Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP
Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury
London SW1A 2AA
14 January 2008
Dear Prime Minister
How to cancel the
1 The National Identity Scheme (NIS) has unimpeachable objectives to fight crime and terrorism and to deliver more efficient public services.
2 It cannot achieve those objectives. There are two technological problems:
2.1 Firstly, it has been evident since July 2002, when the Home Office issued its consultation document on entitlement cards, that the scheme is based on the wrong technology. The Home Office chose to use smart cards, . They should have chosen mobile phones.
2.2 Second, it has been evident
since May 2005, when the report on the UKPS biometrics enrolment trial
that the scheme cannot work. The biometrics it depends on are not
reliable enough for the job they have to do,
Since HMRC lost the discs containing millions of people's
personal details, all those people have lived with the threat of identity
theft. And they will continue to do so for the rest of their lives
unless and until they change their bank accounts. The
There is no point the government suffering all this unpopularity
given that the
6 It is recommended firstly that you say something along the lines of the following about smart cards and mobile phones:
6.1 "It is wanton to
ignore the worldwide growth in the use of mobile phones. Almost everyone
has a mobile phone and takes it with them wherever they go. The mobile
phone network makes no distinction between people of different ages
or different nationalities and it doesn't matter where they are in
the world, people can be identified within limits and located
by their mobile phone.
In effect, we already have ID cards, in the form of our mobile phones,
the global mobile phone network is already up and running and there
is no need to introduce the
6.1 "The mobile phone is a powerful tool in our fights against crime and terrorism and the Home Secretary has decided, after consultation with the police and the security services, that resources are better invested in mobile phone-based security measures than in relatively ineffective smart cards, which people may or may not have tucked in their wallets, or hidden away in a drawer of their desk at home."
7 Second, the matter of biometrics must be tackled:
7.1 "The only large-scale field test of biometrics we have conducted was the 2004 UKPS biometrics enrolment trial and the results were poor. The technology is not reliable enough to support the weight of expectations placed on it. It may improve. But, until it does, and until that improvement has been demonstrated in a large-scale trial, it would obviously be imprudent to deploy biometric technology nationally.
7.2 "This is a government
of the real world, we do not proceed on the basis of wishful thinking.
The biometrics envisaged for the
7.3 The unreliability of
the biometrics chosen casts doubt on the
8 Third, the EU:
8.1 "It is a common
mistake to treat the
8.2 "i2010 is not feasible and I shall be raising the matter with my fellow heads of government in the Council of Ministers. The Commission has some explaining to do."
8.3 We are about to enter
three months of Parliamentary debate on the EU Reform Treaty. You
say that the document is not
a Constitution. This will be a hard line to hold. Former President
Valιry Giscard d'Estaing says that it is
And he should know. He wrote the original Constitution. You may as
well get Parliament to confront the fact that the
8.4 And the same goes for the transformational government scheme. Transformational government is no more than what your predecessor called "joined up government" and what the EU call "eGovernment" in their various 5-year plans. Best to get that out in the open, too.
9 Something has got to stem the tide of unpopularity, disrespect and ridicule. Something like the actions recommended above is going to have to be done, and I commend them to you.
R.1 By way of a review, suppose that the government do not follow these recommendations, or something like them.
R.2 In that case, the civil liberties questions will remain unanswerable, whereas they have already been neutralised for mobile phones. The government will be missing an opportunity to improve its reputation. Everyone interested already knows that the police use mobile phone records to check alibis, and yet we all continue to use our mobiles we have already acquiesced in that loss of privacy, giving it up in favour of the utility of the phone.
The Crosby Forum report has not been published,
Everyone interested already knows, therefore, that the
R.4 Everyone can read the Office of Government Commerce emails leaked to the Times in July 2006 and so everyone interested already knows that it is the opinion of OGC/the Treasury that the government is setting itself up to fail with the NIS and that it is ignoring reality if it doesn't cancel the scheme.
Implementation of the
Everyone can read the House of Commons Science and Technology
Committee July 2006 report
on IPS's plans for the NIS and so everyone interested already knows
that the Committee is "concerned", "surprised",
"regretful", "sceptical" and "incredulous"
at the "confusion", "inconsistency" and "lack
of clarity" of those plans. Everyone interested can read, also
in the Committee's report, that when IPS gave the Committee a breakdown
of their cost estimates for the
Everyone can read the European Commission's document which
launched i2010 and so everyone interested can see there, and in related
Everyone can read John Reid's 10 May 2007 article
about ID cards in the Guardian
and Jack Straw's 12 December 2007 article,
also in the Guardian, an
article about Labour's civil liberties record, in which he manages
not to mention ID cards. Mr Reid's article received over 100 reader's
comments, Mr Straw's over 500 and everyone can see that almost every
one of these comments is a well-informed and impassioned criticism
Everyone interested knows that IPS and its predecessors
have had about six years to think about the
R.9.1 IPS told the House of
Commons Science and Technology Committee that the maximum allowable
false non-match rate for fingerprints in the
R.9.2 Not a bit of it. IPS told the Committee that the trial wasn't really a trial. If true, that means that IPS intend to proceed without a trial. You might care to look into this, Prime Minister. It defies good scientific practice. More than that, it defies common sense.
R.9.3 In a written response to the Committee, IPS cited a report written in 2005 by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). That report was written in the early days of US-VISIT and NIST anticipated that the false non-match rate would be 0.5%. In the event, US-VISIT actually has a false non-match rate closer to 20%, just like the UKPS trial, and NIST have spent the years since then, together with the US Department of Justice, trying to get the Department of Homeland Security to improve their use of biometrics. It's an uphill struggle against reality. If you are grilling IPS about biometrics, Prime Minister, watch out for their use of NIST reports.
R.9.4 By the way, NIST were
using a database of about six million sets of fingerprints and it
required all their ingenuity to check, in the time available, that
there were no duplicates. We shall have about 60 million sets of fingerprints
on file if the
R.10 Everyone can read IPS's
Strategic Action Plan for the
National Identity Scheme
according to which the Crosby Forum report was to be published by
April 2007. It wasn't and still hasn't been. "Biometric procurement"
was meant to begin by June 2007. It didn't and still hasn't. And an
R.10.1 There's rather an interesting
point here, Prime Minister. One of the benefits promised for the
R.10.2 So, according to the
Home Office, employers do not have a reliable means of establishing
whether a job applicant has the right to work here or not. There is
not much room for ambiguity in those words, is there? Employers might
have a reliable means, if the
R.11.1 Everyone will remember that, two weeks after that, we had the 21/7 would-be bombings and that Hussain Osman was tracked all across France and Italy, and finally arrested, thanks to location data provided by the mobile phone network. An ID card in his back pocket would not have helped one iota.
R.12 Conclusion from the review?
The government cannot disregard reality. Reality is daily attracting
ridicule to the