Impediments to criminals and terrorists
The government argue that there cannot be any relevant statistics from other countries, to show that ID cards help to reduce crime and terrorism, because no other country has introduced a universal scheme based on biometrics. And biometrics will be an impediment to criminals and terrorists, because it will become impossible for them to adopt multiple identities.
The government's case for ID cards, therefore, rests heavily on the efficacy of certain biometrics. That is why the longest section of this proposal is devoted to biometrics. And in that section, several doubts arise about their efficacy. The conclusion is that it is premature to rely on the government's chosen biometrics.
The government's argument comes dangerously close to accusing other countries of wasting their money. Without biometrics, their ID card schemes, which they have operated for decades, are useless in the fights against crime and terrorism. They may be undiplomatic, but are the government right? If we had some statistics, perhaps we could answer that question.
It looks as though the government's chosen biometrics could be used with 80% of the population. They could eradicate 80% of the incidence of criminals and terrorists adopting multiple identities. At least, 80% of them aged 16 and over, and staying in the country for more than three months. They will not help with 20% of cases, nor with overseas criminals and terrorists making fleeting visits. That is less than the 100% that the government usually seem to offer.
It is repeatedly claimed that one-third of terrorists and major criminals rely on multiple identities. No-one can know if this figure is correct but we can use it as a working assumption. It follows that biometrics will help with two-thirds of terrorists and major criminals.
They will only help with one-third of 80% of them. Approximately 27%. Well down on the 100% offered. To put it another way, the ID cards scheme will not help to detect or prevent 73% of major criminal and terrorist activities.
And that's if the ID cards scheme delivers.
It has been an awful year for the Home Office. The media daily report foreign prisoners being released without checking whether they are meant to be deported, prisoners held in detention by climbing out of the window, prisoners on supervised probation committing rapes and murders, pressure on judges not to hand down custodial sentences because the prisons are full, suicides in prison, growing rates of recidivism, unpoliced borders, the ease of obtaining false passports and the ease of using them to get into the country.
The media do not report all the cases where Home Office procedures are effective. Let us hope that that is the vast majority of cases.
Nevertheless, our 27% figure must be reduced by some amount to take account of the delivery failures. Let us choose to reduce it to 25%. Our working assumption is that ID cards would help with 25% of major criminal and terrorist activity and do nothing for the other 75%.
This section of the dematerialised ID proposal is meant principally to make the case for basing ID voucher schemes on mobile phones, and not smart cards. Remember the 500,000 or more requests for location and timing data made by the police and HMRC to the mobile phone network operators.
How many major criminals and terrorists rely on mobile phones? Something between 80 and 100%.
And they rely on them now. We do not have to wait six years for the ID cards scheme to come into operation.
And the mobile phone networks are up and running. We do not have to spend billions on IDNet.
And they provide intelligence whether the criminals and terrorists are in the UK or abroad. And so on.
Is 80%, or 100%, greater than 25%?
The conclusion seems to be clear. The police and the security services already have several schemes for impeding criminals and terrorists. Mobile phones, among others. Passports and ID cards with biometrics on them will be of little additional assistance.