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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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Thursday, June 15, 2006
Nigel Sedgwick writes on ID cards:
I'd like to support you in parts, but not all, of your posting.

Rob Hinkley's comment is a delight: "It seems strange that the government resisted the disclosure request: you'd have thought that if they had nothing to hide they'd have nothing to fear."

Given the recent track record of the UK Government, one must also be concerned that "the scheme will be hugely expensive". However, not all IT systems introduced by the Government have been disasters at first; several have also been OK at the second or third attempt. The underlying problem is, rather too often, that the Government does not really know what it wants or the extent to which that is practical; and "[critics] have questioned what benefits it will bring". On this, some of my thoughts can be found at Presentation on Technical Aspects of the National Identity Card.

Concerning improving the Parliamentary bill on the balance between civil liberties and utility (through an improved service of identification to the public, business and government), suggestions can be found on Samizdata comment on 30 March at 10:39 AM.

We then move on from cost-effectiveness to your own particular point: "... weighing cost versus benefit is only half the story".

I'm not keen on this sort of approach. Whether we admit it or not, when we make a decision, we do end up balancing apples against pears according to some weighting, stated or implicit.

The Scotsman article remembers Dame Stella Rimington, from last November. However, I recollect being certain that she was wrong on the major issue of ease of forging of ID Cards, as I told the BBC.

Baroness Park claims two things.

Firstly: "The very creation of such an enormous national identity register will be a present to terrorists; it will be a splendid thing for them to disrupt and blow up, ..."

Now there are a great many databases that are prime targets for terrorists, and also many potential targets that are not databases. It's not possible to protect them all, beyond any possible vulnerability. Accordingly, the adding of one more to the large set possible targets is not (or is barely) relevant. Furthermore, databases are relatively easy to protect (by replication and backup). Nowadays, this is always done for critical infrastructure, by government and by large businesses (eg banks and insurance). I see this issue as little more than scare-mongering, even if that was not the intention.

Secondly, Baroness Park claims: "It will also provide valuable information to organised crime and to the intelligence services of unfriendly countries. It will be accessible to all of these, ..."

There is a risk. However, the damage from exposure is not quantified. Perhaps it could be explained why and to what extent access is more damaging than to telephone directories, the electoral register, Passport Office and Inland Revenue records, etc. Also, perhaps it could be explained why and to what extent the risk is greater with the National Identity Register (NIR) than with these other things, including those that we currently use to identify ourselves.

In my above-referenced technical presentation, these risks (an others deserving more concern) are identified. They exist; they matter; they do not strike me as making anywhere near an overwhelming case against the NIR.

Two things I argue are important:

- to provide improved certification of (a single or known multiple) identity, for each citizen/resident to use as and when they choose, to confirm their identity to business and government and other individuals, if this can be shown to be cost-effective (and it will be later if not now);

- to prevent, by the Government and others, unnecessary invasion of personal privacy and prevent reduction in other civil liberties, to the maximum extent consistent with the valid and useful functionality of a National Identity Scheme.

I hope all this is of some interest and use.

Best regards
Nigel C Sedgwick