Tuesday, December 21, 2004

What can I say? Plenty!

Well, only 93 MPs were willing to reject ID cards. Sad, really. But with the right encouragement they can do better. We have to be tough on deadbeat MPs and tough on the causes of deadbeat MPs. I'll come back to this downblog.

Let's recap. ID cards will force all of us to give up our privacy. ID cards will cost us all £85 in the first instance, and again every time we move house. ID cards will force us to report to the government when we move. The ID card monster database will record every time our cards are checked - as Charles Clarke wants us to have them checked every time we do things as trivial as renting videos, that means that we will be followed everywhere. Mr. Clarke thinks it will cost some £5.5 billion - but that's without counting the card readers he wants to be in every video store. If you're a business person, think - you are expected to buy the gear, and there is nothing to stop the government charging you to use the system. He also reckons the state loses £50 million a year through identity fraud. So - the monster database, even if it only costs what the government hopes it will, will take one hundred years to pay for itself.

Further on, the biometrics that are meant to make this system unbreakable are unproven. In Germany, a computer science student was able to fool iris scanners using nothing else but a photo of his eyes. Do you feel safer yet? The monster database will contain the key to all the records the government has on you, and any private ones that include your Citizen Reference Number. If anything goes wrong - that's it. Safer? Only weeks ago, a civil servant at the DVLA was convicted of passing information from his huge database to real, actual terrorists - animal rights nuts this time, but who tomorrow? Safer? Other ID schemes the government have dreamed up include a monster database of everyone involved in education - including details of the income and employment of schoolchildren's parents. Safer? Guess who invented that little beauty! None other than yer man, Charles Clarke. His civil servants say that this - a system capable of identifying us all by social class - can be bolted on to a national identity card. Safer? But Charlie isn't terribly good at these things. Yesterday he claimed in the Commons that the new poll tax card and its monster database would offer "enormous practical benefits" to anyone who applies for credit, rents a video, or goes abroad on holiday.

Charlie doesn't rent videos very often. Or he'd know that it isn't really £5.5 billion difficult. Hell, my Blockbuster card is based on an out-of-date provisional Queensland motorcycle licence. Charlie probably doesn't shop much either. Otherwise he'd know that department stores tend to offer store cards to pretty much anyone who pitches up at the checkout these days. But then, we're talking about a fella who invited a young lady to his flat for coffee, vanished into the kitchen, and returned with the coffee and without his trousers. I think we can be pretty sure he sends a woman instead. As far as foreign travel goes, he obviously hasn't read the ICAO biometric passport standard that, er, doesn't include the biometrics he wants on our passports. And he obviously missed the bits of the brief that mentioned that the proposed ID card isn't a travel document. So - what would swingvotery security moms Worcester Womaning off to holiday wintersun joy in Triangulationville, New Blairland actually need it for?

We have to be tolerant, of course. When his article in the Times appeared, with exactly the same points as his speech in, he'd only been Home Secretary for 24 hours. Of course he spent most of those scribbling a few well-turned pars for the Thunderer. Naturally. Only a terrible cynic would suggest that Home Office head of news John "Your marriage is over! Understand!" Tozer or someone like him might have penned the piece. No. Who can make themselves an instant expert in just 24 hours on such a huge portfolio?

But then, who could have the arrogance to plunge straight on with the biggest project their new department has ever taken on - despite evidently knowing little of it? Someone, perhaps, who doesn't mind the fact that no British citizen has ever voted for it. The new poll tax was not in any party's manifesto. Not this time, nor last time, nor the time before that. The Government has as good as committed to an election in the spring. It is therefore operating on the last few months of a mandate issued in the late spring of 2001, without any mention of ID cards. Why does Charles Clarke - who has had a good weekend to become an expert on data protection, network engineering, fraud investigation, security engineering, biometric identification, the constitutional ramifications, ICAO, video shops and more - feel he can dash into this and get it off before the election?

Why not seek real democratic legitimacy for this monster project? If it is as fantastic and as popular as he claims, why not? If it is so non-urgent that it can be put off to 2008 and beyond, as his documents prove, why not?

The why is clear. Why? Because we are going to win. The only way to get away with this is to stitch up Parliament in the last weeks available, to take advantage of Michael Howard's - a politician completely captured by the Home Office's control bureaucrats - term as Tory "leader" to push through this Establishment beatup before anything democratic might happen. If you don't have one of the 93 MPs, hold them responsible. That's the stuff, isn't it? Personal accountability. We're all on the market now. I remember a very big demonstration in February. We are going to win.

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