|Newcomers and returning
visitors, please note that you are welcome to talk to the hermit using
this new invention, email.
Newcomers are invited to limber up by reading What is an ID voucher scheme? before embarking on the main proposal.
The voluntary alternative
to material ID cards
A Proposal by David Moss
of Business Consultancy Services Ltd (BCSL)
Dematerialised ID is a counter-proposal to the UK Home Office's ID cards scheme. The intention is to go beyond the usual, well-founded criticisms, and to make constructive suggestions.
Similar schemes are being developed at the moment by governments all over the world, not just in the UK. This proposal is aimed at them as well.
If dematerialised ID is allowed to evolve, it will save billions of pounds of taxpayers' money, in the UK and elsewhere. Money which will otherwise be wasted on flawed schemes like the UK Home Office's.
The main objectives may be unassailable but the means chosen to achieve them are not. The scheme devised by the Home Office and its advisors is based on smart cards, biometrics and a new National Identity Register. The dematerialised ID counter-proposal starts with two objections:
Smart cards are pitifully under-powered compared with mobile phones. They are a throwback to the old days of rubber stamps and typewriters. Smart card technology is old-fashioned, pedestrian, limited and inflexible. It will stifle innovation.
It is extraordinary that governments should choose to base their ID voucher schemes on smart cards. It is some form of global illusion. At some point soon, we will all look back and wonder how we missed the obvious capabilities of mobile phones.
If the biometrics chosen by the Home Office do become reliable enough at some time in the future, then they should be stored on mobile phones, not on smart cards.
In the meantime, while they remain unreliable, there is no point creating a new national identity register based on them.
The same biometrics are being used not only for the ID cards scheme but also for the ePassports currently being introduced in the UK. In that sense, ID cards and ePassports are not two separate schemes but one. It follows that money spent on ePassports is wasted just as much as money spent on ID cards.
And the same biometrics are being used for the ePassports and ID cards currently being introduced in other countries. They have to be, to support international travel. It follows that these other countries are wasting their money just as much as the UK. To put the same point another way, just because these other countries are wasting their money is no reason for the UK to follow suit.
The expectations of biometrics have been raised to unsustainable heights. The technology is not ready yet. It cannot support the weight of these credulous expectations. The facts are all there in the public record and yet they are being ignored. Ignored by a government which, after the 2005 general election in the UK, promised to listen.
All the feasibility studies, all the lab tests, all the field trials, all the evidence tells the government that to deploy biometrics in their current state is for the Home Office knowingly to play a game of charades. An expensive game. Played with taxpayers' money, paid out of your hard-earned money and mine.
Opposition to the Home Office scheme is ranged along a spectrum, going from it-won't-work at one end, to it-will-work-only-too-well at the other. We critics cannot have it both ways. It cannot be the case that the ID cards scheme will not work and simultaneously that the scheme will work so well that it allows the government to impose 1984-style control over people.
A government that pays out £4bn in tax credits by mistake and trains 30,000 doctors for 22,000 jobs is not in control of itself, let alone anyone else.
For the avoidance of doubt, let it be clearly stated here that opposition to the Home Office scheme in this counter-proposal is located firmly at the it-won't-work end of the spectrum – the ID card and ePassport schemes will fail, they will not achieve their objectives and a lot of money will be wasted while people's hopes are being falsely raised.
The aspirations are high but the chances of the Home Office succeeding, with under-powered and defective technology, are low. And this from a government which, after the 2001 general election in the UK, promised to concentrate on delivery. They cannot deliver on the ID cards scheme. The scheme is holed below the waterline.
Dematerialised ID is one scheme among many which could contribute to the five aspirations immediately above, in addition to the two first listed, fighting crime/terrorism and improving the delivery of government services. Whereas the ID cards scheme seems to be purely punitive, dematerialised ID offers incentives.
What is all this about civil liberties, pollution and political climate change? It is not just a non-specific sense that something is wrong, that the relationship between people and the government is changing, in some unarticulated way, for the worse. It is relatively precise:
What we want and need and deserve and pay for is a government which behaves rationally, which takes evidence into account, which argues logically and which obtains good value for our money. It is when those wants, needs and interests are, untypically, not forthcoming that the political environment is polluted. That is what is meant by the references above to civil liberties and climate change.
Dematerialised ID is offered for consideration as an evidence-based and logical alternative to the government's scheme, a return to the natural order, ecologically sound in terms of its politics.
Dematerialised ID does not rely on biometrics. Instead, it relies on established technologies, principally the global mobile phone network.
It will be 2012 at least before we are all using the national network of ID card readers and biometric identity-verification equipment required by the government scheme. Whereas, dematerialised ID is available now and we have already paid for it, voluntarily. We already have four national mobile phone networks up and running in the UK. Mobile phones are more powerful and more adaptable than smart cards. We do not need to hold our breath for six years while we wait for our national security to be improved.
The evolution of society into one where just about everyone voluntarily carries a mobile phone with them wherever they go is there for all to see. It is wanton to ignore it.
Like privatisation, dematerialised ID could take off worldwide. It would be pleasing to see dematerialised ID pioneered in the UK. If the government ignore it, they will miss this valuable opportunity and they will waste billions of pounds of taxpayers' money.