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ID cards - Lords just say no

The House of Lords has handed the government yet another stinging rebuke over its proposed ID card plans, with the measures likened by one lord to that of fascist state, but the question remains will the government actually take any notice?

Although the government insists that the ID card scheme is voluntary, it intends that all new applicants for passports will have no choice but to see their biometric details, including fingerprints and iris scans, added to the National Identity Register, in effect creating a compulsory ID card scheme by the back door.

The Lord’s have expressed their strong opposition to the idea of compulsion and voted against the measure. Should the government fail to overturn the Lord’s amendment in the House of Commons, the lack of compulsion could deny the ID card scheme the critical mass it needs to take-off.

However, with ministers kitted out in the best flak jackets money can buy, the government continues to soldier on regardless, but there seems to be little optimism from anyone outside Whitehall that such a scheme can be pulled off and, even if it does get up and running, will do anything to fight terrorism and fraud.

The IT industry is already trying to pass any blame for the scheme’s failure into the laps of civil servants and the nationwide rollout hasn’t even got to the starting block.

For those of you, who belong to the “I don’t oppose ID cards because I’ve got nothing to hide” camp, amongst which I can number some of my very good friends, let me give you some food for thought.

The No2ID campaign reported in May last year that trials in the North East showed a 15% fingerprint failure rate and an iris scan failure rate of 4%. Even if the technology was to be improved and a 99.5% success rate achieved, this still leaves three hundred thousand people who could not be correctly identified. Hardly a full-proof anti-terrorist measure

Then there is the false security that comes from over-reliance on technology. Just ask yourself, with the introduction of chip and pin technology, when was the last time that someone physically checked your credit card to see if you were even the same sex as the name on the card. This is precisely the effect it could have on our police as they rely on automated checks instead of using their own judgement.

Relying on some element of human judgement allows for flexibility that cannot come from a computer or database. In an article at Silicon, a former US spy, now privacy activist, Bill Scannell, says there is already evidence in the US that people who are unfortunate to have the same, or similar, name to people on terrorist and security watch-lists are finding their ability to travel freely restricted.

Should you need any more convincing take a look at the tax credit scheme fiasco which has seen the identities of over 8,000 of the government’s own civil servants stolen, in a fraud that has cost the taxpayer £2.7 million. This figure might seem like small fry but in nationwide scheme, which is supposed to set the gold standard for identity, the repercussions of failure could be truly frightening,