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03 July 2009 Blog Home : July 2009 : Permalink

Voluntary (ha ha) ID Cards

Alan Johnson thinks we should all welcome ID cards, he trots out the tired old line about ID theft as justification. He writes lots of tosh starting with this:

Our identity, the information that makes us unique, is something that we get called upon to prove each day, when we are opening a bank account, renting a flat, proving our right to work.

Those of us who do not flip houses and claim dodgy expenses do not in fact need to prove our identity each day. Apart from the requirements of Security Theatre and International Travel I have not needed to prove my identity more than once in the last year and the only reason I had to actually document my identity in that case was because of petty government bureaucracy. The same goes for at least two of his three listed daily activites. Banks only require identification because of money laundering laws and if it weren't for idiotic immigration laws, income taxes and National Insurance I doubt employers would care whether their new employees have "the right to work" or not. Private landlords might want ID but I suspect that actually what is more interesting is suitable references of character and ability to pay. ID only becomes interesting if the tenant buggers off without paying his rent.

It is this unique information that fraudsters and criminals want and this is why we guard it so carefully. Shredding machines, once only found in offices, are now found in many homes as people protect their personal information by destroying personal bank and billing information.

The introduction of identity cards is a simple means of helping you, and I, protect our unique identity from fraudsters. Identity fraud costs the UK economy £1.2bn on average each year and causes misery for tens of thousands who fall victim. At a cost of just £30, the identity card is a cheap way of helping fight back. So, despite the headlines that would have readers think otherwise, I'm not scrapping identity cards – I'm committed to delivering them more quickly to the people who will benefit most.

OK how precisely does having an ID card protect our unique identity from fraudsters. Is he trying to claim that ID cards will be impossible to clone/forge/counterfeit? If he is then he's just flat out lying. If not then he needs to explain how an ID card that can be cloned/forged etc. protects our unique information. That's going to be hard because as I've said before the existance of a single (government mandated) form of ID simply means that criminals have an incentive to figure out the undoubted weaknesses in the scheme.

I know that some of you have real concerns about the government's motives for introducing the card. When I announced this week that I would make identity cards wholly voluntary it was because I believe that there are real benefits that will make the card an attractive proposition for many people. I think the case for identity cards has been made, but understand that getting a card will be a big decision for some people. Easy or hard, I think it should be a voluntary decision, one that people choose to take, because they agree and welcome the benefits an identity card will provide.

Three years ago the government also said ID cards would be voluntary but they kind of slipped up and noted that eventually you'd need one to do anything at all, making them de facto compulsory. Indeed one can say that to some extent proof of ID is already compulsory. Consider the case of Willie Hamilton and his recent lottery win:

William Hamilton won the money on a £2 scratch card but lottery officials are asking for proper identification and are requiring the winner has a bank account.

That's where the matter becomes a bit more difficult.

Mr Hamilton is a convicted robber. He was released from prison a year ago and is trying to rebuild his life.

The £100,000 prize would be a good start, but lottery operator Camelot Group has been reluctant to hand over the money to a man who doesn't have a driving licence, passport nor bank account.

Mr Hamilton doesn't exist because he doesn't have the right bits of paper asserting his existance. Worse, for the government, he keeps his income in untraceable cash rather than easy to track bank electrons which means its hard for the goverment to rob tax him. Our lad Alan the Post continues:

In particular, I'm pleased that the government will be looking at bringing forward proposals for pensioners aged 75 and over to receive an identity card free of charge.

Err why would pensioners aged 75 and over benefit from an ID card? As a general rule people of that age are not busy "opening a bank account, renting a flat, [or] proving [their] right to work". In fact since they are pensioners they are almost certainly NOT working and most of them are not moving and have already had a bank account for years. So what possible benefit do they get from this card? Since my father is in this category I shall be fascinated to learn how much effort he is required to make to get this "free" card and I shall be even more interested to find out later how much he uses it. My predictions are that getting the card is going to require a good day of form-filling and sitting in waiting rooms and that he'll never actually use the thing at all once issued except possibly as an alternative to his passport (which he already has) for trips to EU countries.

I also want to see young people with identity cards. They will not only act as a proof of age for the individual but also empower communities tackling underage drinking and crime by enabling local retailers, including pubs and supermarkets, to help ensure they aren't selling restricted goods, such as knives and alcohol, to those who are underage.

Oh look at that bait and switch. Old people, who don't need the things get them for free. Young people, who will have to pay for them, are going to be forced to get them and use them to buy things the government wants to regulate. And this is going to "empower communities". No it isn't. It's going to empower tinpot little hitlers to hassle young people and/or the shopkeepers and bar staff who may not wish to enforce the checks.

And is it going to stop underage drinking? Of course it isn't. We have entire classes of substance (i.e. drugs) which are completely illegal to buy but which are readily available to any one of any age who wanders to the right (or wrong) street corner. If ID cards for alcohol is enforced this will help kill the pubs and clubs that might otherwise survive on teenagers and force said teens to either borrow the ID card of their elder siblings/friends or to buy lager at inflated prices from booze "dealers". In either case they will then consume it in the streets and parks in precisely the way that they currently do, only more so because they can't drink in a pub/club.

And this is why I have taken the decision to speed up the rollout of identity cards by announcing that alongside people in Manchester, residents in the wider north-west will also be able to apply for a card in the new year. People believe in protecting what they have and what they have worked hard to achieve – a good name and a good credit rating. Being able to protect your identity from fraudsters who would use and abuse it is something we all want and I think identity cards can achieve this.

And now we close with a return to Identity theft FUD. And again there is no explanation of how ID cards will protect us just the blanket statement that they will (he thinks). I doubt I am alone in thinking that I'd prefer not to plunk down £30 for a piece of plastic just because it might protect me from ID theft. What we need are concrete examples and the fact that the government can't provide any indicates that either there aren't any or they involve such a draconian curtailment of our civil liberties that we'll protest once we learn what they are.