Friday, August 08, 2003

ID cards: New Labour's poll tax?

Over recent weeks there have been several reports about the British govt's plans for a national identity card, e.g. this report in the Telegraph.

According to the Telegraph's report the ID card will cost £25 pounds and will be compulsory to own (I've seen other reports suggesting it would be £39 pounds). Quite why issuing 50 million pieces of plastic to everyone over 16 will help at all with fighting terrorism, crime, illegal immigration, health tourism or benefit fraud is something that no-one has managed to adequately explain to me. If our current forms of ID don't suffice for these purposes, then how are we to issue such cards in a manner that will make them any more reliable? After all in order to issue the card, the govt will need to ask for proof of ID and all we have is the current stuff. Thus even if the card is made more difficult to forge than any current form of ID, the documentation required to obtain it won't be.

However aside from whether the cards are of any real use or not, there are serious logistical problems to be overcome in the issuing of these cards and the maintenance of the database, and the govt has not had a good record on large-scale computer projects to date. To issue 50 million cards over 13 years (and that's just to cover the existing population over 16, never mind additions from births and immigration) will require an average of over 10500 cards to be issued each day, along with a database entry. Is the govt seriously saying it can make even remotely adequate checks on applicant's identities if they're planning to issue these cards at an average rate of 439 cards per hour?! Note this calculation assumes applications being processed for 24 hours a day, 7 days per week and 365 days per year for 13 years. And the govt's record on large scale computing projects is atrocious -- most of them fail, the few that don't run way over budget and suffer all sorts of problems before creaking into a semblance of workability. This project would dwarf them all.

Margaret Thatcher finally came a cropper over the famous "poll tax". These proposed cards would literally be another poll tax -- a tax on mere existence -- because it would be compulsory to own one and the govt plans to charge you £25 (or £39) for the privilege. I suggest that if the policy was seriously pursued it may even turn out to be a poll tax in the figurative sense of a disastrous and unpopular policy that deeply damages the govt of the day, forcing them to relent...

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