Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Clarke on ID Cards

Charles Clarke is a man who profoundly scares me. Not because of his support for ID Cards. Tony McNulty supports them, too, and I'm about as scared of him as I am of the model of Mr Potato Head sitting in front of me. Rather, he is alarmingly competent - especially in Parliament - at handling a debate and seizing on idiotic arguments against his line to help make his case. Regardless of the fact that he misses the point again and again, he is a very competent politician.

Yet when I was listening to his speech to the Labour conference today, some comments really took me aback:

ID cards are controversial of course, but we all need to understand that we already live in a society where there are enormous databanks of information about all of us whether held by financial institutions, employers, passports and driving licences, health and education authorities or criminal justice agencies.

Moreover we all face many occasions where we need to prove our identity, whether it is to open a bank account, take out a mortgage, claim a benefit, pass through a border control, get a Criminal Records Bureau clearance or many other basic transactions.

Of course there are enormous databanks of information about me. Every time I use my switch card, someone stores data on me. Heck, my university probably knows precisely when I am in the library or not. I can't walk around the town centre without having my visage stored several times.

What I know, on the other hand, is that under current data protection laws, every organisation that holds information on me is legally bound to keep it for a limited period and use it only for the purposes that it was taken. The national identity register that Mr Clarke wants to create means that the information held on me will be far more widely available than it ever was before. If anything is extending the "Big Brother" society, then it is that.

What's more, is that I've never seen any proof that biometric data is safe. The former head of the JIC was on the BBC today casting doubt on its reliability. I maintain that if we are to fight identity fraud, we are living in cloudcuckooland to think that any form of ID card will be foolproof. Are the government so arrogant to think that they can remain several steps ahead of the criminals? The technology exists to make fraudulent cards, and I have no doubt it will fall into the wrong hands sharpish. Then the only remaining justification for the cards will have gone completely.