Thursday, November 18, 2004

Just like a store card? Maybe not

David Blunkett has recently been quoted as saying that his proposed compulsory ID card and its database holding records on all citizens is just like a supermarket loyalty card. In fact, even nicer. Because those terrible supermarkets might hold details like these:
"'Store loyalty cards keep continuously updated details such as the size of a person's household, whether they're employed or not and the ages of their children, besides what they like to eat, where and how often they shop and even what brand of toothpaste they use"
Wow! Which brand of toothpaste! Who'd a thowt it - they do exactly what they are meant to! Now, privacy groups have been angry about loyalty cards for years now. This Blunkett tack is a new strategy, clearly intending to try to co-opt some people's concerns into supporting his monster database. It is silly, and this is why.

1. You don't have to have a Tesco Clubcard if you don't want one.

But you will have to have a government ID card, whether you want one or not. And you'll have to give David Blunkett £85 for the privilege.

2. If you have a supermarket loyalty card, you can stop using it. You can cut it up. You can, if you are especially odd, deliberately only use it for some of your purchases in order to give them useless data. Not that I'm recommending anyone does that. What kind of twisted freak would suggest such a thing?

But if your government ID card doesn't swipe properly, whether or not it's your fault or even if you knew it was damaged or not, you will be fined up to £2,000. If you don't pay you will go to jail.

3. When was the last time a supermarket policeman stopped you in the street and asked to see your card?

Never, because they don't exist. But real policemen will do just that. If you don't produce it either then or later at a police station, guess what? Another two grand, thank you very much. And it's not just Dixon of Dock Green you'll need to worry about. A whole grey kaleidoscope of bureaucrats and busybodies will have the power to demand your papers - the Revenue, Customs, trading standards, Ofcom, every local authority in Britain.

4. At the last job interview you went to, did they ask to see your Tesco card?

Well, anyone who wants to work will need to show their employer an ID card. All employers are to be encouraged to buy card readers.

5. You want to register your child at school. Clubcard please. But you will need both your ID card and theirs. And, if they didn't want to hold details of your educational qualification and income, and your child's, against both your names, why is the government setting up another monster database which they will "bolt on to" the ID card?

6. You want to see a doctor.

Well, you won't need your Tesco card. But one of the reasons in favour Mr Blunkett gives for ID cards is to prevent "health tourists" using the NHS. How will this happen if the NHS doesn't demand your ID card?

Another Blunkettism in his speech to the hyper-Blairite Institute for Public Policy research was that the proposed ID card would only have "your name, address, photo and a biometric on it". This is an example of lying by telling the truth. Indeed, there will be very little data on the card itself. The only important item on the card will be your Citizen Reference Number. The thing is not the card. It's the database. With a unique reference number for all citizens, on cards, you can call up any government-held data. The purposes Blunkett claims for his cards demand that this must - must - include employment, immigration, NHS and perhaps criminal record information. It's in the nature of such a system that further functions could be added without the end user's knowledge. The scheme would be much less bad if the information was indeed held on the card, in a format we could read.

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