Not Saussure

March 4, 2007

Fingerprinting children.

Filed under: civil liberties, ID cards — notsaussure @ 7:26 pm

If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear other than the snoops who run this government. The BBC reports

Proposals to fingerprint children aged 11 to 15 as part of new passport and ID card plans are being considered.Immigration minister Liam Byrne told ITV1’s The Sunday Edition the proposals were being “looked at”.

Under existing plans every passport applicant over 16 will have details – including fingerprints – added to a National Identity register from 2008.

But there was concern youngsters could use passports without biometric details up to the age of 20, said Mr Byrne.

This could happen if they are issued a child passport between the ages of 11 and 15, which would be valid for five years.

The report continues,

Last month the opposition parties expressed anger that all fingerprints collected for ID cards would be cross-checked against prints from 900,000 unsolved crimes.And campaigners have long battled fingerprinting of children in schools, a practice they estimate happens in about 3,500 establishments.

From this month guidelines from privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner will urge schools to get parental consent before taking biometric data.

But under the Data Protection Act schools do not have to seek parental consent, and calls to outlaw the controversial practice have been rejected by the government.

On Monday campaign group Leave Them Kids Alone will launch a list of 10 questions it recommends all parents ask of their child’s school, if biometric systems are being considered or introduced.

The campaign group quotes Pippa King — with whose blog Biometrics in schools I was hitherto unfamiliar, but it seems an excellent resource:

If the people of Eastern Europe had been subject to the same level of surveillance and control that is now being proposed in the UK, the Berlin Wall would still be standing today. With everyone’s fingerprints and DNA on a government database, all protesters would have faced immediate arrest and imprisonment. Here, it’s already against the law to protest within a mile of Parliament. That’s not the kind of world I want for my children.

As Julian Baggini notes, ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ is a false dichotomy;

What the innocent fear is not being found out, but living under an intrusive or unjust regime

(or, I suppose, an incompetent one that sends out people’s personal banking details to the wrong addresses and has its own employees’ details stolen by fraudsters). And this is just another step towards indoctrinating children with the idea this is all completely normal.

Update:   Beau Bo D’Or has the picture.

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February 20, 2007

I’ve had an email with Tony’s fingerprints all over it

Filed under: civil liberties, ID cards — notsaussure @ 8:48 pm

As, apparently, have about 28,000 other people, explaining why he intends to ignore our signing the petition against ID cards on the Downing Street website.

Much of the document doesn’t actually have a great deal to do with ID cards; he goes on, for example, at length about the benefits of biometric visas. Apparently

In trials using this technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying illegally to get back into the UK.

I’ve blogged about this statistic the first time Mr Blair wheeled it out, when I noted that it’s suspicious he doesn’t tell us over how long a period these 1,400 people were caught, how many of them might have been expected to be detected by more conventional means in the normal course of events and how much per person it cost to detect people whose illegal attempts to re-enter the UK would otherwise have gone undetected. And, in any case, whatever this tells us about the utility of biometric visas for foreigners wishing to enter the UK, it doesn’t tell us anything about identity cards for UK nationals who already live here. (more…)

February 5, 2007

Excellent news

Filed under: civil liberties, ID cards, UK — notsaussure @ 7:41 pm

Well, unless the Conservatives decide to do something absolutely barking, that just about settles for whom to vote in the next election if you happen to live in a constituency where it’s a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives.

Via Tim Worstall and Iain Dale:

David Davis has written to Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, giving formal notice that an incoming Conservative administration would scrap the Government’s costly ID card project.And the Shadow Home Secretary has warned of the financial dangers of the Government signing contracts to set up the ID card scheme when it faces cancellation if the Conservatives are returned to power at the next election.

In his letter, Mr Davis asked what provision, if any, has been made in the relevant contractual arrangements to protect the Government – and public funds – against the costs that would be incurred as a result of early cancellation of the scheme; with a similar letter fired off to likely major contractors, warning them of the Party’s intentions.

 

More on the Conservative Party’s site.

Update:  And now here’s David Davis attacking 90-day detention.    It’s really come to something when a Conservative shadow Home Secretary, normally regarded as something of a right-winger, is making the running on civil liberties.
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January 13, 2007

ID cards… yet another crack in the wall

Filed under: civil liberties, ID cards — notsaussure @ 10:12 am

Hate to say, ‘Told you so!’ but we did…

The first residence permits to be issued to foreign nationals from next year will not contain iris information, the Home Office has said.

The first cards will now rely on other biometric tests, such as facial recognition and fingerprints.

The development will provide fuel for critics who argue plans for a national biometric ID card are not on track.

Tony Blair said in November all non-EU nationals will need ID cards to work or access public services from 2008.

Mr Blair has said that capturing fingerprint and iris scans electronically will provide an opportunity for more secure protection of personal identities.

Critics say the technology is flawed, pointing to problems with a pilot project using iris recognition at Heathrow airport last year.

A Conservative MP said earlier this week that air passengers were facing major delays because of the scheme and that it had failed half of its assessments in an official report.

Ever since they started on about using iris identification, people have been pointing out that it doesn’t do too well in tests and that it’s utterly misguided to think you can take something that works reasonably well (not perfectly or excellently) when you’re using it for a specific task like limiting access to parts of an Australian airport to the few hundred Quantas staff you’ve got on your list of authorised personnel and who are used to using the system and then scale it up to something that records and matches the details of several million people at a time, in all sorts of environments and contexts, without running into a few problems.

For one thing, when the system fails, on occasion, to recognise the particular individual first time round, that just delays him for a few seconds. If it fails to recognise him at all, for whatever reason, and he has to ask security to buzz him through, that’s a minor inconvenience you can live with. Scale that up to trying to get thousands of people an hour through airport arrivals, though, and you’ve got chaos.

For some reason, the Home Office mantra, which we’ve heard so often before about ID cards and everything else they touch that goes wrong (an example of the rhetorical figure pleonasm there, I think, fails to impress:

But the Home Office says problems have been dealt with and the scheme is still being rolled out at other airports and is not being ruled out as an option for the national ID card scheme in the future.

Two matters occur to me immediately. First, the iris scans were presumably originally included for a good reason — one assumes they were thought to make the system more secure and less vulnerable to forgery and fraud and that the advantages of having this extra level of security were great enough to outweigh the disadvantages of added inconvenience and cost. Now that they’re not going to available, we won’t have those benefits. Have we reassessed how secure the system will be now it lacks these measures once thought to be vital? Is it still secure enough to be worth establishing without them?

Second, a related point. These scans didn’t exist in isolation, I suspect. People designing other aspects of the system must have assumed they’d be there and available for, for example, cross-referencing if other checks failed and they may have been used to help generate some of the security algorhythms. Have we assessed how well other aspects of the ID card scheme are going to work without them?

These, it seems to me, would be pretty obvious questions to ask if the people designing the security system for your new headquarters building came back to you late in the day and told you that they couldn’t get iris scans to work for it so you’d have to do without.


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January 2, 2007

ID cards and biometrics: an opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes

Filed under: civil liberties, hubris, ID cards, nemesis — notsaussure @ 9:18 pm

Back in November, the Dear Leader explained to readers of The Daily Telegraph in an attempt to convince us that ‘We need ID cards to secure our borders and ease modern life’ (stop sniggering) that

Visitors to the United States now digitally record their fingerprint, and new UK passports from last month must carry a facial biometric. We also know how effective it can be. In trials using this new technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying to get back into the UK illegally.

A national identity system will have direct benefits in making our borders more secure and countering illegal immigration. Biometric visas and residence cards are central to our plans and will be introduced ahead of ID cards. I also want to see ID cards made compulsory for all non-EU foreign nationals looking for work and when they get a National Insurance number. This will enable us, for the first time, to check accurately those coming into our country, their eligibility to work, for free hospital treatment or to claim benefits.

At the time I suggested he was being a tad disingenous about the costs and benefits of the system and noted that the US-VISIT system, which so impresses him, seems to apprehend some 500 baddies a year at a cost of $15 million each.

I now see, courtesy of Bruce Schneier, that

In a major blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to secure borders, domestic security officials have for now given up on plans to develop a facial or fingerprint recognition system to determine whether a vast majority of foreign visitors leave the country, officials say.

[…]

But in recent days, officials at the Homeland Security Department have conceded that they lack the financing and technology to meet their deadline to have exit-monitoring systems at the 50 busiest land border crossings by next December. A vast majority of foreign visitors enter and exit by land from Mexico and Canada, and the policy shift means that officials will remain unable to track the departures.

A report released on Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, restated those findings, reporting that the administration believes that it will take 5 to 10 years to develop technology that might allow for a cost-effective departure system.

Domestic security officials, who have allocated $1.7 billion since the 2003 fiscal year to track arrivals and departures, argue that creating the program with the existing technology would be prohibitively expensive.

I look forward to another Telegraph article by St Tone shortly, explaining either that we’re in the happy position of being able to sell the Americans the technology to make this work when they can’t do it themselves or that we’ve learned from their costly mistakes and are ditching the project.

I fear that I’m in for a disappointment, but ten years of this lot have taught us to bear such things with stoicism, have they not?


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December 29, 2006

ID cards yet again

Filed under: ID cards, UK — notsaussure @ 6:44 pm

Something folks may have missed, what with it appearing on Christmas Eve. I’m not actually sure how much of it is news — the fact of the penalty charges was certainly known several months ago, but their severity may not previously been published.

Anyway, The Sunday Telegraph reported, of written replies published in the previous few weeks,

A draconian regime of fines, which would hit families at times of marriage and death, is being drawn up by ministers to enforce the Identity Card scheme.

Millions of people, from struggling students to newly-wed women and bereaved relatives, will face a system of penalties, netting more than £40 million for the Treasury.

People would be fined up to £1,000 for failing to return a dead relative’s ID card, while women who marry will have to pay at least £30 for a new card if they want to use their married name, risking a £1,000 fine if they do not comply.

Pace David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, who said

It is shocking that the Government is considering charges and fines on people at some of the most sensitive times in life,

I don’t see this as too great a problem; speaking as someone who’s twice had to register a death — which is a legal obligation — I don’t think I’d have found it any more onerous or distressing to have had to take my father’s or my wife’s ID card along with me to the Registrar’s office for cancellation. Indeed, if this had enabled the Registrar to notify the (what seems like dozens of) other government departments who want to know when someone’s died, it might well have been advantageous. If you’re going to make it a requirement to hand the things in, then the requirement has to be enforceable and, so long as it’s applied sensitively, I can’t see a huge problem.

However, the other charges look a tad worrying.

Joan Ryan, the Home Office minister, said that charges would apply “if a person wished to add a married surname to his or her register entry”. Based on an estimate of 311,000 marriages a year, that would net up to £9 million a year for the Exchequer.

People would be charged at least £30 for lost or stolen cards. Based on the 930,000 driving licences lost or stolen each year, this would earn the Treasury more than £28 million a year, say the Tories.

Quite why it’s necessary to levy a tax on married women using their husband’s surname, I do not know; as I recall, when we got married my wife just informed the relevant people — bank, Inland Revenue and so forth — that she now had a new surname; I think she had to produce a copy of the marriage certificate a couple of times, but that was it. Yet another example, it seems to me, of introducing an expensive solution to a non-existent problem; since her existing bank, Lloyds, were perfectly happy to take her word for it that she’d got married and cheques in her new name should be paid into her account until the Fraud Squad said otherwise, I don’t see why ID cards have to come into it.

In another cause for concern, students are apparently going to have to record all their addresses — term-time as well as home address — or face a £1,000 fine. Given the forgetfulness of many students and the way they tend to move around, at least in London, I foresee problems ahead.

Indeed, as I recall, one of the many problems that faced the Poll Tax was that no one had really appreciated how often people — young people, certainly — tend to move house. A friend of mine, then in her late 20s, was perfectly prepared to register for the Poll Tax, at least initially. Then she split up with her boyfriend and moved back in with her parents, in another borough, for a month or so. Then she found a flat-share (another borough) which didn’t go too well, so she moved to another flat-share (and borough) three months after that. Then she changed jobs and moved into my spare room (another borough) to be closer to work while she looked for more permanent accommodation (yet another borough).

At some point in all this bouncing around between Bromley, Westminster, Camden and Islington she got tired of trying to keep up with the paperwork and just gave up being registered. OK, that was an unusual year for her, but it’s hardly an unusual series of peregrinations on a few occasions in most people’s lives. Doubtless we’ll be assured that the system will be able to cope, but do we believe it? That’s the question.

Most sinister of all is the revelation that

all fees and fines will be paid directly into the Treasury’s central funds for general spending and not go towards running the scheme

I really think this is going to turn into a plastic poll tax if they’re crazy enough to go ahead with it.


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Help Hazel Blears make up her mind

Filed under: civil liberties, ID cards, Politics — notsaussure @ 1:32 pm

Via Tim Worstall, I learn that Hazel Blears MP is conducting a poll on her website to ask

Do you think everyone should carry ID cards?

Since Tim publicised it, the voting’s gone from 53% For vs 46% Against to 25% For vs 74% Against.


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December 20, 2006

ID cards, yet again

Filed under: civil liberties, ID cards — notsaussure @ 12:50 am

No chance yet to study and digest the latest twist in the ID cards saga. On the last day before Parliament goes home for Christmas, the BBC reports that

The government has abandoned plans for a giant new computer system to run the national identity cards scheme.

Instead of a single multi-billion pound system, information will be held on three existing, separate databases.

Home Secretary John Reid said it would save cash, but the Tories said ID cards were still a £20bn “white elephant”.

As A Big Stick And A Small Carrot notes, the timing is somewhat obvious.

The report continues,

The controversial National Identity Register (NIR), which Mr Reid says will cost £5.4bn over 10 years, was originally proposed as a single “clean” computer system.

It was going to be built from scratch to avoid repeating mistakes and duplications in the government’s computer systems.

Now the information will be spread across three existing IT systems, including the Department of Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Customer Information Service, which holds national insurance records.

Now, as far as I can make out, the BBC has slightly confused the issue by talking about a ‘clean’ computer system. The actual announcement isn’t that much more informative, but the government appear to be talking about using existing IT systems and hardware — notably the Department of Work and Pensions’ system — rather than the data contained within the system; they specifically say (page 10) that the information won’t simply be copied over, so it should still — I think — be a clean database in the sense that all the data on it is newly entered and verified.

I’m a bit puzzled, though, by Dr Reid’s statement,

Mr Reid denied IT companies had wasted millions on preparation work for an entirely new system, saying the industry had been consulted on the move.

The government has reportedly spent about £35m on IT consultants since the ID cards project began in 2004.

“Doing something sensible is not necessarily a U-turn,” Mr Reid told reporters.

“We have decided it is lower risk, more efficient and faster to take the infrastructure that already exists, although the data will be drawn from other sources.”

Well, as a general principle, I agree that ‘doing something sensible is not necessarily a U-turn,’ but doing the opposite of what your predecessors were insisting on doing certainly is. If they weren’t being sensible in the first place, which I don’t think they were by wanting to stick the whole caboodle into one piece of kit, then being sensible is a U-turn in this particular instance.

However, whether asking the DWP to be in any way involved is a sensible plan is highly questionable. They’ve got one of the worst IT track records in government, which is saying something. Back in 2004, they were responsible for what was described as ‘the biggest computer crash in government history’ while attempting to upgrade to Windows XP (for links to full coverage, see here) and only last September, the BBC reported

A new computer system used to process benefits payments has been scrapped at a cost to the taxpayer of £141m, the BBC has learned.

The IT project, key to streamlining payments by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), was quietly axed at an internal meeting last month.

The project had been central to delivering savings of more than £60m for the DWP by 2008.

It is the latest in a long series of computer problems for the government.

Furthermore, a quick search with the help of Mr Google uncovered the London Local Authorities’ staff bulletins (Word document) which contain plenty of references to apologies issued by the DWP for problems encountered by Housing Benefit staff trying to access the DWP’s Customer Information System, and security warnings the DWP has issued concerning the system — this is the very same DWP system they’re proposing to use for the Identity Cards.

Doesn’t bode well.


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November 7, 2006

Polly on the CCTV

Filed under: Blogroll, civil liberties, ID cards — notsaussure @ 10:13 pm

Polly Toynbee writes in favour of CCTV and ID cards over in Talk is Cheap, dismissing concerns for privacy and civil liberties as a ‘middle-class disorder’ ; when la Toynbee comes out with such rhetoric, by the way, I’m never quite sure how to take it.

Is she ticking us off de haut en bas, do you think, rather as my posh Godmother (a genuine dowager, and bloody terrifying she was, too) used to sneer about people who talk about toilets rather than lavatories ? (Not that I imagine many members of the lower orders, other than the plumber, used to discuss such matter with my Godmother that frequently, but it was certainly something on which she had views) . Or is this a faux class warfare, with Polly pretending to be writing for the old Pravda?

Whichever it is, Mr Eugenides subjects Polly to such a thorough fisking — his passage on Ms Toynbee, Gordon Brown and the Tescos organic carrots is particularly striking — that I hardly dare add to the fun for fear of inviting invidious comparisons with his brilliance. (more…)

November 6, 2006

Disingenous?

Filed under: Blair, ID cards, Spin — notsaussure @ 11:52 am

Just noticed this in the Beloved Leader’s Telegraph article

Visitors to the United States now digitally record their fingerprint, and new UK passports from last month must carry a facial biometric. We also know how effective it can be. In trials using this new technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying to get back into the UK illegally.

The American US-VISIT programme, to which he refers, had apparently cost at least $15 billion by the start of this year. It was then announced that in its two years of operation,

Since January 2004, US‑VISIT has processed more than 44 million visitors. It has spotted and apprehended nearly 1,000 people with criminal or immigration violations, according to a DHS press release.

That’s almost 500 people a year, at a cost of $15 million per baddy. And that’s when it’s working, of course.

This prompts me to ask, of St Tone’s figure of 1,400 people trying to get back into the UK illegally, how many of these folks would have been detected in the normal course of events by more conventional means, and how much did it cost, per person, to detect those who would not otherwise have been found out.  

He seems to have missed that bit out, purely by oversight, I’m sure.


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