Anonymous reader @ Sun 23-08-2009 14:21
A reader who wishes to remain anonymous emails:
"Thanks, it's a good article - but...
"Have you looked at the worldwide perspective on this?
"Already, about 2.2 billion people have 'smart' ID cards. Over 900 million are biometric with fingerprints (China's only has digital facial images, not fingerprints)
"By 2012, over 85% of the world's population will have smart ID cards.
"If it isn't working, why haven't we heard the screams?
"Incidentally, I should point out that I am an opponent of ID cards and fear what they will mean to ordinary people.
"What worries me is that exaggerating the problems will convince most people not to worry or oppose the project, because 'it isn't going to happen'.
"I have written an article on this subject, but it's under consideration, waiting to be published.
1. Thank you for your email.
2. I look forward to seeing your article.
3. The problem I consider is the unreliability of the biometrics chosen for the National Identity Scheme (NIS) and for its cousins, like eBorders. I have not exaggerated that problem. I have reported it and cited public domain sources in each case.
4. The NIS and eBorders explicitly rely on biometrics. Bringing attention to the laughable unreliability of the biometrics chosen is an economical way of demonstrating that the NIS and eBorders must fail. It confronts those two initiatives with quantitative evidence, no theological or political or social or ethical arguments required, it's not a matter of judgement, it's nothing more than arithmetic, there's no "wriggle room", within their own terms of reference, these initiatives must fail. The Identity & Passport Service (IPS) and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) are an embarrassment to any self-respecting Big Brother, they wouldn't even get a GCSE in mass surveillance.
5. The big arguments against putting state-controlled identity management at the centre of social interaction are not even mentioned, let alone exaggerated.
6. If readers think my point is that there is no need to campaign against the NIS and eBorders because they won't work, then I have failed abysmally.
7. It had not occurred to me that anyone would interpret this article as a call to cease campaigning but if that is a valid inference then I thank you for opening my eyes to it and for creating the opportunity to reiterate my belief that the NIS and eBorders poison the political ecology of the UK and need to be energetically resisted and terminated as soon as possible in the interests of the good government that we want, need, deserve and pay for. The intention of the article is precisely to equip people with simple arguments to campaign with.
8. "Why haven't we heard the screams?", you ask. In the UK, with its typically gentle demeanour, criticism of the NIS and eBorders started slowly and quietly, but it's in fourth gear now and you can hear the screams, notably on the exemplary forum of No2ID (http://forum.no2id.net) and radiating out from there in the press and the broadcast media, local and national, and in Parliament and the devolved assemblies and local authorities.
9. Spain has compulsory ID cards. Spain suffered the horror of the Madrid railway bombings. They may not have made the connection but, point that out to people, and you'll hear the screams. By 2005, Pakistan had issued 64 million biometric ID cards to citizens at home and abroad to help combat terrorism. Two years later, the unfortunate Benazir Bhutto was still nevertheless assassinated and even now Pakistan still remains some distance away from the orderly, efficient and safe state promised by the advocates of ID cards. They may not have made the connection but, point that out to people, and you'll hear the screams.
10. Why don't you hear screams from US-VISIT? Because US-VISIT doesn't apply to US citizens. It applies to Mexicans trying to cross the Rio Grande. They can scream all they like, they won't be heard. And it applies to tourists and businessmen. They can scream all they like, but they don't have a vote. If the rumoured plans of DHS to apply US-VISIT to the Canadian border ever come to fruition, then you might hear some screams.
11. Let me ask you in return -- why don't you hear screams of success? Where are the well-argued cases with supporting evidence for the success of biometric ID cards?
12. I look forward to seeing your sources for the 2.2 billion, 900 million, 85% figures. In the case of the 900 million people with flat print fingerprint ID cards, has identity theft been reduced, has other crime been reduced, has terrorism been countered, have government services become more efficient? If not, why waste money on these identity management systems?
13. "Global mobile penetration to reach 75% by 2011". That's what it says in The Register, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/10/26/mobile_pentration_research/. That's 4 billion people enrolled in a global identity management system that works. At the same time as heading off an identity management system for 900 million people that doesn't work, I really think we should all pay a bit of attention to mobile phones, http://DematerialisedID.com.
14. Have I looked at the worldwide perspective? For mobile phones, I tried to. For IPS-style ID card systems, no. I have looked at the NIS in depth. I have looked at the EU's OSCIE specification (http://dematerialisedid.com/Mobiles.html#nothing) and Project STORK (http://dematerialisedid.com/BCSL/Hall.html and http://dematerialisedid.com/BCSL/Festival.html). I have looked at US-VISIT in some depth (http://dematerialisedid.com/Biometrics.html#usvisit) and at NADRA in Pakistan (http://dematerialisedid.com/BCSL/Risk.html para.10). Also Operation Golden Shield in China. But not at the whole world.
15. It seems to me that an awful lot of countries, the UK included, are labouring under the delusion that governing means operating identity management systems and that they will work because biometrics work. And it seems to me as a result that the first country to point out that the biometrics emperor has no clothes will cause consternation, bring the whole house of cards down and ultimately help to restore reason to government.