ID Cards – the beginning of the end

The ‘getting rid of identity cards’  Bill (for which I am the No2 and was on the front bench for the 2nd Reading this week) was, in a way, the culmination of a long-fought campaign by many groups- NO2ID, Liberty, LibDems andthe Conservatives et al. It felt so good to be able to take part beginning the process of getting rid of identity cards – and the database as well!

Damien Green, who leads for the coalition on ID cards, told the House during his closing remarks on the debate, that his one, single rebellion throughout his opposition years to a three line whip was on ID cards – so most fitting that he is the man to bury them!

It was pretty interesting to note too – when it came to the vote on 2nd Reading – Labour abstained. Given this was their cherished flagship policy – one might have thought they would vote against its imminent demise.

I long, long ago wrote an article on ID cards – which slightly amended and adapted – I have pasted below.

Our Liberal Democrat long standing opposition to ID cards was based on – well quite frankly – many many things.

Cost: ID cards would have cost a fortune and that cost would have been born by the public.

IT track record: the last Government hardly had a brilliant track record in introducing large scale IT systems. Systems in the Post Office, Air Traffic Control, Passport Office, Probation Service and the Child Support Agency, among others, ran massively over budget. Did anyone really expect the most ambitious system, for ID cards, to be any different?

Discrimination: ID cards would have lead to discrimination and harassment. As one of the given ex-Government reasons to introduce ID cards was to encourage the police to detect illegal immigrants and terrorist suspects, black and Asian people would inevitably have been disproportionately targeted. I have no doubt that what Labour introduced as voluntary would have, at the next opportunity, have been made compulsory. It is in their DNA – so to speak.

Confidentiality: The introduction of ID cards would have allowed our personal data to be shared without our consent. Even the tightest security would eventually have been breached. ID cards would only have held limited information but there are 52 categories of ‘limited’ information which would have built up a pretty comprehensive picture of us and our lives.

How could anyone guarantee that ID cards would not have been used to spy on citizens or restrict civil liberties? How could anyone guarantee that ID cards wouldn’t have eventually been used to monitor individuals or groups or restrict our entitlement to services? This was the thin end of the wedge – and given the Labour ex-Government’s predilection to pry and control……

Security: How safe would the National Database have been? The DVLA sells information. There would have inevitably been commercial pressures. The ID card would ultimately have been available to all government departments. Would it have stopped there? No – it would have been accessible under the principle of availability to all EU member state law agencies and so on. It would have been a target for fraudsters and a gift for those intending harm – legitimised by an ID card.

Effectiveness: Perhaps the most salient argument against ID cards was always that they would not have succeeded in any of the areas they claimed they would. ID cards would not have prevented benefit fraud. They would not have halted identity fraud or identity theft. They would not have stopped illegal working. They would not have assisted in the fight against crime or terrorism.

Some benefit fraud may have been prevented by forcing people to show an ID card when claiming benefits. ID cards would, however, have had no impact at all on the most common type of benefit fraud – people misrepresenting their circumstances rather than their identity. Countries that have ID cards still have benefit fraud.

Indeed, the value of ID cards as a guarantee of identity and the access they provide to valuable services would have   made them a target for forgery for criminals and fraudsters. They would have ushered in a new era of identity fraud and theft. Labour claimed that the technology couldn’t be forged, but I think history, had ID cards come into force fully, would have proved them wrong. It’s a common, common pattern – new encryption, new security, put it on a device that gets widely distributed, and it gets cracked. In a relatively recent case in Germany, criminals forged an ID card that included biometric data.

By forcing people to show their ID cards in applying for a job in the UK, the former Labour Government expected to prevent illegal working. That would not have happened. Industries with high levels of illegal labour are already required to check identities . ID cards would not have thwarted unscrupulous employers.

Similarly, ID cards would not have helped fight crime or terrorism. Generally, the police’s problem is not identifying those arrested but catching criminals in the first place. The terrorists responsible for 9/11 and the Madrid bombings all carried valid identity documents.

Knowing someone’s identity is different from knowing how they will behave – so let’s work on behaviour – ie the causes of crime. There’s a novel idea.

0 thoughts on “ID Cards – the beginning of the end

  1. It’s great that you see this as the beginning of the end, rather than the end… No2ID have several criticisms with the Identity Documents Bill, and even if those are addressed, the popularist and xenophobic “ID cards for foreigners” scheme will still remain, along with NHS Summary Care records etc. etc.

    I’m pleased, as a No2ID supporter and a Lib Dem, to see this Bill in the Commons – but I suspect I’ll be supporting No2ID for a long time to come!

  2. Not even the beginning of the end of the beginning . . .

    The National DNA database remains an important step forward in solving crimes, preventing recidivism and reducing their impact on those innocent suspects whose details are already held.

    The ID cards will be back, they are the best way forward to cut back on benefit fraud (pity the Labour Government was diverted into another ID scheme), the USA will require them in time for all visitors . . The list goes on.

    We aren’t going back to the Victorian age, no matter how hard the National Liberals and their Cons pals wish, and the EU will move forward leaving Britain behind. Already ID cards are useful for frequent UK visitors to the EU.

    ID cards were an option I would have taken up in my own good time.

    Another piece of HMG diktat cutting at my freedom and convenience.

  3. Brilliant that this is coming to an end, and really refreshing to hear that my concerns (and ones I have made some noise about) are the very ones you have identified.

    There are circumstances where an ID Card could be useful for people to help people prove their identity, but the risks are just too high.

    And the cost!

  4. Already ID cards are useful for frequent UK visitors to the EU.

    I’m going to ignore the rest of that nonsense since Lynne’s post already explains why it’s nonsense, but this one deserves a direct rebuttal:

    A passport provides everything you need to visit the EU and then some more. It is also cheaper than an ID card, in both cash and liberty. While it is true that ID cards can be used for this purpose, they are merely a more expensive *and* worse alternative to a passport.

    And that’s pretty much what ID cards do everywhere else: be an expensive, ineffective, dangerous alternative to existing systems that work better and cost less.

  5. Well said Lynne. Quietzapple is welcome to his totalitarian universe. The rest of us consider our freedom too important to barter away for minor perceived benefits. It is true that the US Federal government has flirted with the idea of ID cards (to be precise they have tried to mandate ‘secure’ standards for driving licences). They are up against three massive problems (1) Americans value their liberty even more than the British (2) States have said they will not be able to change their driving licence systems anytime soon (read, never) and would expect Uncle Sam to pay the billions of dollars it would cost (3) Not all Americans carry driving licences. Just one state, California, issues more driving licences than the UK does.

    The question of ID cards for non-EU residents is a difficult one. The EU has said that vignettes (the stamp or document pasted into passports) must be replaced by a card. The Labour government termed such documents ID cards but they are in fact a combination of visa and work permit. They are only needed when entering or leaving the EU, and by employers to verify employment status. We cannot unilaterally get rid of them, even though we all suspect that the systems behind them could be expanded to make a national ID system if a future government wanted to.

    ID cards are useful documents – but the Labour Party got it all wrong. An ID card is necessary in many European countries, and in some you must keep it with you. Continental Europe does not maintain massive ID card databases, or records of when ID cards are used (German law expressly forbids keeping such records). ID cards are the ‘photo ID’ often asked for in North America, not fraud proof, not 100% secure, but good enough. We need such cards, but a simple system and a card costing no more than ten pounds would meet the bill. We certainly do not need a National Identity Register, an Identity Commissioner and an Identity and Passport Service.

    There is a separate need, completely ignored by the Labour Party’s monstrous system, that of secure identification on-line. Some EU countries (Estonia for example) have ID systems that can be used for online ID verification.

    Finally, although we all know that the ID card system brought in by the Labour Party was consistent with their totalitarianism and destruction of individual liberty, we must not forget the other parties responsible. The Home Office has always wanted a citizen database in which they can record who we are and everything they know or can find out about us. The civil servants responsible for this approach need to be found, and their minds changed for good. Whatever department or unit is behind this thinking needs to be rooted out and destroyed, along with the National Identity Register. The consultancies involved in the design and development of this totalitarian dinosaur should have known better. Some walked, but the ones who took taxpayers’ money for one of the worst thought through pieces of software engineering ever should repay every penny they took out of our pockets.

  6. Lynne – as someone who has criticised you before for not engaging with issues properly and writing blogs which fail to set out a coherent argument for policy, let me start by thanking you for this full explanation of your opposition to ID cards. This is markedly different to some of your recent blogs and I hope it continues.

    But I’m afraid you spoilt things with your last comment:

    “…let’s work on behaviour – ie the causes of crime. There’s a novel idea.”

    I agree utterly with the sentiment. But you know full well this is not a novel idea. You are not in Opposition. You are now a Government Minister. In the Home Office. You don’t need to make sarcastic, throw-away lines about how the world would be a better place if only you had your way. You are in charge of policy, responsible for making these changes and explaining your Government’s decisions.

    One question in particular – if you believe that tackling the causes of crime are so important and if you accept that youth unemployment is one of these causes, why are you cutting the Future Jobs Fund? You were very clearly in support of it before the election. Please don’t say this was about compromises in order to get a strong government. If you had to compromise, why give up this so easily?

    @SimonEvans – I’m not a fan of ID cards but accusing Quietzapple of totalitarianism is a bit rich when in the same post you can make a comment like this:

    “…The civil servants responsible for this approach need to be found, and their minds changed for good. Whatever department or unit is behind this thinking needs to be rooted out and destroyed…”

    Enforced changing of minds? Where’s the liberalism there?

  7. @BenC – Huh? ‘Totalitarian – of or relating to a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.’ Not much doubt that the UK ID cards programme was fundamentally totalitarian. I accept that state power is needed to overcome state power in this case, but I don’t see how else you do it. There is a real totalitarian mindset in the home Office. Do you just live with it, and hope the politicians will not be conned (as many Labour Home Secretaries were conned)? Or, better, do you make extra effort to change the culture completely? Tell me how you would do it if you don’t want to persuade the civil servants that they are wrong?

  8. @Simon Evans. Agree with this post – i.e. making extra effort to change culture by persuasion and strength of argument. It was the language in the previous one (finding and ‘destroying’ those that disagree) that jarred.

  9. BenC – well thanks for the comment on this being a ‘fuller’ blog than usual – but it’s because have written and spoken on it often. As a working politician – very little time usually other than to touch on issues and try to put my view.

  10. Lynne – you seem to be one of the few Parliamentarians to have thought about the issues of ID cards and personal liberty constructively. Now that ID cards are on their way out, can you be persuaded to address some of the other curtailments of liberty that many of us find distressing?

    Here are a few for starters:
    The misuse of S44 for stops and searches (already found to be a breach of human rights, but still done. Photographers are a popular target, especially if they are taking pictures of police activity.)
    The misuse of RIPA by local authorities. (They should not have RIPA powers at all)
    The ACPO funded monitoring system that collects details of our car journeys, stores them for an unlimited period of time and is used to spy on citizens going about their private affairs. No legislative consent has ever been sought for this system.
    UKBA’s e-Borders anti-terror data collection system, which will record all our journeys into and out of the UK for ten years, in massive detail. Cost to the government 1.2bn pounds, plus costs to carriers, and inconvenience to travellers. Number of terrorists caught by this system so far: none. This system invades personal privacy and is illegal under EU law.

    There are plenty more -ContactPoint, the NHS Summary Care Record files and the Vetting and Barring Agency (‘you’re a pederast unless we say you are not’). We don’t need any of them, they are expensive and destructive of our core values.

    Over to you!

  11. “Perhaps the most salient argument against ID cards was always that they would not have succeeded in any of the areas they claimed they would. ID cards would not have prevented benefit fraud.”
    That was because it was a badly designed scheme. Indeed what we ended up with was simply a passport card, because the big automated electronic surveillance network was thankfully never built.
    We DO need a secure token for use online – but, again, without the surveillance network. HO can’t do it – another dept needs to go and study those eID schemes already operating in other countries, particularly those that have truly democratic constitutions – DWP seems best placed, particularly since the idea that they would rank equal to HO in the combined DWP and HO ID card scheme (the autumn 2006 revision) got dropped, thus setting DWP free.

  12. Another little note: the end ID cards Bill needs scrutiny by experts, and I see is getting it in the online community. Lets try and get the unintended consequences searched for now, and close any back doors that would let surveillance in again, and also close any gaps that might allow the existing personal data to be preserved when the intent is that it be scrapped.

  13. Simon – thanks for list. Will look at issues you raise anew – am already looking at vetting and barring myself. Contact Point and NHS database are part of coalition agreement and I believe are being scrapped (will have to double check). Some of the other issues are being re-assessed already – but don’t want to quote them as writing this from memory. L

  14. Good work Lynne. It sounds like the government are making bit strides forward on lots of issues the ID cards being just one. It was a concern of mine that this issue may have been discriminatory in some way so keep up the good work.

  15. @Simon: the EU last November enacted legislation to push forward the Stockholm Agreement on sharing data and also keeping it secure, in particular about people travelling across borders – 2014 is the date for compliance. As a result, the UK’s security agencies, including the group in Cabinet Office, have started to move on persuading public sector organisations to be much more careful about collecting, storing and releasing personal data – Whitehall depts in particular are, I hear, being given advice.

  16. @dreamingspire

    Thank you for your comment. The Stockholm Agreement is, in some respects, a positive achievement. But it does not address many of the specifics of the UK programmes we are all bothered about.

    If we take e-Borders as an example, we can see that it may, or may not, comply with Stockholm. It does not, however, comply in any way with EU freedom of movement regulations which have been a cornerstone of the EU for many years, and are fundamental to its development. The EU says that any citizen (and we are all EU citizens if we hold British passports) can move freely from one country to another. We do not have to give advance notice of doing so, nor of our travel plans, eating habits and how we propose to pay for our tickets. e-Borders requires all this information, and much more, in advance of travel. Before the last election Lin Homer (the overpaid head of the UKBA) was told to put e-Borders on ice by the Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee. She has not done so. FOI requests (which took many months) show that the EU clearly thinks that e-Borders cannot apply to intra-EU travel. Yet the UKBA is dreaming up plans to make yachstmen file their itineraries and crews before they leave a British port, even if if they are just crossing the Channel. UKBA has already set up a huge office near Manchester full of snoops to study all the travel information filed through e-Borders. This may be beneficial for travel to North America, but it is unthinkable for the EU.

  17. Isn’t it odd how only those people supporting ID cards in some form are posting here under anything other than their real names? 😉

  18. @Andrew Hickey

    Do you think anyone believes that Andrew Hickey is your real name?

  19. Hi Simon – to answer your points:

    The police need to be able to stop and search suspected terrorists and to maintain public confidence in our counter terrorism powers, it is absolutely crucial all those responsible for exercising them do so properly.

    The good news is that the new coalition government has already committed to reviewing our counter-terrorism legislation, including the operation of the Section 44 stop and search provisions. We need to await the outcome of that review before making any decisions.

    Councils should never have been using RIPA powers to snoop on their residents to check up on dog fouling or to see what day they put their bins out. Our coalition document made it very clear that we will ban the use of powers in the RIPA Act by councils, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime.

    The Government supports the e-Borders programme and is determined that the scheme will provide security to the UK border from the threats of illegal immigration, serious crime, and international terrorism by checking passenger movements against UKBA and police watchlists.

    Over 100 million passenger movements in and out of the UK per year are now being checked using e-Borders, which has led to more than 5,900 arrests. So – you probably won’t be overjoyed by this answer – but it is the situation for the forseeable future.

    I don’t recognise your description regarding monitoring of car journeys – but the new government is committed to protecting civil liberties. ANPR, along with other crime-fighting tools used by the police, needs to be properly regulated and we are already looking at how that might best be done.

  20. I know that the Coalition has expressed their support for e-Borders, and indeed for strong borders. But those with liberal tendencies are alarmed by the way in which e-Borders has developed, no matter how strongly we feel that nasty people (or at least nasty foreigners) ought not to be allowed into our country.
    The UK consists of islands, connected by a fixed link to the Continent. We share one island with another country, but have an open border with it, and have complex working relationships with several other islands (Man and the Channel Islands). We also belong to the EU, and are bound by numerous treaties and regulations agreed by EU member nations. We are a party to parts of the Schengen Agreement (and the EU could, in theory, force us to adopt all of its provisions).
    The Schengen countries have abolished all internal border controls, using in country checks of one sort or another (often by means of ID cards) to detect and, where appropriate, repatriate undesirables. There are strict external controls, requiring an agreed level of scrutiny of non-EU entrants, a common visa and various other systems (including interchange of data, to which the UK is not a party). In 1999, the House of Lords recommended full participation in Schengen. It is one of the EU’s great successes, dismantling border controls without adverse results for trade, tourism or terrorism.
    One reason given by the UK for not participating in Schengen is that continental countries have ‘extensive and permeable’ borders, and the UK can protect itself better by implementing its own border controls. The UK has about 10,000 miles of coast, protected by just five UKBA cutters. Anyone who arrives in Eire (which also has a long and largely unpatrolled coastline) can cross freely into Northern Ireland, and/or take a ferry or plane to Great Britain. It is hard to keep people out of the UK who want to come here, making the UK’s claim hard to justify. The Irish would like to implement Schengen, but they wish to retain the Common Travel Area and have so far gone along with the UK.
    Despite not participating in Schengen, we are bound by EU regulations that allow the free movement of all EU citizens from one member state to another without hindrance, without notice and without having to do any more than, if required, show an approved ID card or passport at the point of entry.
    EU law forbids countries, or carriers, from requiring citizens to supply any advance information about their travel plans within the EU. It requires carriers to say that it cannot be made a condition of travel that Advance Passenger Information (API – which now means the machine-readable data on a passport) is supplied.
    Yet the UKBA states, on the home page of its website,
    “e-Borders carries out checks on travellers before they begin their journey. This allows our officers to identify those who should not be in the UK or who intend harm.
    All you need to do is provide your carrier with information from your passport or travel document before you travel, and the carrier then provides e-Borders with passenger and crew details for the journey.”
    This works for travel outside the EU, but should not apply to travel within it. Yet British travel companies have to comply with e-Borders requirements for all journeys. For example, in January I flew on BA to Marseilles. BA requires API. When I told them they were in breach of EU law and had to carry me whether I provided the information or not they said they had to do what UKBA told them – and that it was ‘a new requirement.’
    UKBA has not yet told the ferry companies and Eurostar how e-Borders will apply to them. The continental ticket offices selling Eurostar tickets cannot supply API as e-Borders wants, as it is against EU law to require API. The ferry companies cannot check the passports of, for instance, coach passengers, ahead of time. If all passports were to be checked as e-Borders requires then Dover would need to double its physical size – clearly impossible.
    In effect e-Borders is not going to apply to travellers on these routes, or to yachtsmen, or to those crossing from Eire, any time soon, if ever. We have a system, which ‘rigorously’ checks some travellers’ ID in advance of travel. Only half the travellers in and out of the country are so checked, the other half are outside the system, and cannot easily be brought into it. In addition, of the half that are within it, more than half of those are under no obligation (per EU law) to comply with e-Borders requirements for API.
    The intensive scrutiny of travellers by e-Borders has led to a paltry few thousand criminals identified. The system has not caught a single terrorist so far, the ostensible reason for it. An expenditure of 1.2bn pounds on, say, the police, or on other border controls, ought to produce a few more than 5,000 arrests.
    The e-Borders approach is similar to US border control. Americans try to have strong borders, but almost no internal controls. The result is that over 12m people now live in the USA who would not have been allowed across the border. The USA has no easy way of detecting or removing them. The e-Borders approach is likely to have similar results – once you are in the UK, it will be easy to stay. Other European countries take a different approach, they make it quite hard to get in, but also have internal controls designed to pick up illegal immigrants, and those wanted for offenses.
    Like it or not we will at some point be forced either to adopt a continental; European approach, or leave the EU. We cannot unilaterally say we are going to count everyone in and out with a system which flouts European law. Going to France should be a simple as travelling from Kansas to Iowa. It is time we joined Schengen and got out of our protectionist mindset. Schengen countries are not invaded by illegal immigrants, overrun with criminals or rocked with terrorist explosions. Money was thrown at e-Borders instead of thought. The UKBA (which needs a complete change of management) should be made to sit down and think again.

  21. As Lord Erroll (one of the last of the hereditary peers, and an IT specialist) has repeatedly pointed out, much of the operational cost of the IPS is covered by the fees charged for passports, and we could do the same for a good quality eID scheme (digital certificates for online authentication and digital signature). So we are looking at the startup cost. Therefore ask DWP to run it as an extension to the NI database and issuing system. It would, over time, allow them to verify their NI database (which verification was part of the 2006 revamp of the now defunct ID card scheme reorganisation, but DWP got pushed out).

    Given that we could find another country not far away that has such a scheme and copy it, my guess is well under £100M. And in return we get much more secure eServices, so fees could be charged for use of the digital certificates.

  22. Apart from the eID aspect, covered by dreamingspire above, a workable ID card could be produced by the DVLA. It could be done for a modest price if, and only if, the Home Office ID card experts were kept at arm’s length and the specification and functionality limited to what most European ID cards offer. If Simon’s question was about the cost of the now scrapped ID card scheme then we will never know, because the costs of that scheme were deliberately commingled with the costs of changes to the passport system, many of which will continue to be used. It was at least 300million, but possibly a lot more.

  23. Indeed DVLA could produce the cards, as they have the hitech equipment used for the eBorders cards. But they don’t, as far as I know, understand a PKI scheme. Nor does DWP unless they have been learning very recently, but through the pan-European STORK project they have contacts with those in other EU countries who do understand PKIs.

  24. Personally I have had my National ID Card for almost 6 months and I love the little critter. I can pop to France on le eurostar and not have to think, do I have my passport?? Because the card is always in my wallet.
    And to those who suggest that a driving licence can do that same thing, no it cant and not everyone drives!
    But what the little gem of a card does do it prevent on person entering the UK, becoming a citizen and then sending their non-biometric passport to their brothers and cousins and everyone else in their tribe in their home country who enter the UK one by one month after month for years upon years – we did not count people and passports out as they left and so the frail document was subject to decades of abuse. Just how many mohamed mohomed’s are there in the UK when legally only one with that face, iris scan and set of finger prints should be here, it would have been great to have rooted out 4 or 5 million people who took the mickey and are here now. No the card will not stop a imbicile from putting a bomb in their backpack and getting onto a train or bus etc but what it will do is actually let us know Exactly who is in the UK! At the moment the government dont have a clue or perhaps they do and the cancelling of this card and the suggest cancelling of the 10 year census, is that a way of hiding the greatest con trick ever pulled on the great and mighty British Government?