» Monday, March 22, 2004

ID Cards

Asked for a reaction to reports over the weekend about the introduction of ID cards, the PMOS said the Home Office had said yesterday that it would not comment on leaked papers in the Sunday press. The position remained as we had set out on previous occasions – a draft Bill would be published in due course. The Cabinet believed in principle that an ID card scheme could bring major benefits to the UK. However, given the complexities, a number of issues would have to be addressed before such a scheme could be brought forward. Regarding the issue of leaked documents in general, the PMOS added that the fact that members of the Government were able to have discussions and correspondence with one another was a strength of our democracy. It shouldn’t always be characterised as splits, rows or division, although that obviously made far better headlines. Asked if the Cabinet would need to approve any ID card scheme, the PMOS said yes. We had already stated that we would proceed by incremental steps, with the final decision to a compulsory card scheme being taken later when all the conditions had been met. He pointed out that there had already been two lengthy Cabinet discussions about the issue in recent months. No doubt it was something the Cabinet would return to in due course.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news


  1. I can’t think of one major benefit that ID cards would bring to the UK – apart from more jobs producing ID cards and revenue raised from forcing people to pay for them.

    ID card’s only value is to win votes from people who like authoritarian knee-jerk reactions – or ‘jerks’ as I prefer to call them.

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 22 Mar 2004 on 7:26 pm | Link
  2. Quite. I wrote some time ago to David Blunkett asking, inter alia, "Can you give an example of a recent terrorist incident in a country without compulsory identity cards which would likely have been averted if cards had been available there?"

    Surprisingly enough, that question wasn’t answered. Cf.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 22 Mar 2004 on 7:39 pm | Link
  3. Identity Cards do pose worrying risks,
    However it is worth remembering how little knowledge the govt have about us now.
    They probably don`t even know how many people there are in the country now to the nearest five million.
    Also its ridiculously easy to steal someones identity right now all you have to do is find out their name and age and go to the appropriate office and say you are that person and have lost your birth certificate. This works even if the person is dead.

    Comment by John Murphy — 22 Mar 2004 on 8:29 pm | Link
  4. — ID cards will make the "identity theft" risk worse, for two reasons:
    1. You have to get people’s information into the system somehow, and that will rely on existing, insecure pieces of documentation and stressed officials trying to process 40 million applications. An ideal moment for fraudsters to legitimise their fake IDs by getting ID cards bearing them.
    2. The ID card will have, somewhere on it, a single ID number — a "primary key", like the US "social security number". If the card is widely used for authentication, every database of personal information in the country will be indexed on that single ID number. "Stealing" someone’s identity will be as simple as finding out that number and using it to impersonate them.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 22 Mar 2004 on 9:06 pm | Link
  5. Chris, I don’t quite understand your second point. The unique identifiers aren’t authentication, they are just numbers that represent people. Knowing someone else’s number doesn’t let you do anything – unless you can fake their authentication (which could be biometric, or in the case of a bank could be a PIN).

    Comment by Francis Irving — 23 Mar 2004 on 11:33 am | Link
  6. Francis– you might have thought so, but the problem is that people who design these kinds of systems are pretty lazy, and will assume that knowledge of the big long number on the card is proof of identity. In the United States, it genuinely is the case that simply inventing a uniform primary key that can be used in any database has made identity theft trivial, because all you need to do now is to quote name, address and SSN and suddenly you are "authenticated". That’s not how it should work, but bad luck.

    If the ID card is to have uses outside government — and for \xA3120 — \xA3400 each, it bloody well should — it will have to have a unique ID on it that can be quoted over the ‘phone. At that point identity theft is trivial and we’re stuffed.

    (The \xA3120 — \xA3400 comes from the quoted cost of \xA340, multiplied by an additional factor of between 3 and 10 to account for cost overruns in the supporting IT project and specification creep. If you don’t think this is realistic, consider that over the course of 2003, the proposed cost of the thing grew from \xA35 to \xA340 — and that was before any software had been specified, let alone written. Presumably a lot more will have to be spent further down the line once it’s realised that biometrics are a crock of shit, will never work, and aren’t suitable for this kind of application anyway. I wish one of the lobby would ask Blair, "where is all this nonsense about biometrics coming from?")

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 23 Mar 2004 on 12:22 pm | Link
  7. Surely the point is that an open welfare state cannot afford to be open to the world. Either the system is protected, it slowly collapses or it has to be changed. Few Labour politicians would dare suggest, for example, that the NHS is replaced by an insurance based system, hence the ID card suggestion. There is no easy answer.

    Comment by nigel — 23 Mar 2004 on 5:54 pm | Link
  8. How would ID cards protect the welfare state? Note that lots of people who would not be entitled to an ID card are entitled to use the welfare state (for instance, citizens of the European Union)? Would you advocate (say) refusing hospital treatment to people who cannot present an ID card?

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 23 Mar 2004 on 5:57 pm | Link
  9. I’m pretty sure that Spain had ID cards; I remember as a tourist having to pay for admission to galleries when the Spanish got in free (this was a long time ago).
    If the government don’t know the population to the nearest 5 million, how will they issue the cards? 😉

    Comment by Backword Dave — 23 Mar 2004 on 8:09 pm | Link
  10. Yep, Spain has compulsory ID cards:

    Fat lot of good they did, too.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 23 Mar 2004 on 8:59 pm | Link
  11. Sunday newspaper "leaks". Isn’t this just another form of Labour Party focus group? i.e leak the latest harebrained proposal to the paper on Saturday, read about it and see of there is a furore on Sunday and Monday and then drop it on Tuesday. I’ve lost track of the number of so called leaks about ID cards. Surely the latest one is to see if press opposition has weakened following the Madrid bombings.

    Must be time soon for another leak about Blair’s on the spot fines to resurface.

    Comment by DEGREEK — 23 Mar 2004 on 10:31 pm | Link
  12. Ooh! On the spot fines. Excellent idea — that’ll show them suicide bombers!

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 23 Mar 2004 on 10:59 pm | Link
  13. Chris lightfoot asks how ID cards could help protect the welfare state and then goes on to say that members of the EU are entitled to use it as if this were an argument against the requirment of proof of identity. How do they prove they are EU citizens Chris?

    We all use a variety of proofs of ID at the moment. I don’t hear complaints that we need to show driving licences, have NHS cards, have unique tax numbers, require passports on the continent, have to show three forms of ID to open up a new account etc etc. Courtesy of Microsoft every new computer now sends it’s unique ID – does that stop us using them? Cutting it down to one clever card may make live easier. ID cards are not perfect – they won’t stop home grown terrorists, for example, but the knee jerk civil liberties argument needs more careful thought. In the ‘Land of the Free’ they require ID to have a beer unless they look like me (old), are they less ‘free’ because of it?

    Freedom requires restraint – your freedom from X requires a reciprocal restraint on my freedom to Y. There are complex arguments either way. Those propounding their use need to show us all the arguments – properly costed.

    Personally, I would accept ID cards now in exchange for a fully fledged Freedom of Information Act, a fully elected House of Lords, PR and a lot more. What if ID cards came with a right to vote yes/no to war, would you like them then? ID cards are red herrings.

    Comment by nigel — 24 Mar 2004 on 6:55 am | Link
  14. Generally you don’t *need* to prove your identity. For instance, I can get medical treatment without proof of identity. I certainly don’t need an NHS card to be treated — I was sent one once, but have never had to use it.

    Most computers do not send a unique ID at present; there was an Intel proposal to send one, but it’s switched off by default. In any case there is no one-to-one mapping between computers and people, so this is not an accurate analogy.

    ID cards won’t just fail to stop "home grown terrorists" — they won’t stop *any* terrorists. The terrorists who perpetrated the September 11 2001 attacks all had valid ID; Spain has a compulsory ID card (as befits an ex-dictatorship) and couldn’t stop an attack by foreign Islamic terrorists either. Since it will be easy for terrorists to get ID cards, relying on them to distinguish terrorists from non-terrorists is obviously a stupid idea. And the Police happily admit that they very rarely have any trouble establishing the identity of someone they’ve arrested, so it’s not clear how they’d assist in fighting crime either.

    There are two basic problems with an ID card:
    – It’ll be expensive and will not solve the problems it’s supposed to, but rather will make them worse.
    – It’s not very British.

    Why should we pay billions to destroy one of the great traditions of the British state — that it’s nobody’s business who you are, and the police cannot run around the place demanding "papers please" of everyone they see — when it won’t do any good?

    If you want costed arguments, start by trying to find out what Blunkett’s proposed ID cards will cost. You also need to consider the cost of additional identity fraud occasioned by the card.

    Two asides:
    – "Freedom" is not a scalar, and you can’t meaningfully ask questions such as "are [people in the United States] less ‘free’ [because they are asked for a driving licence before being allowed to buy alcohol]". My personal impression was that the United States is not really set up for individual freedom — you can get arrested for crossing the road, for god’s sake. In that respect it’s rather like a European country.
    – Would I like a referendum on every war? I can’t think of a worse idea, to be honest. PR is arguable and an elected House of Lords problematic too. A Freedom of Information Act would be nice, but I can’t see that happening, given the dreadful abortion of one that our present government has managed after all its high-minded manifesto promises.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 24 Mar 2004 on 10:31 am | Link
  15. ID cards are not red herrings; the things you’re talking about aren’t inherent to the ID technology. It’s a way of uniquely identifying you across all services and capabilities delivered by all businesses in a society. However it provides this in a way that still allows forgery, still allows those who wish to disturb the system to do so.

    The net result is that while many more systems become dependent and informed by a central ID system, the benefits one gets from, and the value of, forgery or illegal use of that identity go up. Systems become more dependent on that ID system not being forged, and the ultimate ‘cost’ of that forgery, to the now interdependent system, skyrocket.

    Forge one element now – a driver’s license, for example – and all you get is a forged driver’s license. Forge a new ID, and you get access to anything from council benefits to driver’s permits. The cost of protecting forgery goes up as the value of a forged document goes up; but because this is technology we’re talking about, the cost of circumventing the technology isn’t necessarily related to the cost of the security on that document.

    You can’t trade a fully elected House of Lords, or a freedom of information act, for that ID: those policies, laws, and regulations come and go, and there’s no constitution there to protect you from mid- to long-term change in those policies. You can’t get back your privacy once you give it away.

    Ask the Americans, who haven’t got an ID, but have a Social Security number; that went from being something nobody could ask you for to being something that everyone knew they weren’t supposed to ask you for but did anyways to today’s current state of everyone asks you for it up front. The value of that number is to track your identity across a broad range of services, and use it to build up profiles on people that can be used for other things: whether that’s targeting service delivery towards the most important areas of the country, or tracking activities to look for terrorists.

    Or just using it to figure out whether or not you’re likely to be a bad credit risk, or to target advertising. Because everyone gets access to it, and everyone can use it, and everyone can share a degree of information that will make having that central identity worthwhile to the businesses that want it; that doesn’t mean it’s going to be useful to *you*, the punter, and it doesn’t mean that you, the punter, will have any control over how that information is shared once your identity is so easily joined up into the various businesses that do share your identity and profile.

    Central IDs are a can of worms that is best unopened.

    The EFF has a page listing a broad range of documents from the US government and other reviews and sources related to the US developments on a National ID:

    <a href="http://www.eff.org/Privacy/ID_SSN_fingerprinting/">http://www.eff.org/Privacy/ID_SSN_fingerprinting/</a&gt;

    It’s recommended reading for anyone who thinks that ID cards will solve all our problems.

    Comment by Gregory Block — 24 Mar 2004 on 10:41 am | Link
  16. apart from ID cards making identity theft easier – the problem I have is with the proposed content

    DNA profile
    Blood Group?
    Finger print
    retina scan

    So then the card has to be verified as ‘mine’ against a database
    OK so someone takes some blood, fingerprint, retina scan and compares them against a database and my card.

    What function does the card serve?

    I’m carrying my fingers, eyes, and blood around with me all the time.

    However it will only be on rare occasions that this check is done so Identity Fraud is easy along with theft.

    Now that the prisons are Full maybe I’ll start a business producing false ID cards – any odds on the chances of getting caught?

    Comment by Roger Huffadine — 24 Mar 2004 on 1:22 pm | Link
  17. Roger– it’s even worse than that. "Biometric" information like your fingerprint or whatever cannot be revoked. Once somebody has got a copy of your fingerprint and used it to spoof a fingerprint reader (quite easy — this can be done with apparatus as simple as a camera and a jellied sweet) you’re stuffed. You can’t change your fingerprint, and now someone else can use it to pretend to be you. And you only have ten fingers…. (Typically these systems use thumb-prints, in fact, and you only have two of those. The same goes for iris scans, which are also pretty easy to spoof.)

    I don’t understand why the Home Office is so obsessed with biometric authentication. Blunkett keeps saying that a card using biometric authentication can’t be forged, which means that he must be being advised by people who either (a) don’t know what they’re talking about, or (b) have a commercial agenda to push. I understand that Schlumberger-SEMA are involved in current "entitlement card" trials; I suspect that they may also be feeding the Home Office their own commercial line on biometrics.

    Cf. <a href="http://ex-parrot.com/~chris/wwwitter/20031111-incompetence_crisis.html">http://ex-parrot.com/~chris/wwwitter/20031111-incompetence_crisis.html</a&gt;

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 24 Mar 2004 on 1:46 pm | Link
  18. Chris, have you considered that you might not have a problem getting medical treatment because you are a white Brit? You ought to witness the disgraceful way non white Brits are treated in some surgeries.

    I have not heard anyone claim ID cards would stop terrorists nor solve the world’s problems. The issue is will they add more to a citizen’s rights and benefits more than they cost (in all senses)?

    I don’t go for the superior Brit bit.

    If the forces of law and order were to take an interest in you, you would not be so smug about the amount of privacy you have. Most of it is illusory.

    Freedom is not scalar – nor is it a banana. Arresting people for crossing the road against a ‘DON’T WALK’ signal reduces their freedom and enables mine to cycle on past when it’s my turn (the lights are green). Do you really have a problem with that?

    The point I was trying to make about red herrings and constitutional reform was that control over the executive is so weak that we ought to concern ourselves with re-balancing that first. What use is all that privacy if we can all be dragged into a war by one man? Locking people up without trial, how ‘British’ is that? Even the Yanks have to go to Cuba to get away with that.

    The one-stop personation risk of a single ID is an interesting problem. At present, two people using the same passport ID can travel the world. In a biometric system both would be arrested and the ID ‘reclaimed’. Losing one’s ID to a thief would be a problem (it is already) but perhaps a PGP public key type system could be added? At the moment CIFAS members are over reliant upon the electoral register. ID fraud is currently a doddle, we are lucky so few people are tempted.

    As to commercial data mining and mapping, it seems to me it’s already rampant. Have you tried searching on 192.com for example? You can find old friends, their phone numbers, their neighbours names and numbers, directorships… You can even track someone’s mobile location on line (with their consent, naturally).

    Comment by nigel — 24 Mar 2004 on 6:34 pm | Link
  19. I don’t see how a public key infrastructure could solve this problem (and the knee-jerk reaction of technical people who believe that any security problem can be solved by adding cryptography is itself a serious difficulty with the implementation of distributed systems like the proposed ID cards). Nor do I think that ID cards would decrease racial discrimination in the health service or elsewhere — the French cards, for instance, are widely used as tools for racial abuse by police officers who will repeatedly demand to see cards carried by French Algerians.

    The fact that this government is already destroying the traditional rights and privileges of the British citizen is no argument for going still further.

    My point about crossing the road is about regulation — the state has no business deciding when I can cross the road, except when doing so is necessary to enable the smooth flow of traffic or some other social good. In particular, there’s no reason that I shouldn’t be allowed to cross whenever I like when there is little traffic. This is not the attitude taken in the United States, though.

    You say, "The issue is will [ID cards] add more to a citizen’s rights and benefits more than they cost (in all senses)?"

    The answer, of course, is that we don’t know, though all the evidence is against. In particular, ID cards will cost a lot of money, increase the incidence of identity fraud, have no effect on other kinds of crime, and not allow us to do anything we couldn’t do before. But there’s an even more serious issue, which is that the advocates of ID cards are arguing for a change in policy. The burden of the argument falls upon them to show that the new policy will have the benefits it claims, not on those who can see that it’s a bloody stupid idea. Yet this is not how the Home Office are behaving over ID cards; instead, having lost the technical argument, they appear to be trying to bring the things in by by stealth, without having justified their actions.

    I would love to know what the ideological basis on which they want the things is….

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 24 Mar 2004 on 8:15 pm | Link
  20. The racist problems might be ameliorated if it was easier to prove you were a citizen.

    We already have a stop and search black issue. A doctor I know is often stopped. An ID card might speed up the process. (The police correctly say more black people commit crime so more are stopped).

    The jury is still out (for me) on the pros and cons of ID cards – see above.

    The road crossing issue is very complex. Not everyone has the same IQ or self-restraint as you obviously have. There are a lot of laws which are not enforced 100% of the time. Our speed limits, for example. Are we to have laws which we follow if we feel like it? Would they still be laws? What sort of society would we have with such a free for all? Who would judge issues at the margin, the selfish person who can see no reason to obey or the potential ‘victim’? Common sense should be applied but if one lacks it? Why cross on red when the policemen is watching anyway?

    What I am saying is pretty obvious, there’s a balance of advantage/disadvantage but I am – as yet – undecided where it lies. My original position was yours. Now, with the world population to rise by 50% by 2050, and a host of other considerations I am becoming less dogmatic.

    I do not agree with you that ID card fraud would increase. Where is the evidence? In fact, the digital world is increasing problems and we need new defences. ID cards may or may not assist.

    I agree, more evidence is required – but that means that I cannot go as far as you do and dismiss them as being ‘ a bloody stupid idea’.

    Blunkett has an almost Stalinist approach – I’ve been elected so I can be a totalitarian for five years – this untrammelled power is what most concerns me. He appears to think this is democracy. He also appears to consider ID cards soley as a means of control. I think they may also act as individually beneficial facilitators and protective sheilds.

    I don’t think ideology comes into it. Grown-up politics is all pragmatism – how to retain power.

    The EU must also be considered. Schengen is creating all sort of problems and an EU ID card might be offered up to the masses as a way to curb immigration.

    Another intriguing question is what will they do if – after the introduction of ID cards – they find 500,000 illegals who refuse to divulge either their identity or country of origin. At the moment they find it extremely difficult to throw them out. Dirty protests, physical resistance, refusal of standard flights to carry them, guards with each one – expensive and bad PR. So they’ll have to give them citizenship. New entrants will create similar problems. If you think ID cards are a right wing tool it will backfire on them. I don’t think it is.

    Comment by nigel — 24 Mar 2004 on 10:27 pm | Link
  21. I know that this is going off at a tangent but:

    "The police correctly say more black people commit crime so more are stopped"

    In what way is this correct?

    From the Home Office Statistics (Nov 2003) – "Among male British nationals in the prison population 83% were white, 12% were black, 3% were South Asian (i.e. Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi) and 2% belonged to Chinese or other ethnic groups. For female British nationals in the prison population, 83% were white, 13% were black, 1% were south Asian and 3% belonged to Chinese or other ethnic groups."

    White prisoners outnumber black by a ratio of 7 to 1 so I don’t see how anyone could say that more black people commit crime. The only reason that more black people are stopped is that the police are institutionally, and often personally, racist.

    I know that this going off on a tangent from the main topic but racist lies like these are too often allowed to pass unchallenged.

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 24 Mar 2004 on 11:02 pm | Link
  22. "The racist problems might be ameliorated if it was easier to prove you were a citizen."

    Well, you might think so, but the evidence is against you. Firstly, racism is not directed only against British citizens. Secondly, in countries with compulsory ID cards, they are often used by the police for racial harrassment.

    "The police correctly say more black people commit crime so more are stopped."

    I don’t doubt that there are police officers who say that, but I’m certain it’s not official policy. And for good reason– it’s statistical nonsense.

    "Why cross on red when the policemen is watching anyway?"

    The policeman is there to ensure the safety of me and other members of the public. If it is safe for me to cross the road, there’s no reason for him to stop me from doing so.

    "I do not agree with you that ID card fraud would increase. Where is the evidence?"

    In the United States, ID fraud is rampant. They don’t have a card, but they do have its worst feature — a uniform primary key which can be used to identify people (the "social security number"). Since any card scheme must incorporate such a unique ID, and if it is to be useful that ID will be widely referred to, it will create new opportunities for identity "theft" simply by wide distribution of that identifying information. Add to that the fact that the system has to be bootstrapped — that is, people who do not currently have ID cards will need to be given them on the basis of existing identity documents — the advent of the scheme will create a perfect opportunity for people who currently have fake or "stolen" identities to legitimise them in the eyes of the law.

    Why do you think the ID card could reduce identity fraud?

    "Another intriguing question is what will they do if – after the introduction of ID cards – they find 500,000 illegals who refuse to divulge either their identity or country of origin. At the moment they find it extremely difficult to throw them out."

    I don’t know if there are "500,000 illegals" in this country, but why on earth, during an economic boom and at a time of full employment, would we want to expel so many productive workers?

    And as I’ve said, it’s for the proponents of a policy to explain its benefits. None of the ID card proponents have managed, so far as I can see. None of them have even come up with plausible explanations of how a card could be used to accomplish anything that can’t be done today.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 25 Mar 2004 on 1:04 am | Link
  23. I am certainly not capable of discussing the technical/statistical sides of this argument, so I approach from a completely uneducated position.

    The same approach, I imagine (without wishing to propound the view that the average person is dumb) that most people take to the ID card issue. So all I really want to know is will I be a happier fella with one, or not?

    It costs me anything over a quid, and its got ground to make up. Don’t I pay enough tax as it is? Being disorganised, I am liable to forget or lose it, presumable at best i’ll then have to buy another. Of course, I have the utmost faith in the government to run projects to time, scale and cost. So if they say \xA340 a card in 2008. We actually will probably be paying \xA3200 in 2050. (maybe all these discussions are a little premature).

    Then there are the security issues, I am not ignorant on the issue to realise that the issuing of a national ID card is a big operation. And if it goes wrong, it could go very wrong. And frankly, I expect it will.

    Comment by Lodjer — 25 Mar 2004 on 9:22 am | Link
  24. I posted a long reply which has not appeared. Try again…

    Uncarved Block – it’s not my argument. Percentage wise there are more non-whites in jail. Fact – not rascism. This may well be because more are stopped because they are not white – that would be rascism – or it might be because the police think they have a statistically higher chance of catching someone. Most illegal immigrants are not white so it stands to reason the police will stop more non whites. My suggestion was that ID cards might make it easier and faster to prove to the police that you are a Brit not an illegal. A point diametrically opposite to the one you acuse me of.

    ID cards are prima facie a nationality not a race issue.

    Chris, skip DON’T WALK.

    On the USA example which you say is not an example why use it as an example?

    New ID cards could incorporate Photos, iris and finger prints and personal info (PIN, maiden names etc) and for all to fail to scan simultaneously would be statistically amazing. Public key encryption could theoretically allow almost perfect security (ie, GCHQ and NSA excluded).

    As to:- I don’t know if there are "500,000 illegals" in this country, but why on earth, during an economic boom and at a time of full employment, would we want to expel so many productive workers?

    I did not say I wanted to expel them.
    – Illegals have no protection from unscrupulous employers.
    – They have no social or political rights.
    – They cannot easily use health and welfare systems.
    – They are more likely to be forced into crime out of desperation.
    – It’s fine when the economy is on the up, what happens to them when it’s down?
    – They use resources which they do not pay for – this is unfair on taxpayers – poorer citizens suffer more from the tax burden.
    – Taking advantage of immigrants for cheap labour and denying them rights and privileges is morally repugnant. It’s also Labour strategy. Uncarved Block ought to address this. It smells bad to me. Chris, are you really advocating this as ‘good’?
    -I don’t want to expel all illegals, I want to make sure they have the same rights AND obligations as I do. If we want foreign immigrants let’s welcome them and look after them properly not take advantage.

    You ask "how a card could be used to accomplish anything that can’t be done today?". Wordprocessors replaced pens – ID cards MIGHT make transactions and society more secure, fairer, more efficient, faster, less prone to fraud and personation etc.

    Lodger’s points – loss of ID is aggro NOW. I use Sentinel but that does not help with lost passports and driving licences. With one’s photo, prints, and iris scan in place protected by a PIN, secret private word protected by public key type encryption it might make it even easier to get a replacement – just take your body along and enter your private code, PIN or whatever.

    As for implementation – they do issue passports and driving licences so there is hope.

    Personation at the moment is a doddle it’s becoming a larger issue as more people realise how easy it is to do it.

    Passports will soon have digital IDs so a lot of the arguments are academic. The cost of ID’s should be comparable to passport costs but more secure. They could replace passports and d/licences and thus reduce costs. (fat chance)(sorry fatties).

    See Steven Levy ‘Crypto, How the code rebels beat the government – saving privacy in the digital age’. Penguin pb.

    Comment by nigel — 25 Mar 2004 on 12:08 pm | Link
  25. – Taking advantage of immigrants for cheap labour and denying them rights and privileges is morally repugnant. It’s also Labour strategy. Uncarved Block ought to address this. It smells bad to me. Chris, are you really advocating this as ‘good’?

    Not trying to speak for Chris here, but I think what Chris was possibly referring to is the fact that immigrants (not necessarily illegal) are willing to work in job areas where recruitment can otherwise be difficult, on the minimum wage and such like. Obviously working under the minumum wage (and if it is not set at the right level – on or above it) is taking advantage and is certainly morally repugnant.

    Re losing ID – it is a problem, but it would be one EXTRA thing to lose. Wasn’t really trying to make a serious point, just a lighthearted reference to my own clutziness. But, if they did cost at the upper reaches of the currently touted range – \xA3400, then losing one would be a serious problem!

    Comment by Lodjer — 25 Mar 2004 on 12:20 pm | Link
  26. Lodjer – yes, thanks. No offence to Chris intended.

    The debate is about ID cards.

    My position is that the digital world has moved faster than current ID proof/protection and there may be more merit in a secure national ID card system than I had at first thought. My initial knee jerk anti-ID/pro-civil liberties stance was just that, all muscle spasm and no brain.

    When it come to civil liberties, ID cards are a pretty minor infringement given what is out there on all of us already – thus it is a civil liberties distraction – a red herring.

    Finally, it seems to me that there are encryption techniques available to greatly reduce personation which we could all benefit from.

    As we can see from the USA passport requirements, it’s going to happen anyway so we ought to embrace it and steer it our way.

    Comment by nigel — 25 Mar 2004 on 1:06 pm | Link
  27. Nigel

    You appear to have become a victim of racist nonsense.

    &#8220;Percentage wise there are more non-whites in jail. Fact – not rascism. This may well be because more are stopped because they are not white – that would be rascism – or it might be because the police think they have a statistically higher chance of catching someone.&#8221; &#8211; Just because it is a fact doesn&#8217;t mean its not racist. Percentage wise there are more poor people in jail, more illiterate people in jail, and a whole range of other disproportionate relationships between the prison and the general population. There are a whole range of facts that could be chosen so why chose one over any other? The sensible answer would be to pick differences that could be seen as determining factors of criminal behaviour. Good cases could be argued for saying that poverty and poor education are determining factors but by selecting race as the fact you wish to use you are implying that an individual is more likely to be a criminal because they are black &#8211; racist nonsense. There is also no logical connection between saying that a higher proportion of prisoners are black and assuming that a higher proportion of black people are criminals &#8211; more racist nonsense.

    &#8220;Most illegal immigrants are not white so it stands to reason the police will stop more non whites. My suggestion was that ID cards might make it easier and faster to prove to the police that you are a Brit not an illegal. A point diametrically opposite to the one you acuse me of.&#8221; &#8211; How do you know that most illegal immigrants are not white? An immigrant is only classed as illegal if they have not gone through the immigration process. As you pointed out elsewhere we don&#8217;t even know how many illegal immigrants there are, so how can you say that you know the colour of their skin? The only answer is that you have made a racist assumption. Why would the Police think that you are not &#8216;a Brit&#8217; (unless of course they discriminate by colour of skin)? And why should you have to prove it one way or the other? It is not a crime to not be British so why should the police be interested whether you are or not?

    I accused you of making a racist statement and in reply you have made more racist statements. I don&#8217;t know whether you are a racist or not but if not you should think more carefully before jumping to conclusions.

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 25 Mar 2004 on 1:49 pm | Link
  28. Uncarved Block. Gosh.

    A fact of and by itself cannot be rascist can it?

    I did actually imply that if more whites were arrested more white criminals may well be caught. Is that comment rascist? Have you considered that drawing attention to the racial mix of prisons might be a recognition of a racial problem and a desire to do something about it – not a rascist comment at all?

    I agree there are many other factors, literacy is another common denominator. BUT are you aware of the school leavers’ statistics here? As I recall, black males are not performing as well as white males, whereas black females are over performing, the Asians and Chinese are doing brilliantly better than everyone else. Noting these facts/problems is not rascist. By noting this I am not saying the Chinese are a super race and the white majority are dumb. If you are Chinese and you uttered the last sentence my first reaction would not be to accuse you of racism but to wonder why the Chinese were so much more highly motivated than the whites.

    Recognising there are problems in certain areas is not rascist. Trying to answer such problems is not rascist. Blundering in and accusing people of rascism is hardly productive.

    How do you know my skin colour and racial mix/origins? How does your own assumption scan on your racial radar?

    The police are trying to counter illegals for the many reasons I listed above. It’s their job. When they do their job they are accused of being rascist. Do you think this is always true, mostly true, sometimes true? Do you think we should just ignore illegals and take advantage of them as cheap labour?

    There are lots of black police officers -are you making rascist assumptions?

    If we cannot discuss difficult issues without slipping into accusations of rascism, slavery, the holocaust and other old chestnuts and cliches we are lost.

    As to the nationality and colour of immigrants legal and not, the Home Office recently issued a load of statistics. Currently they release those refused entry back into society and tell them to leave, the police then have to try and deal with them when they chance upon them. Bonkers.

    If you "don’t know" if I’m a rascist, don’t accuse me of it.

    This discussion is on ID cards. Do you think ID cards will help or hinder the integration of new immigrants?

    Comment by nigel — 25 Mar 2004 on 3:32 pm | Link
  29. &#8220;A fact of and by itself cannot be rascist can it?&#8221; &#8211; Facts are rarely, if ever, used by themselves; they have a context. You were replying to my accusation that your statement &#8216;more black people commit crime&#8217; was racist and so, even though the facts comparing prison and the wider population are not of and by themselves racist, your use of them to support an incorrect and racist statement is.

    The point I am trying to make, which you still don&#8217;t seem to have grasped, is that there is no evidence that a person of one race is more likely to be a criminal than a person of a different race and any assertion that there is is therefore racist. Your reference to education illustrates my point. The facts around the racial origins and performance of student are not racist but the unsupported assumption that race has anything to do with educational achievement is.

    I can&#8217;t see that my comments have made any assumptions about your racial origins and frankly I don&#8217;t see what difference it makes to the discussion. Racism is a quality of the statement not the person who made it. I didn&#8217;t accuse you of being a racist because I know that sometimes people make statements without realising the racist assumptions on which they are based.

    With regard to &#8216;illegal immigrants&#8217; I think the confusion is due to your use of that term and understanding of the immigration system. If the Immigration Service refuse someone&#8217;s claim for political asylum (for example) and ask them to leave they are not an illegal immigrant. They are a person without status and are not breaking any laws by staying in the country; they just have no rights while they are here. As they are not breaking any law by just being here they are no concern of the police. The police only get involved when the Immigration Service issue a deportation order which is fairly rare.

    Illegal immigrants are people who are in the country without having passed through immigration (e.g. hidden in the back of a truck). As they have not passed through immigration the Home office don&#8217;t have any statistics on them &#8211; they don&#8217;t even know how many there are. They have not been refused the right to stay here because they have never applied for it.

    If you look at the top of this thread you will see that I posted the first comment on ID cards and I don&#8217;t see how they will be of any benefit to this country at all, in relation to immigration or anything else.

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 25 Mar 2004 on 5:06 pm | Link
  30. I see that I should have been more careful and said ‘The police catch more black people committing crime’. However, I think, given the full context, content, tenor and implications of everything I have said, your reaction was crude, over sensitive and off the point and your accusation totally unwarranted. Are you looking for dragons?

    I did not state that race and education were linked in the crude way you claim nor for the reasons you imply. If people of one race were disproportionally educated in worse schools than another race one might one legitimately say one race does worse than another(and we’d know why). That does not make one race better than the other. I should think the reverse would be true on moral grounds alone.

    If you’re saying you think that there is no correlation between being treated as a second class citizen and crime I have to disagree. Criminals are a case in point. Once released and rejected to the dole what are they most likely to do? Re-offend, surely?

    An illegal immigrant caught, sifted through the IS and told to return is still an illegal immigrant. A person refused permission to stay who remains illegally can’t be described as an illegal immigrant? Wow. Are they here legally? Are they immigrants? Do they still have a legal right to stay if they have been told they can’t stay and must leave? How very Alice in Wonderland.

    It’s very easy to be over-sensitive on race, religion, class, status – all ways around. It’s very easy to offend without intending to – all ways around. It should not stop us trying to communicate our views though, should it? Are we to be terrorised by political correctness into avoiding all sensitive social and political areas? We used to brow beat people with FASCIST, then SEXIST, then RASCIST and now its religion – (what’s the term for that?). Abuse gets us nowhere.

    Comment by nigel — 25 Mar 2004 on 6:36 pm | Link
  31. I should have been more careful and said ‘ more black people are caught and convicted of crime’. However, the tenor of all my comments are clearly not intended to be rascist, nor, I think would any reasonable person think them so. You’ll have to find your dragon somewhere else.

    As to the Alice in Wonderland illegal immigrant position I am bemused. Illegal immigrants caught and told to return by the IS are no longer illegal immigrants? They are told to leave and cease to have any legal status?

    Accusations of RASCISM, FASCISM, SEXISM are simply abusive and advance intelligent discourse not a jot.

    Comment by nigel — 25 Mar 2004 on 6:59 pm | Link
  32. "New ID cards could incorporate Photos, iris and finger prints and personal info (PIN, maiden names etc) and for all to fail to scan simultaneously would be statistically amazing. Public key encryption could theoretically allow almost perfect security (ie, GCHQ and NSA excluded)."

    The technologies you name aren’t very reliable. Identifying people from photographs is hard and has a very high error rate, even for trained personnel. Maiden names are easy to find out. PINs can be obtained by watching people at cash points — or by relying on the fact that lots of people set them to "1234" so that they can remember them. Iris scans are both easy to spoof and not very reliable. Public key cryptography is organisationally brittle and anyway you need to explain how it is useful in this context.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 25 Mar 2004 on 6:59 pm | Link
  33. Chris

    We have relied upon photographs for identification purposes for years. I think you will find that the security services have made great advances on digi-photo ID. The low level blue cameras on the roadsides are not speed cameras. Voice ID is also used for intercept sifting. Fingerprint experts state that where they find 17 matches (ridges, forks etc) they have never found a duplicate. They are pretty damn reliable. Iris’s ditto? You say not – why? Most internet banking works on passwords, maiden names PINs and IDs and people trust the system with their hard-earned. I was asserting that faking up the whole caboodle would not be easy for the average thief. On a computer ID web a duplicate would show up. Even now one sometimes gets calls from credit card companies checking computer generated card use anomalies. PGP is exactly what is says it is – Pretty Good at 128 bits.

    I agree that nothing involving humans can be wholly reliable but can the current systems of ID be improved? I hope they can. Twice this year I have suffered crude personation attacks to obtain credit. I lost nothing but one firm sent out goods on the most ridiculously flimsy proof of ID – name, initials, correct full address – the CC company saw no problem with sending the goods to one person and the bill to another (me).

    I am very interested to hear you think public key cryptograhy is "organisationally brittle". Have you read Levy? Where did you read this and what does it mean?

    Comment by nigel — 25 Mar 2004 on 7:51 pm | Link
  34. …thankfully it would cost too much and take too long for the whole population to be genetically & physically fingerprinted, photo’d, and all the rest of it. Just don’t discount future generations having their DNA recorded in childhood, say, at school or at a routine visit to the doctors surgery. Although I’m (thankfully) sure that if the government had a 100% fully working and properly computerised cross-indexing system for ID, showing photo, DNA, fingerprints, and known location as of 30 seconds ago, they’d still manage to cock it up…

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 25 Mar 2004 on 10:25 pm | Link
  35. Photo ID is more-or-less useless for authentication, except with highly trained personnel (i.e., not the staff in your local Asda), and doesn’t have great reliability otherwise. See, e.g., Ross Anderson’s book, Security Engineering. Same for signatures.

    The low level blue cameras on the roadsides are for monitoring traffic levels (see, e.g., the BBC’s traffic web cams). They certainly can’t see drivers’ faces, though they may be able to read numberplates. "Duplicate" fingerprints have been found; in any case the problem is not the uniqueness of fingerprints — not assured, of course — but how easily automated fingerprint readers can be spoofed — very easily, it turns out. Iris scanners can be spoofed with photographs. The fact that internet banking is used by lots of people who trust it with their money does not mean that it is secure.

    It doesn’t matter whether the "average" thief can do this — though with instructions, they probably could. What matters is whether enough dishonest people get involved in brokering fake ID. If society starts to rely on an ID card, you can bet that there will be such people.

    Public-key cryptography is organisationally brittle because you have to establish a chain of trust between every principal in the system. That is, if I am given a public key, then I know that I can securely communicate with anybody who has that key. But I don’t know who does have the key. To place any trust in the system, I need to know who can read my messages. So I need to arrange that there are well-known keys which are used to sign the keys of everyone else in the system, usually on a hierarchical basis. That’s fine, but as soon as one such key is compromised, great swathes of the organisation can be impersonated (or eavesdropped on). If you want to base an ID card scheme on public-key cryptography, you’re going to have to distribute keys very widely in order for it to be useful, increasing the chances of a compromise.

    (You would, by the way, be mad to use PGP with a key length as short as 128 bits for the public-key side.)

    You mention being the victim of credit card fraud, and say that you — happily — lost nothing. This is a nice illustration of where the security in a credit card system is: it’s nothing whatsoever to do with the security of the bank’s computers or the competence of the people handling transactions. Your security arises from the fact that you are, through the card issuer, insured against losses. All the rest is fluff that’s there to decrease losses to the bank.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 26 Mar 2004 on 12:59 am | Link
  36. Pappalazzzaru – I think you may be right about the technology – it can conceivably be done but probably not yet at an economic cost.

    Chris – The people I meet in ASDA are perfectly capable of distinguishing one person from another on sight. Photo ID is probably the most commonly used form of ID after signatures.

    Digital photo ID provides a fantastically useful sieve, reducing the targets one might wish to track. It is not perfect but it’s good enough for what it’s used for at present.

    Perhaps more on the use of surveillance and intelligence gathering cameras later.

    I would not describe the principal in a national ID system as brittle it would be the government. I will hunt down the book you refer to. I think you might enjoy reading Levy. How long do you think it would take you to crack a 128bit code on a single standard PC?

    In fact one fraudster applied for a card in my name, managing to break through the so-called security and then went on to make a purchase with it.

    "Your security arises from the fact that you are, through the card issuer, insured against losses. All the rest is fluff that’s there to decrease losses to the bank."

    Really? I am the one who picks up the charges, either directly or indirectly. Insurance is not free. One’s losses are not necessarily purely financial. Personation has a hidden cost. One rapidly finds oneself marked on the credit sites and that flows through in surprising ways with unpleasant knock-on effects. It takes a long time to sort it out and the cost of that is carried by the vicitm. One does not know of the fraud until one suffers the consequences. Insurance is not security – it provides financial recompense for loss. Some losses can never be adequately covered,the loss of one’s credit status/integrity in the middle of a time limited transaction opportunity, for example. Insurance may also reduce security and attract risk. It has a peculiar psychological effect on both the insured and the criminal. My security was compromised because of someone else’s totally inadequate ID procedures – hence the interest in ID’s. One might even argue that my security was compromised because of complacency arising from someone else having insurance cover.

    For me, there was, what is quaintly described as, ‘uninsurable loss’. ID systems have not kept up with current technology and the latter is defeating the former. Insurance discourages improvements in security when the insured is able to pass his costs on to the victims.

    Comment by nigel — 26 Mar 2004 on 8:27 am | Link
  37. "The people I meet in ASDA are perfectly capable of distinguishing one person from another on sight. Photo ID is probably the most commonly used form of ID after signatures."

    Unlikely. The error rates in comparing photo ID for untrained personnel are so high as to make it a virtually worthless security check. Again, see Anderson’s book for details.

    "Digital photo ID provides a fantastically useful sieve, reducing the targets one might wish to track. It is not perfect but it’s good enough for what it’s used for at present."

    As in automated face recognition? No, it doesn’t work at all. Sorry.

    "I would not describe the principal in a national ID system as brittle it would be the government."

    It won’t only be "the government" as a monolithic entity. What if every benefit office needs a signing key? What if they give a card reader to every police officer? How do you stop one of those escaping into the public domain?

    "Really? I am the one who picks up the charges, either directly or indirectly. Insurance is not free."

    True. In the credit cards case insurance costs are borne mostly by the merchants, though obviously they can pass these on to the consumer. But the same goes for the costs of technology — the difference is that the insurance actually protects you, whereas the technology probably doesn’t.

    Factoring a 128-bit number probably takes an hour or so on a modern computer. You may be confusing 128-bit public keys — far too small to use — with 128-bit private (symmetric) keys, as used as "session keys" in modern public key systems. These are currently perfectly secure (brute-force search time much larger than the age of the earth), assuming good algorithms.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 26 Mar 2004 on 10:42 am | Link
  38. I don’t think you can have understood what I said. You seem to want to deny even exisiting methods of ID which are used can and do work and are relied upon. Why is that? They work well enough in real life.

    Perhaps you are not aware of as much as you think you are. There again, perhaps I’m wrong.

    You finesse the insurance criticism. As I clearly explained, insurance did not protect me but improved technology and systems might have done.

    Did I say a 128bit number – I did not. My reference was clearly to PGP so there was no confusion on my side. I am glad you accept – at last – that there is such a thing as a secure 128 bit key. All you need to accept now is that such a system might be used for ID cards and we’re home and dry. We might then return to the more interesting questions – if we could be bothered.

    Comment by nigel — 26 Mar 2004 on 12:19 pm | Link
  39. The fact that something is relied upon does not mean that it is reliable. For instance, many people taking aeroplanes on September 11th 2001 relied upon airport security for their safety. If you genuinely believe that authenticating people from photo ID is something that can be done reliably by untrained personnel — or with a high level of accuracy by trained personnel — you need to go and do some research.

    You’d have to explain how public-key cryptography should be used in the design of an ID card system. It isn’t magic dust that you can sprinkle on anything to make it useful and secure, but merely a tool which can be used in the design of systems. There are useless systems and insecure systems which use public-key systems.

    If your reference to 128 bits in the context of PGP was not to a key length, to what were you referring?

    You’ll also have to explain why an ID card would prevent impersonation of the type you describe.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 26 Mar 2004 on 12:38 pm | Link
  40. Chris,

    Most people find visual identification extremely reliable. That’s why passport photos are so important and have to be signed by a responsible person. Indeed, I find it very easy and I have yet to mistake my partner in the pub and leave with somone else by mistake.

    The PGP 128 bit key (above)is another example of perplexing misunderstanding. Given the self-projected breadth of your knowledge, if the encryption is as good as you now admit, perhaps you might like to work out your own way of applying it. You might even make some money.

    Taking things out of context, mathematically dissecting the parts and drawing conclusions you want is not only a complete waste of time but advances things not a jot.

    I am sorry to say that after all this I still maintain that ID systems have not kept up with current technology and the latter is defeating
    the former. Personal information is now much more easly accessed and abused. With so many ID systems still reliant upon primitive checks the problems will only increase.

    Comment by nigel — 26 Mar 2004 on 2:17 pm | Link
  41. "Most people find visual identification extremely reliable."

    They are wrong. It isn’t. Do some research.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 26 Mar 2004 on 4:01 pm | Link
  42. Woof, woof.

    And there I was thinking I had come home with my partner. Now I don’t know who she is.

    Comment by nigel — 26 Mar 2004 on 4:32 pm | Link

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