Ditch the dogma

David Moss
April 2008


Would you like to save £20 billion?


There was a bit of an outbreak last week.

First, George Bridges in The Spectator pointed out that: "Experian, the credit rating agency, ... may not be a household name but it has a vast database about British households. It knows what sort of people live where, how much they earn, what they buy, where they shop, where they holiday, the car they drive, what they eat, and — critically — how much they are in debt. It is a GCHQ for companies who want to target people with various products. And for politicians, on the hunt for potential swing voters". He's right. Experian produced a map for him, a census, showing the areas of the UK likely to be worst affected by the credit crunch.

Next day, John Harris in The Guardian weighed in with: "I had never heard of the credit reporting agency CallCredit, much less authorised its ownership of some very detailed personal information, but I now know that there is at least one computer at its Leeds HQ that contains details of me, my partner, our address (gleaned from the electoral roll), a bank loan I took out in late 2005, the balance of our current account over five years, the state of our mortgage repayments, the details of my mobile phone and credit card arrangements, and the fact that I have a clean bill of health as regards insolvency and county court judgments".

It's not just the credit rating agencies. The banks hold a lot of information about us, too, as do the mobile phone companies, the utilities, and others. And then, of course, there's the goverment. They've got all our tax records, and benefits and housing and education and health and criminal records.

So what?

So this. We are currently in the early stages of the National Identity Scheme (NIS) which, over the course of the next 14 years or so, is due to issue 80 percent of us with ePassports, ID cards and biometric visas and to record our details on the National Identity Register (NIR) at an estimated cost to us of £20 billion.

As John Harris says: "When you're presented with the reams of data your everyday life leaves trailed through hard drives and office filing systems – and your mind also wanders to government plans for a national identity register and universal NHS database – one question therefore rears up time and again: could you be next?"

That's one question, certainly, but you might also ask why the government are bothering with the NIS. We already have several NIRs and we already have several ID cards, in the form of credit cards, for example, driving licences, passports and mobile phones.

David Miliband pointed out the other day, in the context of Gordon Brown's conference on Progressive Governance, that: "Labour’s success has been built on the Blair/Brown mantra that 'what counts is what works' ... Labour ditched dogma and embraced common sense".

The NIS is dogma. The government could save their time and £20 billion of our money if they exercised their common sense, abandoned the NIS and used existing resources instead. And the benefits of the NIS, if any, could start to flow now. There is no need to wait for 14 years.

David Moss has spent five years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.

© 2008 Business Consultancy Services Ltd
on behalf of Dematerialised ID Ltd