Monday, June 09, 2008

Monday 9 June 2008

Latest news from NO2ID

The originally titled Identification, Referral and Tracking (IRT) system in the UK has now been given the less intrusive title of Information, Sharing and Assessment (ISA), but its intrusiveness is in no way diminished. Local councils up and down the country are now using the newly-titled system to share information with public sector bodies including the police, fire service, education chiefs, social workers and housing staff. Despite many local councils’ stated opposition to ID cards it seems their willingness to dispense and share citizens personal details is forthcoming and does little to protect private individuals personal right to know who knows what about them.

The Cambridge Branch of the University and College Union (UCU) - Britain’s largest academic trade union - has accepted a proposal at its annual congress in Manchester, held at the end of last month, to unanimously oppose the introduction of ID cards. The union has affiliated itself to the NO2ID Campaign.

Britain has signed up to a pilot EU cross-border electronic identity scheme which, although, not mandatory at this stage, will run for three years and receive £7.9m funding from the EU. The pilot scheme called ‘STORK’ will "enable EU citizens to prove their identity and use national electronic identity systems (passwords, ID cards, PIN codes and others) throughout the EU". It will not replace current members states’ national systems but ‘align and link’ them. People are being coerced into their use with the Commission emphasising their benefits: "throughout the EU, some 30 million national eID cards are used by citizens to access a variety of public services such as claiming social security and unemployment benefits or filing tax returns". Through "its size and momentum", the project will "overrun traditional barriers and encourage the mutual acceptance of other countries' electronic identities ". Perhaps a more accurate acronym for the scheme would have been STALK.

‘Freedom not Fear’ demonstrations have been gathering apace in Germany in protest against telecommunications data retention which is currently becoming a highly contested subject in the country. The organisers are keen to spread their message about the growing rise of the surveillance state to other countries in Europe.

Fingerprint scanning at two nursery schools has been criticised by a children’s rights group. They rightly claim that subjecting young children to such routines will make them regard finger scanning as a part of life.

Scotland’s controversial microchipped entitlement cards are to be reviewed by ministers following a successful campaign by civil liberties groups who claim that the plastic swipe cards bear an uncanny resemblance to the scheme the Home Office is proposing for the National Identity Register. The current entitlement card could be easily expanded to include all manner of personal data and it is feared that it may be used as a ‘back door’ to a full ID card.

Under the headline of ‘A picture of something chillingly Orwellian’, Scotland’s Daily Herald ran a piece last month on the dangers of our entering a Big Brother state along the lines of Orwell’s 1984. While altruistic reasons are always given for an ever-increasingly large dossier of our private profiles - 'efficient service delivery’, ‘keeping us safe’, ‘avoiding duplication’ etc. - the dangers of such initiatives are rapidly out-growing any benefits. Data losses and theft are commonplace and demonstrate the dangers of centralised databases and the retention of highly personal information. With the current drawing up of the Communications Data Bill in which Home Office officials are seriously suggesting that all of our emails, texts and phone calls are kept on a database, it's bad news for citizens when government departments routinely abuse that privilege, either deliberately or accidentally. The quality of information gleaned from these databases and surveillance techniques can produce a lot of ‘false positives’ and by putting too much faith into the stored data, innocent people could be wrongly accused. On the commercial side, Tesco’s Clubcard and those of other major stores, are enabling retailers to assemble a frighteningly predictive profile of their users. So it isn’t just the government spying on you, it’s also commerce. There are already hundreds of sites selling medical histories and other sensitive data to any interested party, which may sometimes explain why you were refused insurance or a mortgage.

The latest Identity & Passport Service cost report has thrown more uncertainty on the implementation of the scheme on financial grounds. It seems that the IPS is hoping that the private sector might take on the establishment and running of interview centres - which so far haven’t caught one fraudster - together with their biometric ID card enrolment capabilities.

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