The tsunami of stupidity

by David Moss

April 2010
updated July 2010
updated September 2010
updated November 2010


Six months ago, the Guardian reported that India intends to issue ID cards to the entire population, 1.2 billion people. The effect would be to "improve the delivery of India's inefficient public services" and "the scheme would help the poor especially". The population register created by the scheme would allow the authorities to "create a personalised carbon account so that all Indians might buy 'green technologies' using a government subsidy".

Now the BBC tell us that India's next census, its fifteenth, will be a biometric census. Vox pops are quoted saying that this census will help to reduce crime, pay benefits, register land, open bank accounts, get jobs, collect tax and defend internal security. This latest census must have some pretty powerful magic that the previous fourteen lacked.

It does. It has the same magic that has done so much to promote political stability and social justice in neighbouring Pakistan, where the National Database & Registration Authority has registered 96 million citizens and issued 70 million of them with "multi-biometric national identity cards" since March 2000.

Nor is this superstitious belief in magic reserved to the wide-eyed ignorant peasants of third world countries. Even here in the European Union we have Project STORK: "The ultimate goal of the STORK project is to implement an EU-wide interoperable system for the recognition and authentication of eIDs [electronic identities]". And the European Commission do not intend to let anything stand in their way. According to their current five-year plan, i2010: "The Commission intends to use all its instruments to foster technologies that communicate, through research, promotion of open standards, support for stakeholder dialogue and, where needed, mandatory instruments".

But do the biometrics on which these systems depend actually work? Everyone assumes that they do, but do they? As the Guardian reminded us, here in the UK we are blessed with the Freedom of Information Act. You and I and any other wide-eyed ignorant British peasant can submit a request to the Identity & Passport Service for some reason to believe in biometrics. But strangely, back comes the answer from the witch doctor: "After careful consideration we have concluded that the balance of the public interest lies in withholding the information".

And we put up with it.

Perhaps that is just the sort of limp-wristed submissiveness you would expect of the Poms? But no, it happens in Australia as well. The Australians have implemented biometrics at all their international airports. Do they work? "Customs refused to disclose the rates at which the system inaccurately identified people."

Amidst all the earthquakes and floods and erupting volcanoes, has anyone else noticed the tsunami of stupidity currently hitting the political world, and the avalanche of money flowing in the other direction, into the pockets of the biometrics industry?

Is no-one else furious at the inanity of the UK government's plans to introduce ID cards?

"It's high time we kept up with technology. US citizens have a social security number. We also need a database of all citizens living in this country. I am sure it will be worth the time and money spent", says one of the vox pops. Oh for God's sake! Is no-one else sad that the Indians have fallen for it as well?

8 July 2010 – Open source chosen for first major contract for Indian ID cards project
9 July 2010 – Indian ID project will work because it is about alleviating poverty and not privacy
15 September 2010 – Big Indian Brother? India Creates National Biometric ID System
24 November 2010 – Indian Identity Cards: nothing to hide, nothing to fear?

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

2010 Business Consultancy Services Ltd
on behalf of Dematerialised ID Ltd