Wednesday, May 11, 2005

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

* 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."

1 comment:

Rowan said...

...if organization A has a subgroup A1 that raises funds for organization B (among other groups) and organization B distributes funds to organization....

Shades of Stalinist purges. Yes, I know: I just proved Godwin's Law; but I have heard people saying that the US is becoming more and more like the regime of the USSR that, as citizens of the US, they once felt lucky not to have to live under.