Dear Mr Lepper,
I have written to you before on the matter of ID schemes and terrorism, so I will keep this letter brief. It contains a number of questions, which I shall break up into 2 sections.
1. Regarding the extent to which the government expects ID cards to be used (or rather, ID checks - the card should not be necessary after a certain time). In an interview with the Financial Times on November 1st, the minister in charge of the scheme, Andy Burnham, claimed that "ID cards could be the single gateway into a whole range of services that people need in their everyday lives from picking up a parcel or hiring a car to applying for a loan or registering with a doctor." Given that the Bill stipulates that all of the checks required for these uses would be recorded (see, for example, Section 1, subsection (5)(h)), it is clear that it is the government's intention (or, at least, a plausible possibility) to maintain as much information about the activities of the general population as is industrially possible. In other words, there is no limit to this information.
My first question regarding this is a philosophical one, although one with practical implications. Why should these transactions be maintained in a government database for as long as the database exists? Given that the introduction of a biometric ID system was initially because (or influenced by the fact that) a large amount of the technology was required by new European passport legislation, what justification is there for further extending the scheme to include details on the daily transactions of 100% of the population (assuming the system becomes compulsory)?
The second question here is a technical one. The scheme is to be rolled in gradually to ensure that it works. However the amount of data being considered under these plans, and the data transfer infrastructure needed to support it, is immense. Under a centralised identity check system, all of those transactions being made must be verified against a central repository, and the relevant data stored. What predictions have been made about not just the amount of data being transferred and stored, but the growth of that data over time, especially as a centralised ID system becomes more widely adopted?
2. Regarding the current highlight of the 2005 Terrorism Act - the notion of detaining suspects for 90 days. The justification from the Police for this extension in detention is that it takes this long to search for evidence among the days of CCTV footage and mountains of computer data (including possible decryption thereof). What this view fails to take into account though, it seems to me, is that - like the data involved in an ID system - the amount of possible evidence that needs to be sifted through will likely increase drastically in future.
As we turn more and more to using recorded surveillance and "grab-everything" logs (e.g. mobile telephone data - I note the government's recent £875,000 deal with O2 here) to provide us with a "cure", will this problem not simply get worse? At what point should suspects (who are still likely to be released*, despite the availability of more time to look for evidence) be detained indefinitely, pending proof of intent of wrongdoing? And if that proof isn't forthcoming, who is to say when they should be released?
The point here is that a dependence on vast amounts of data and the ability to detain possibly-innocent people is, in a civilised society, unsustainable. One could argue that there are other causes of terrorism et al, and that these should be considered in more depth before opting for expensive technical solutions.
* Home Office figures from 11 Sep 2001 to 30 Sep 2005, which show that 496 of 895 of those arrested under the 2000 Terrorism Act were released without charge.
Parliament continues to prove controversial and debate-inducing, although it is a shame to see that, prior to the 3rd reading of the Identity Cards Bill, a relatively low number of Ministers participated in the pre-Reading discussion - various good and interesting points were made, but it seemed at times that only those wishing to attack the bill were present. I must admit that I am a little confused as to what an MP truly represents - whether it be a representation of the people in his or her constituency, a prop for the intention of the party he or she belongs to, or a pivot around which both of these, along with a modicum of sense and reasoning, must be balanced. At many times, it seems (from my point of view) that the wishes of the party are to be prioritised over all else - I'm sure this isn't the case, but it is somewhat exasperating. A small point to end on, anyway.
I thank you for taking the time to read this.