Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Who Am I? Identity in the 21st Century.

The Reg has further updates on the ID malaise, including timeline speculation, lack of their mention for anti-terrorism, and links to the LSE Identity Project which I haven't seen yet, and Gordon Brown announcing the chair of the Forum on Identity Management.

The last of these, according to Browny, will..
  • Review the current and emerging use of identity management in the private and public sectors and identify best practice.

  • Consider how public and private sectors can work together, harnessing the best identity technology to maximise efficiency and effectiveness.

  • Produce a preliminary report [...] on identity management by Easter 2007.

One thing that seems "certain", then, is the continuing merger of identity with technology (hence the phrase, uh, "identity technology"). In many ways this is simply a formalisation of the gradual move towards networked, digitalised identity that has taken place over the last few decades (or few hundred, or few thousand years, depending how you look at it). The implications of this are interesting at least, if also unavoidable. Still, it means that answers to the question "who am I?" become increasingly more muddy as time goes on, leaving confused and drunkenly-philosphical students with ever greater space to explore while attempting to get into someone else's pants.

Monday, July 10, 2006

ID Cards: Dying in the water?

This post comes to you without a trace of "I told you so". No, really. Yesterday the Times published some leaked e-mails from last month between 2 senior officials involved producing in the ID register. The Times has its own analysis, as does The Register and Spyblog.

All of which point to the troubles that the scheme is already in a fair bit of trouble. From my experience on flailing IT projects, if a scheme is having difficulties at this point, with deadlines looming relatively closely, then there are 2 ways things can go:

1. The "sensible" ("technically experienced") option: Bite the bullet, come clean, reconsider the problems being faced and what reality preaches. Use the lessons learnt to re-plan and re-schedule.

2. The "CYA" ("politically experienced") option: Hide the fact that you're sweating it a bit. Throw more people at it and come up with some sloppy contingency plans (not out of lack of ability - sloppy is merely the best you can come up with in the situation) and keep making excuses.

Peter Smith's claims that "It was a Mr Blair who wanted the 'early variant' card. Not my idea..." point very much to the second tactic currently.

Unfortunately, the real suckers that can't afford, or aren't in a position to C their As are the people in the database, and subject to its binary rule. As more sticky tape gets applied to the project in order to prevent the next election becoming (more of) a disaster, more and more "time-saving" hacks will creep in until the integrity of the system (you know, that thing which keeps everyone's identity in, i.e. who they are) is less than acceptable - however, as reputations and jobs are, by that point, so intrinsically wrapped up in the project - more so than the livelihoods of the people being stored in it - there will be very little enthusiasm for either scrapping it or replacing it.

This is how white elephants come about, like the birth of a star. Implementation suffers mainly because planning is crap. Isn't it a wonderful feeling to be present at its conception? As the next generation are shuffled into line to submit themselves to a system which lets the government do what it needs, but that suffers the odd (e.g. monthly) security scandal, won't it be great to think back to this day and know why those problems exist?

This post is deliberately ambiguous over whether the solution is better project management, or scrapping the ID scheme entirely. The point is that the stage we're at is halfway between these two, and we are ending up with the worst of both worlds - an expensive, useless lump of equipment that protects us neither from the government nor from criminals. Datamining, the rule of law, and the ubiquity of an information society mean that any government is now in a very real position to monitor us whatever happens, even without an ID scheme (which is just the icing...)

At least Blair's name is getting permanently attached to this blunder.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Quote of the Day, and Surveillance Predictions

First up, as the debate over how long suspects can be detained for is resurrected, Tony McNulty gets quoted by the BBC in a way that makes me chuckle:

"Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said he welcomed the committee's report, but not the "severity of any criticism"."

Looks like the case for extending the 28 day detention period is "building" (i.e. more people are more afraid), with the report saying (according to the article) "such measures would have helped in cases such as the recent anti-terror raid in Forest Gate, east London." Don't forget that locking everyone up would be a pretty good way of clamping down on terrorism too, though.

Once again we get back to the issue of data overload, and our ability to generate mountains of the stuff but not sift through it. The same issue is inherent in CCTV's design - more cameras (to deter people, or to make people feel safer) and - so long as people are there to direct them at incidents - instant image capture. But for those cameras which get stored straight to film or hard drive, someone has to go through all that footage once something has happened.

The solutions to this problem are many, but the only ones to be considered will be the ones involving more technology - facial recognition, gait recognition, increased identification and tracking, etc. The "cutting edge" at the moment is the move towards "distributed" monitoring, i.e. getting residents to either report incidents or to watch over the footage in real time. Expect this to extend to residents being allowed to playback footage to recover scenes that have already been stored.

Also expect some research to start surfacing in "trouble recognition" (at least, I haven't seen any yet...) - that is, the automatic identification of movement indicating a problem, such as people swinging limbs "violently", erratic movement of 2 or more bodies simultaneously (hmmm, ambiguous) and anything out of the "ordinary". "Keep on walking and you won't look suspicious..."

Lastly, I'll apologise quickly for the lack of updates here. Real life is pretty busy with holidays and studies, and a lot of thought is going elsewhere. I'm also getting a little sick of just ranting - and oft repeating myself - and I wonder if efforts aren't better off directed elsewhere. Still, it keeps me sane (just) so while updates may be infrequent, they will still occur.