Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Monday, June 20, 2005
Surveillance over ordinary citizens. Dominic Fox wrote a letter to Sally Keeble MP about ID cards. He says, "I think the point raised at the end about coercion is actually the most significant."

Here is his letter:

Dear Sally Keeble,

I am writing to you because I am very concerned about the government's plans to introduce a nation-wide identity database, supported by compulsory fingerprinting, the tracking of individuals' movements and the issue of ID cards.

The implications for civil liberties of these proposals seem to me to be very much graver than their supporters in Parliament wish to acknowledge. While I do not share the fear of some opponents of ID cards that the UK is on the brink of turning into a "police state", I do wonder at the readiness with which our government is prepared to extend its own powers of surveillance over ordinary citizens who have neither been convicted, nor are suspected, of committing any crime. The potential abuses of such surveillance are many and alarming; the proposed safeguards of the personal information the government wishes to collect - and share, promiscuously, with an ever-widening circle of third parties - are inadequate and few.

I have two additional concerns. The first is over the technical feasibility of the scheme. In my professional life as a software engineer, I am often confronted with the shortcomings of large-scale database systems. A combination of human error and the inherent complexity of their own design makes such systems prone to severe degradation both in the quality and reliability of the information they contain, and in the readiness with which that information can be accessed, updated or - in the case of error, which arises frequently - corrected.

The proposed national identity database is more complex and ambitious by an order of magnitude than even the largest of the systems I have worked with. It will cost huge sums of money to implement - the costs seem to rise with each new estimate - and require the co-ordination of massive human and technical resources. Such a project risks becoming an expensive failure: a large-scale transfer of public money into the hands of IT contractors, with potentially little to show for it at the end. If the project does run to its conclusion, and the system is delivered, it is highly likely to be late, over budget, and functionally delinquent.

My last concern is over the kind and degree of coercion that will be required to implement the scheme. Those who refuse to sign up are to be heavily fined, as is anybody who fails to notify the authorities of a change of address. Possession of an ID card will be made a prerequisite for access to basic and essential services. It does not seem to me that either the moral or the practical case for such coercion has been established. Whom will those who refuse to be fingerprinted, registered and tracked have harmed by their refusal? What principle of social fairness will they have violated? By what right does the government propose to confiscate the property of those who disagree with it about the utility and acceptability of ID cards?

I intend to refuse to register for an identity card, and will not vote for the electoral candidate of any party that believes it has the right to compel me to do so.

Yours sincerely,

Dominic Fox

Bet she answers, "Society has been harmed."