Wednesday, October 01, 2003

ID cards: It looks as if they're serious...

Several reports appeared over the period I was in the US regarding ID cards. Taiwan has finished rolling out 22 million Java-based ID cards according to White Rose, and Thailand is planning a similar card for its 61 million citizens. Scottish secondary school pupils are to be issued an ID card according to a Scotland on Sunday report (thanks again to White Rose for highlighting this). Tony Blair apparently thinks ID cards might protect civil liberties, whilst the Guardian reports that plans are afoot to create a unified population database.

All this suggests the govt are serious about introducing ID cards, despite some reports of splits in the cabinet over the issue. Clearly the practical problems that could affect ID cards can be overcome as Taiwan has shown. The govt's own consultation suggests making driving licences and passports double as ID cards, enabling the roll-out to exploit the renewal and updating of these documents that already occurs, with a new ID-card being issued to those without. Such a process would minimise the costs associated with issuing the ID cards, although creating the unified population database will not be trivial. I will not be surprised to see a bill in the forthcoming Queen's Speech.

I don't believe for a minute they'll have any real impact on crime, terrorism, benefit fraud, illegal immigration or any other excuse the govt has for introducing them. There's no evidence that those countries who have ID cards have had any more success at dealing with such problems than those who don't. Even if the cards are difficult to forge, people could get hold of them by forging the documents needed to obtain them. Such a large database will contain numerous errors, and will also be a target for organised criminals wishing to extract or modify the database for their own purposes. Illegal immigrants could simply arrive without contacting the authorities, work on the black market and fraudulently obtain the cards by forging the documentation to apply for them. The vast bulk of benefit fraud comes from misdeclared circumstances, not false IDs.

Those opposed to this might like to visit this site.

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