Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Costs? Accessibility? Who knows?

The Register picks up on a couple of points from the weekend's Observer and Mirror - namely, that the cost of ID Cards may triple, and that 600,000 disabled people won't be able to register under the biometrics scheme. The tripling figure comes from a London School of Economics report, which also notes that biometric certainty diminishes faster than the government hopes/thinks, so that records will have to be retaken every five years rather than every ten.

Getting away from the intricacies, the most interesting point is that the... "LSE report highlights the government's reluctance to disclose details of the scheme as one of the main problems with trying to work out the actual cost of implementing a national identity card scheme."

Hmm, what have they got to hide? Their excuse? "The Home Office has dismissed the report, saying that it does not accept the figures being quoted. It would not comment directly on the findings, however, because commercial contracts are confidential."

Right. A commercial contract that affects each and every one of us. So much for trust.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Do... you... understand?

Some really good analysis of that £1.3 billion figure from the Register - clear enough, even, to print out and post to my MP as some background reading.

Apart from tearing apart the government's claims of costs caused by ID fraud, it also highlights a survey issued by Detica that mentions not just public support for a scheme, but also the public's understanding of the issues at stake, too: although 94 per cent of people are aware of the ID card scheme, "two thirds have little or know knowledge of how it will work."

Isn't this an important aspect of democracy - education? It's hard not to be so sceptical of a government when it praises democracy, but keeps banging on about its own, flimsy figures while doing extremely little to actually explain the thing to the people it quotes.

Furthermore, the second article also addresses an interesting point regarding anti-scheme arguments: "the civil liberties arguments have not worked and will not work, and arguments (as pursued at some length by The Register, links below) that ID cards are an expensive irrelevance to the issues they profess to tackle also cut little ice. But the cost of the scheme and the public's lack of confidence are different matters." Indeed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

No More Biometric Trials

The Home Office has just released a statement concerning the reintroduction of the ID card bill.

The first line reads: "Please Note: There are currently no plans for further biometric trials."

Apparently the results of the biometric entrolment trials are vailable on the UK passport service website. I can't find them - but I'll keep looking. They may be published later today.

There is a brief summary of the trials in the Home Office statement - it does not mention the technical aspects of the trial, only people's perceptions of the process itself and their attitude towards biometrics - is this because that is the only good news for the government?


P.S. The spelling mistakes in the statement do not inspire confidence.

Stats and Sayings

A quick, intermediary post to follow up on the last, tying together some quotes and some more stats.

According to a spokesman for Blair, the scheme is about "getting a step ahead of the criminal or the terrorist." Practive vs Theory aside, the Times seems to dispute this, claiming that ministers will sell it on fraud, not terror aspects. The article also offers a glimpse of hope:

"The Home Secretary was also reported to be considering strengthening the powers of an ID card commissioner to oversee the scheme. He may also bring in measures to further limit government agencies’ access to the [register]" - both a move in the right direction, at least, if they were to come to pass.

In terms of stats, the Times article notes that... "A survey of 1,000 people yesterday revealed that the plans were backed by five out of 10 people as the best way to combat ID fraud. A MORI poll in April put the figure at 80 per cent in favour." - slightly more up to date than the December poll.

My favourite quote comes from a Computer Weekly article touching on the gulf between ID Cards and preventing telephone/on-line fraud. George Platt, general manager of the company commissioning the survey, said "The reality is the public has no idea."

Oh, and lastly on a sidenote... eh?

Day 101 in the Big Brother house...

The new ID system bill is due to be re-introduced today, in line with the last post. The Guardian report reads a bit like a press release at times ("the National Identity Register will be created ... to store details held on the cards, so they can be securely cross-checked." - securely? how can they be sure?), but has some more information including the fact that the results of the 10,000 strong volunteer trial will be published too - one wonders if that includes the withdrawn Cornish trial as well.

That's also 10 times as many people as the survey probably quoted by HO Under-Secretary Andy Burnham the other day, although he merely claims that support is still at 80% in "latest polls". Of course by his figures, that's still 1 in 5 that are against it.

The survey itself is pretty interesting reading, and makes you wonder how much of a dent campaigns such as NO2ID are making. Although, judging by the blatantly submissive responses (63% say that "police should have the power to make anyone produce their ID"), it's perhaps even more of an uphill battle than hoped. The killer is that only 10% would be willing to pay between 40 and 100 quid to get one of these Magic Cards. Considering that the Guardian article reports that "the cost of a passport will more than double to over £80 when new cards are introduced".. well, do the maths.

An update later probably, once more details are out. Time to start getting those letters to MPs and supporting NO2ID in the meantime.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Heads up...

NO2ID are reporting that the Mirror is reporting that the ID Bill might be pushed through before the end of May. My, they are keen, aren't they? Keen to avoid criticism, and to prevent as much scrutiny as possible, certainly in the eye of the public.

Experimental: Get blog posts via e-mail

I've been playing with some mailing lists so that you can (hopefully) get this blog sent straight to your e-mail inbox. As this is pretty untested, there may still be some things to iron out, but I figure the best way to find out what they are is to let people sign up and send feedback.

There are two lists - both get the main posts as they're published, but the first also gets comments. Both should be extremely low-traffic, and they're both moderated so you won't get spam. To subscribe to either (don't subscribe to both, there's no point...), click the appropriate link and fill in your details.

And don't forget, you can still access posts via the XML feed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

"Slot Respect A into Community B..."

Mark Steyn hammers home well in his Telegraph opinion piece, touching on things like the difference in social perspectives between adults and adolescents and making good points such as "the idea that the national government can legislate respect is a large part of the reason why there isn't any". And while I agree with him that enforcing a working week of less than 48 hours isn't necessarily the right thing to do, there's certainly an issue around why people do work - or want to work - as much as they do.

Of course, if thinking on this gets no further than "stick an orange suit on community offenders", then this "problem" is going to get a whole lot worse. (Fortunately, such blatantly pap plans are quickly shelved, but that doesn't detract from the fact that our politicians are still sitting in the Westminster Ivory Tower.)

The obvious irony is that ID Cards will be making a return later today... If Tony Blair wants people to respect each other (and, I assume, him) then why is he pushing for yet more draconian controls that move the balance of power away from the people, and into the Government's all-knowing arms? Screw the new-old government, I say. Its head is even further up its own arse than before.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Two Faces of CCTV

CCTV is coming under fire in Polegate and Marlow, seemingly because while "disturbances" continued in high streets, the cameras themselves were either broken ("There was a problem with the actual camera itself") or just pointed in the wrong place (so presumably unmonitored - "[Youths] were not doing anything in particular, just standing on the steps. But the CCTV cameras were pointing at the railway signal box.").

This highlights one of the shortfalls of town surveillance cameras - their use is actually twofold, and when one purpose fails to achieve what it was supposed to, people can at least turn to the other. But when both fail, suddenly people wake up to the world they actually live in.

The first purpose is, as given in the two articles above, to catch video evidence of people committing crime (or anti-social behaviour, or whatever your gripe is this week), so the perps can be caught to be re-educated locked up for good.

The second purpose (as used to be pointed out all the time, I'm sure) is as a preventative measure - the theory being that if you think you're being watched, you're less likely to go ahead with the crime you're thinking of.*

Alas, in reality it turns out that people don't really care if they're being watched. Or if they do, then they're smart enough to at least keep half an eye on which direction the visible cameras are pointing in - no big deal. Hey - maybe there was something to the suggestion that CCTV merely displaces crime after all? "Time-shifting" might also be applicable here too...

The big assumption in our application of surveillance systems is that, somehow, by letting people know we're watching them, people will "improve". All this talk of ID, more cameras, more policemen, etc all assumes that the places in which we live can be improved by this monitoring - and by extension, we recapture the idea of a "civil society" that we like to romanticise about.

What a sham. If we're really honest with ourselves, all monitoring does is lock down the public face of our nation, allowing us in our public capacity to simply sweep aside all the factors that lead to the crime and attitude we're experiencing every day. By forcing the streets to behave and look nice for visitors (including ourselves), we can comfortably ignore the deep social distress being hidden by private walls and fences.

The second article above mentions that "a high visibility operation ..., in response to these concerns, had been a success." More officers works in the short term for the simple reason that they can react instantly. They are both the piercing eye of the CCTV camera and the radio link from surveillance central to the police station. But they do nothing to actually show us how we should behave, or what we can achieve if we're allowed to.

* On a side note, this thinking has now been extended on buses where I live. A monitor downstairs, in full public view, reflects the views from a dozen cameras around the bus. This is clearly not for the driver's attention as he/she can't see it. The obvious intention is that instant social embarassment is more of a deterrent that just having a camera watch you. I await the scheme's failure.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Leave yer attitude at the door

Man, I hate Bluewater shopping centre. But anyway. Hooded tops, baseball caps and swearing have been banned there in a police-backed decision. Apparently the 400, constantly-monitored CCTV cameras and the "dedicated on-site team" of Police have actually done.. not a lot. So now they're drawing up a "code of conduct" (i.e. their own law) to stop people from being antisocial (including smoking, leafleting or canvassing).

This is our nation's future, right here. When we've fallen apart so much we don't know how to treat each other, the only solution left is more and more stringent rules to keep out the people we've already kept out for ages. Hardware and force are our new-age replacements for commitment to society, and arrogant selfishness embeds itself firmly as the mantra of the masses.

Meanwhile, across the pond....

Looks like America is getting an ID Card - the passed bill H.R.1268 - Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for the "Global War on Terror", Tsunami Relief, et al - also manages to somehow sneak in H.R.418, which expands the grounds for which a person can be refused entry into the United States, increases the burden of proof of innocence on asylum seekers, removes checks on how "exploitable" the asylum system is, shifts the balance of power over definition by letting the Department of Homeland Security determine what "terrorism" is, and what "engaging in terrorist activities" means, and a whole bunch of other stuff. (Congressional Research Services have an excellent analysis* [PDF]). Most importantly, it upgrades state-issued driving licenses and other photo identification to act as ID Cards; under the Bill, a set of requirements mandated by Congress must be adhered to by each state out of their own pocket. (Over here in the UK, of course, we have to fund our own ID card personally...) Unsurprisingly, the states are bothered by this somewhat. Furthermore, the information collected would (like the UK) be stored in a central database.

Crypto expert Bruce Schneier blasts the idea of ID cards, and his article along with two previous ones [1, 2] go into good depth on why the bill is a bad one, and secondly provide arguments that are equally relevant to the ID situation here in the UK too. Of particular note:

"In theory, if we know who you are, and if we have enough information about you, we can somehow predict whether you're likely to be an evildoer. ... Profiling has two very dangerous failure modes. The first one is obvious. The intent of profiling is to divide people into two categories: people who may be evildoers and need to be screened more carefully, and people who are less likely to be evildoers and can be screened less carefully. But any such system will create a third, and very dangerous, category: evildoers who don't fit the profile."

There are number of assumptions as to how ID Cards will prevent ... well, anything. These are:

  • the card is non-forgable. Has any documentation ever been non-forgable/tie-able to a particular person?

  • the profiling system (if used - and hey, if you have all that data on file, why not if it helps "protect the citizen"?) is accurate enough to discern people according to what screening is wanted - more uncharted, highly dubious territory

  • the people deciding where the lines of discernment should fall are acting in the card-owners' best interests

That last one is up to you to decide, ultimately. But, for example, if the definition of "terrorist" is in the hands of the people who stand to gain most from waging war against terrorists, how much can you really trust them? Schlumberger say ID Cards are a good thing for the nation. Schlumberger sell ID Cards. The Police asy ID Cards are a good thing for security. The Police's sole purpose of existence is security. We, as individuals, are about more than that.

More about the US REAL ID act at unrealid.com.

* Which includes the great example arising from the new, expanded definitions:

"...if organization A has a subgroup A1 that raises funds for organization B (among other groups) and organization B distributes funds to organization C (among other groups), which has a subgroup C1 that at some point provided support to a terrorist activity or organisation, organisation A apparently would qualify as a terrorist oragnisation ... absent the group's ability to somehow extricate itself by showing it could not have reasonably drawn the connection between its subgroup's fund raising and subgroup C1."

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Ubiquity of Unnatural Surveillance

Bit of a surveillance round-up. ParkingEye are running a press release to gather business in Scotland for their panoptic product line-up, so I shouldn't give them too much coverage... ;) Traffic wardens are among the various human factors that people love to hate, so it makes sense to automate them - after all, who could hate a lovable (unseen and impenetrable) robot? Awww.

Still, if you do manage to get around the scheme, expect them to chaneg the rules to say "you can't". Phew, just as well they've got every base covered.

Meanwhile in Muswell Hill, traders are crying out for a surveillance society. As usual, the folks looking for a quick fix to their own problem are ready and willing to sell out (read "lock up") the people who are supposed to be their neighbours. And, they would say, why not? Why not indeed? These nuisances of society deserve to be watched and treated suspiciously at all times, surely?

How about this - why not start addressing the problem of why people are getting so rat-arsed in the first place? Why not wake up to how we got here in the first place? The death of the human soul, the greying result of a culture in which work is more important than life, in which money is worth more than love, and in which getting people to like you is more attractive than liking yourself.

Our counter-culture of "partying" is a direct reaction to our culture of obsessive repression, and our fear of "failure". CCTV and all of its brethrenly observational ilk do nothing more than control us even further, beyond the controls we impress upon ourselves 10 hours a day. This is why surveillance will always produce nothing but underground revelry and a false sense of security.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Back in the closet

Well, Blunkett's back, albeit as work and pensions sec. Does this mean we'll be moving away from criticising Labour's authoritatian streak and start dusting down our jackets? Hell no. Flinging aside the aspersions cast on Mr B's character leading to his exit, Blair has decided that Dave is feeling better, and is now prepared to step back into society and start tossing his orb about.

Rest assured, more blog inches will be dedicated to Clarke's ongoing campaigns, which may face harder opposition now Labour's majority has been squashed somewhat:

"Out of the 19 Labour MPs who voted against the government, 16 have been returned to parliament (with the remaining three standing down), while all 10 of the Conservative MPs who defied Michael Howard's instruction to abstain and instead voted with the Labour rebels have been re-elected. Other anti-ID card MPs who also won seats last night include Labour outcast George Galloway and Wyre Forest Independent Richard Taylor."

And, as Spyblog points out, Des Browne moves from Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality to a new spot as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. We await to see

Friday, May 06, 2005

Touching Roots

BIAA has been pretty quiet recently - personal pressures, and the Signal-to-Noise ratio during the electioneering phase take their toll. Anyway, the election is in full swing, as it were, and here's the data on Blunkett, if you're interested.