At the sad heart of the conspiracy
Tony Blair, 6 November 2006: "On any list of public concerns, illegal immigration, crime, terrorism and identity fraud would figure towards the top. In each, identity abuse is a crucial component ... Biometrics give us the chance to have secure identity ... A national identity system will have direct benefits in making our borders more secure and countering illegal immigration. Biometric visas and residence cards are central to our plans ... I am convinced, as are our security services, that a secure identity system will help us counter terrorism and international crime. Terrorists routinely use multiple identities ..."
For years, the government have been telling us that ID cards are an essential weapon in the fights against crime and terrorism. Are they?
Let's work our way towards an answer.
ID cards will first be issued in earnest to British nationals in 2012. Since the idea is to link that to the issue of passports, it would be 10 years before ID cards could be made compulsory. Will crime and terrorism kindly wait until 2022 for the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) to do their job?
Tony Blair rightly emphasised the importance of biometrics, particularly fingerprints. Now, in a leaked document, it transpires that IPS will only register some people's fingerprints, not everyone's. If that's the case, the UK ID cards scheme can't work.
(Should we trust the contents of this leaked document? Yes, every word has been subsequently confirmed in an interview with the Executive Director of Strategy at IPS.)
Worse still, the biometrics that ID cards depend on aren't reliable enough to do the job. They can't establish a one-for-one correspondence between each person and his or her digital identity, as recorded on the proposed National Identity Register – a point which has been known to IPS ever since the UKPS biometrics enrolment trial in 2004, although they continue to draw their salary.
Given that ID cards clearly aren't going to help in the fights against crime and terrorism, why do the government pursue this project? Why are we still paying for a lot of civil servants and consultants to work on a scheme which can't deliver? There's a gap between what the government say and what they do.
And there's a psychological need to fill that gap. If the government don't want ID cards to fight crime and terrorism, so goes the argument, they must want them for something else. What? What do they really want ID cards for?
You can choose your answer from a rich variety of conspiracy theories. Perhaps the government are being forced into ID cards by the US or the EU. Perhaps ministers give jobs to the suppliers in return for lucrative directorships when they leave the government. Perhaps Gordon Brown the puppetmaster wants to control every minute aspect of our lives.
These are exciting hypotheses.
But consider, this all goes back to July 2002, when David Blunkett issued his consultation paper on what were then called "entitlement cards". IPS and its predecessors have had the best part of six years to think about the scheme, what it is for and how to implement it. And yet they still haven't even issued invitations to tender. How long does it take to tell the suppliers what you want to buy?
Further, according to the leaked document, some time in 2007 IPS attended a workshop to agree "the objectives of the National Identity Scheme" with the Borders Agency, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Office of Government Commerce. After six years, they still don't know what the scheme is for?
No. How long would IPS last, doing a presentation in the Dragons' Den?
And, judging by the rest of the document, even with the help of £50 million of consultancy, they still don't know how to implement the ID cards scheme, who to target first and how to market it.
Humdrum compared with the conspiracies six paragraphs back, but that's all there is, an ineffectual group of demoralised functionaries, playing make-believe and hoping no-one will notice them for the next 14 years, at which point they can retire with index-linked pensions.
Meanwhile, there are real criminals and terrorists out there.
David Moss has spent five years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.