India’s Biometric Census

A while back I was wondering how India was going to enrol 1.2 Billion people in its planned national Biometric ID card scheme. Well, I should have guessed that the answer was that it would combine it with a national census. This is apparently exactly what is going to happen, according to the BBC. The next Indian national census will be the first one not just to count and classify individuals with written answers, but will also take biometric details. These will then form the basis for the new ID database, with its 16-digit unique identifying number. And the process has already started – the only thing I can think of that will cause it significant problems is not any civil liberties opposition but rather the ongoing revolutionary movements often called ‘Maoist’ but really a lot of different loosely affiliated rural-based organisations…

Wonky deployment of UK ID cards continues

The strange progress of the roll-out of the UK’s National ID card scheme continues, ably tracked by The Register, with the latest wheeze being to target young people whose passports have expired with the promise that the ID card will help them to buy cigarettes and alcohol (which, of course, are otherwise considered as major social problems by New Labour…). However the ID cards don’t seem to be working as promised in many cases – for example, it was revealed a few days ago that many travel companies were refusing to accept the new cards in place of passports as they were supposed to. Of course, time may be running out for the scheme in any case with national elections due by the end of May…

New ID cards Website the national id cards website

This website contains a comprehensive listing of national ID cards by geographic region worldwide allowing users to study and compare specific national policies regarding identity cards, as well as a list of resources on the topic.

National identification systems have been proliferating in recent years as part of a concerted drive to find common identifiers for populations around the world. Whether the driving force is immigration control, anti-terrorism, electronic government or rising rates of identity theft, identity card systems are being developed, proposed or debated in most countries. However, there is no comprehensive database documenting the status of national identity card systems anywhere in the world, and this website has been designed in order to fill this gap.

We invite users to help compile this information. Go to ‘UPDATE ID INFORMATION’ and follow the steps to submit current information about national ID card systems globally.

This website has been developed under The New Transparency Project an MCRI project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The idea for the website comes from the book “Playing the Identity Card” recently edited by Colin Bennett and David Lyon, and published by Routledge (2008). The website is maintained and updated by a group of students and faculty from Queen’s University and the University of Victoria.

(Information from The New Transparency Project)

Gordon Brown stalls on UK ID cards issue

Despite the news stories saying that he had made a significant announcement on ID cards, the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said absolutely nothing new interesting on the subject in his speech on future Labour policy yesterday. As Henry Porter comments on The Guardian website, whilst his announcement that ID cards would not be compulsory in the (increasingly unlikely) event of another Labour term was greeted with enthusiasm by the party faithful, this is not any kind of change in policy and nothing concrete was said about the National Identity Register (i.e.: the database, the important bit!). While the Conservative Party may be limited and rather disingenuous in their apparent opposition to the ‘surveillance state’, Labour appears to be merely self-congratulatory and complacent.

UK ID cards to be abolished?

(Ironically, my last post in the UK, a couple of weeks ago was about Canada, and my first here in Canada will be about the UK…)

The Guardian newspaper’s headline today seems to indicate that the UK government is considering scrapping the controversial National Identity Register and card program, along with the Trident nuclear submarine upgrade. This is based on a speech that the increasingly influential Chancellor of the Exchequer, Peter Mandelson, gave to the centrist Progress think-tank. However, reading the whole article, it is much less clear that any such radical move will take place. Mandelson hedges his bets and says when asked about cost savings from the mooted cancellations:

“I have seen some rather different figures relating to the savings that would arise from cancelling those projects which don’t make the contributions that some people imagine.”

But at the same time, he said “it would be foolish to rule out anything.”

He’s right in many ways. Contracts have been signed. Money has been committed and legal costs could be very high if the government tries to wiggle out of those contracts now. As David Lyon’s new book on ID makes it very clear, ID cards schemes are a global industry with powerful corporate forces involved.

In any case, the real reason the scheme should be scrapped or significantly reduced in ambition, is because it is based on flawed premises and is massively intrusive and controlling. The fact that it also costs a ridiculous amount of money (and will of course, escalate in costs still further, as every state computer project inevitably does), is simply a contingent factor.