1. We are the watchers. We help you

Guy Herbert

The Times

19 October 2006

In so far as this article is a paean to individualism, I agree with it. But then I’m in favour of motherhood, too. Who isn’t? I take it that the author is not objecting to people obeying the law or to the state enforcing it. His objection is to the state controlling us and that is where I would gently disagree. Far from controlling us, the state is heart-warmingly incompetent: they lose prisoners; they have no idea how many illegal immigrants there are; they’re not sure how many people they’re sacking from the NHS; they can’t run a postal voting system; the CRB says upright people are criminals; … Your tax money and mine, spent by the state on deploying technology-based systems, is regularly and predictably wasted. That seems to me the real objection. I have never found a rational answer to the question why they waste this money. It’s not big, as a real nanny would tell them, and it’s not clever. I just wish they would stop this waste, ID cards being a spectacular £5.4bn+ case in point.

2. “Well done Guy! Finally someone talking about the dangers of the surveillance state. Our govt is busying itself seting up a surveillance network that any self respecting totalitarian state would be proud of.

Alex, Leeds”

Alex from Leeds, no. I took the Home Office plans for ID cards to Big Brother for review. Why use smart cards, he asked? People already voluntarily carry mobile phones with them everywhere they go and, unlike smart cards, mobile phones allow people to be located at all times. They also reveal a person's associates, who calls them and who they call. Why build a new National Identity Register, he asked? We already have dozens of databases in the public sector and the private sector. Cheaper and quicker to build a Google-type engine which searches the existing databases and collates the results. You can’t rely on biometrics, he said. Facial geometry doesn't work, full stop, only 80% of people can have their identity verified by fingerprints, 10% of able-bodied people can't register their irisprints in the first place, they won't exist as far as ID cards are concerned, and that figure rises to 39% for the disabled. Big Brother not impressed. Monumental waste of money. Try again, he said.

3. “With the introduction of Labour's ID cards - where every purchase and every interaction with public services is recorded - you are in effect electronically tagged.
Do you want that?

Phil, Preston”

Phil from Preston, we are already tagged by our cashpoint cards, credit cards, Oyster cards and, most effectively, by our mobile phones. ID cards add nothing to the surveillance we have already agreed to in exchange for the utility of credit cards, etc …, so it’s too late to ask if we want it, we’ve already got it and have had for 40 years or so. To repeat, ID cards [add] nothing. The Home Office strike me as desperate to find a role for them. Their cost report on ID cards has an utterly unconvincing section heading, “Preventing fraud”. In the case of purchases, how will an ID card prevent frauds? You can’t pay for anything with an ID card. The hope is presumably that no-one will notice the gap in the argument but it is there: an ID card is not a payment card; far from recording your every purchase, it doesn’t record any purchases. They will have to look elsewhere to find a job for ID cards. Until they find one, I think we can safely say that they are a disgraceful waste of our money.

4. “With prisons now full, and crime showing no obvious signs of going away, we can safely assume that as a preventative measure, cameras do not work. I wonder if the average crime voyeur sat at home watching the "shocking" scenes on their televisions have actually considered that they are watching the law being broken, not upheld....

Frank Holden, Dolton, UK”

Frank Holden of Dolton, I agree. Guy Herbert makes the same point, of course, in his article. CCTV cameras might help a bit with detection but they do nothing for prevention. The same applies to ID cards. Here is one heading in the Home Office’s latest cost report -- “Tackling terrorism and increasing crime detection” (please see http://www.identitycards.gov.uk/downloads/costreport37.pdf). No promise there of ID cards making any contribution to crime prevention. As to “tackling terrorism”, the suggestion is that ID cards will help because they will make it harder to establish multiple identities. “One September 11th hijacker used 30 false identities to obtain credit cards and a quarter of a million dollars of debt,” says the report. Only if the biometrics work well enough. They don’t. And what about the terrorists who don’t use multiple identities? From the point of view of crime prevention and terrorism prevention, ID cards are set to be another waste of our money, like CCTV cameras.

5. “there is no point in watching and monitoring if drunks are still allowd to ruin our towns, thugs to mug us, burglars to get off scot free.

R Mason, London, UK”

R Mason of Dolton, I agree. CCTV cameras and ID cards do not help. A mugger holding a knife to your throat remains a threat even if he is holding his ID card in the other hand and the attack is filmed on CCTV. ID cards are aimed by the Home Office at crimes like identity theft and money laundering. They will do nothing to reduce the crimes which more generally depress the national sentiment -- graffiti and anti-social behaviour, shop-lifting and muggings, burglary and car theft, drug dealing and rape. All ID cards can do is to divert money which could otherwise be used to help to prevent these crimes. I keep saying ID cards are a waste of our money. They are. But the situation is even worse than that. Introducing ID cards will effectively perpetuate muggings, burglaries, etc … We must all try to help the No2ID campaign.