist can use Microsoft Word and she's as thick as a plank"). This sort of thinking quickly leads to the red pencil being applied to the training budget. Even a cursory scan of government and private sector projects will reveal that this mindset is very prevalent.

    So there you have it: three reasons, all experienced by myself and many other IT users, as to why the IT side of the national ID databse will, in all likelyhood, be a disaster.

    And now for some more personal experience: In SA the government introduced a new "credit card" driving licence about seven years ago. Getting this entailed popping down to the local municipal offices and sitting an eye test, and filling in a form with a "helpful" official. At the end of the process you then had to wait four weeks for the licence to be sent back to the municipality. For people with all the correct paperwork this took 30 minutes if you paid to have your eye test done by a certified optician beforehand (the actual data input bit, not the two hours queueing beforehand). That's for a driving licence without biometric data. There was a five year implementation period for the first licence. These licences have to be renewed every five years. By the time people had to start renewing their licences, the government had to admit that not every driver had converted his/her licence and the deadline was extended and the system is still not running perfectly. Oh, and SA has a national database system, our driving licences used to be part of our ID books, so, in theory the system should have had no teething problems.

    Now it would be easy to say "Oh, but that's Africa," and maybe there's an element of truth in that. But, imagine trying to collect all the correct data from people who don't speak English well, who didn't understand what they had to bring in terms of paperwork, who get frustrated when forced to sit waiting in a government building for hours. Imagine all the people who heard from their freinds what a nightmare getting a new licence was and didn't pitch at all. Imagine the poor, official who has to sit through this time after time after time. Now tell me that all 60 odd million people eligable for ID cards will get them effortlessly, correctly and securely. Yes, the South African experience was a nightmare, but the same manner of people live everywhere.

    The half hour estimate is also a joke. Figure on an average of at least 45 minutes to an hour of face to face time and add two hours for sitting in a waiting room until it's your turn. Figure on at least ten percent of the candidates forgetting to bring all relevant information. Figure on the bored clerk getting at least one wrong input per day that isn't noticed by his client because the client doesn't really understand what's going on. How many mistakes is that in a month?

    Then you have a guy who gets his ID card and everything is hunky dorey. But six months later he wants to move house, get married, have a sex change or any of the other myriad wierd things people do. Having gone through the hell of the Home Office ID card scheme once, is he really going to be that happy doing it all again? How likely is he to just say "stuff it" and ignore the process? As soon as that happens the integrity of the system is already compromised.

    Nope, I have no faith in this sytem ever working, because I have complete faith in the ability of the human race to find every way they can to unintentionally bugger the system up. Shame your taxes will have to foot the bill though.

    Remember: If they invent a foolproof system, some bastard will invent a better fool.


  7. Remittance Man3/11/05 3:17 pm

    Sorry for hogging the bandwidth, but I forgot this: "The Daily Use of ID Cards".

    In SA, which still has a lot of the old apartheid sytem in place when it comes to ID cards and so on, I use mine, or have to quote the number, about once per month. That means your timeframe for trouble shooting has just gone up by a factor of 30.


  8. Anon; "It is being produced from scratch.

    No it isn't. It will be reliant on previous documentation. How are people going to prove who they are when they go for these interviews otherwise?"

    You are missing the point, is it multiple identities that are the problem not false identities. Biometrics prevent multiple identities, without which there is little or no advantage for a criminal to have a false identity in the first place.

  9. "The 5 year time span of the voluntary introduction.

    This is not voluntary. One of the many lies bandied around by the government on this subject."

    Technically it IS voluntary. Is it compulsory to have a passport?

  10. Peter, I would say the reason for face to face interviews is to increase the accuracy of the scheme. I do see ID cards eventually to be used on a daily basis because I can see the many benefits that would bring. We all need to confirm our identity, this will help.

    RM, You can see many potential problems with the database. People could see many potential problems with lots of new schemes but they still turned out ok when implemented. Lets see what happens, and if it all goes tits up, you can personally kick my ass.

  11. We all need to confirm our identity, this will help.

    This is not true - either the first or second part.

    When Tony McNulty said it, I wrote to him asking him for practical examples of this from his daily life.

    A minion replied after I sent a reminder, but just sent me a load of propoganda rather than answering my question. Why won't they answer a simple question? - one can only assume it's because the answer would show up this scheme for the scam it is.

    In order to try and justify this scheme, the government will undoubtedly try to make me identify myself much more often, but it is not in any way necessary.

  12. Technically it IS voluntary. Is it compulsory to have a passport?

    Well yes, if you want to travel it very much IS compulsory. Ditto for ID cards. Many benefits we get now will be essentially held for ransom. I've pointed out before that if you need to renew your driving licence or passport in this time you will HAVE to get an ID card or

    a) you won't be able to travel abroad.

    b) you won't be able to (legally) drive

    As many people have to do these things to work this is de-facto compulsion.

    I get extremely tired of the semantic wriggling that the government (and it's supporters it would seem) undertakes to avoid the issues.

    Biometrics prevent multiple identities, without which there is little or no advantage for a criminal to have a false identity in the first place.

    Have you seen the results of the government's own trials? They're so shonky that false matches are highly likely. Good conditions for generating multiple "secure" identities".

    Really although your faith in technology is charming I wonder how much faith you'd had if you had much day to day experience with software and hardware problems.

  13. "They're so shonky that false matches are highly likely. Good conditions for generating multiple "secure" identities"".

    There is no way a criminal can alter his biometrics so that a match is highly likely, so your point is irrelevant. Unless a criminal can come up with a reliable way to get a false identity, they won't do it. So the integrity of the system will prevail, even if its not completely perfect.

  14. There is no way a criminal can alter his biometrics so that a match is highly likely,

    This is not how the database will be working. It would be easy enought to get two cards. I'll explain how later.