Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What a Difference a Fortnight Makes

Liam Byrne MP
Liam Byrne - Stripped of his Medal
It was just over two weeks ago that I, in a spirit of fairness awarded my first ever medal for common sense to a member of the current government. The recipient was Home Office Minister Liam Byrne for his relatively prompt action over the case of Tul Bahadur Pun VC. My little on line medals are not though a real medal like Tul Bahadur Pun's Victoria Cross, one that, by the decree of a King, can never be withdrawn even if a recipient was convicted of a high crime and found himself on the gallows. I had of course forgotten that Mr Byrne has responsibility for the introduction of ID cards; had I remembered I wouldn't have wasted the time adding the initial award.

Mr Byrne has, according to the BBC, gone on what he doubtlessly sees as being a 'charm offensive' over this offensive innovation in government interference in our lives, along with it's real raison d'être, the National Identity Register (NIR).

According to Byrne:
The identity card scheme will become a "great British institution" on a par with the railways in the 19th Century.

The National Identity Scheme "will soon become part of the fabric of British life"

Source: BBC News

What planet is this man from? I can only assume he's been on a tour of the evidence storage facility at some police station and decided to sample the contents of the narcotics locker. Please, please let Euripides be right:
"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad."

Euripides (484BC - 406BC)

If so Byrne can expect a lightning bolt to be on its way very soon. What does he have in mind? That compulsoryhappy family trip down to the registration centre where mum, dad and granny can all enjoy the thrill of being fingerprinted like common criminals, while the kids sob that they can only be on their school's database for now? The belly laughs at the bank when the you can't get any money out because something has gone wrong with their fingerprint scanner? The glee at opening that special envelope to find out you've been fined because you forgot to add 'better tell the ID card people' to the thousand and one things you need to do when you move house? Don't be ridiculous.

Look at every 'Have your say' type message board on the issue, Mr Byrne. The tide has turned. People are becoming aware of the disaster the scheme will become, even if you're bogus cost estimates had been closer to the mark. Other than the a tiny, dwindling band of 'nothing to hiders' most of the remaining supporters seem to be people with an immigration obsession. I suspect many of your limited number of fans are not people you would like to associate with. It's probably not fair in this case I suspect, but by your friends I'm afraid, you will be known. Unlike you, most of them are too daft to realise that in the absence of exit controls there will be damn little impact on illegal immigration.

I suppose at least he concedes that Parliamentary scrutiny will be required of some of the plans to "multiply the uses" of ID cards. It doesn't really sound like the simple hassle-free scheme that they tried to sell though, and he doesn't mention the vast number of uses already anticipated in the act that presumably he considers to have been adequately scrutinised.

NO2ID - Stop ID cards and the database state
No2ID Fighting On
I'm not going to rehearse all the arguments against ID cards as No2ID does it so well. If you are daft enough to believe any of the reasons the Government has churned out as its immediate predecessor was debunked, go and take a look. Let's be honest, some of the comparisons with the Third Reich's ID systems is a bit over the top, but there can be all sorts of hidden dangers in this type of system, even if it's primary purpose is, as I suspect, convenience for bureaucrats at the expense of the people.

Take for example the fact that the police will have the power to trawl the database in the case of serious crime, eventually containing the majority of adults in the UK, for a match against crime scene prints. Sounds reasonable? Think about DNA evidence. There was a time when this was only used in serious cases, and limited samples taken, those of the innocent being destroyed afterwards. Then the power to take DNA samples from anyone arrested became used to the full, and in time the goverment made almost every offence arrestable while the innocent lost their rights to have their samples and DNA profiles deleted. We now have a DNA database half as big again as the rest of the world combined and it is searched in cases involving ever more petty crimes.

DNA evidence use exploding
Some will be happy with our fingerprints being trawled too as they have 'nothing to hide'. I tried to find out how long a fingerprint you have leave, say down at the local shopping centre would remain usable. The concensus was that if it happened to be in a spot that wasn't cleaned too often, the answer was in effect 'indefinatly' with little chance of determining when the print had been left as is sometimes possible with DNA evidence. What happens when there happens to be an serious assault near this fingerprint, you were alone at home at the time of the assault, and maybe had some vague casual connection with the victim? Work? School? The pubs you drink in? That's right, you go well up the suspect list all because you touched something on a shopping trip a few months before. I've got a lot of time for the police, but that doesn't mean that there have not been a couple where we've mutually got up each other's noses.

The burden of proof will mean that you probably won't get wrongly convicted, but you'll won't have a great time while you try to prove your innocense. Perhaps all those people who have 'nothing to hide' are so public spirited that they will either wipe down every surface they touch to avoid the inconvenience or log the contact in a little notebook and ask a passer-by to witness the fact.

Even if you could accept the inconvenience, would it improve society? Do people drive better because of speed cameras? The evidence suggests not and it even seems that the switch to an apparantly miraculous technology may have contributed to a decline in driving standards as resources are withdrawn from traditional patrolling in favour of easier to process McCrimes. I've only been interviewed, as a witness, once by the police in my life. I have an awful feeling that for everyone on the NIR it will become a much more regular experience within a few years, as simplistic trawling for suspects takes the place of more difficult police work.

No2ID stick very much to hard headed facts on the issues, but I'm going to admit that part of it is, for me, the image of ID cards too. They will never become a great British institution, for me they are a symbol of everything wrong with one other British institution, HM Government.

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