Could the London Explosions Naturally Lead to ID Cards in the UK?

The 4 bomb explosions which occurred around Central London this morning seriously shook me up (not literally, I’m glad to say). On a normal morning I would have been walking through Liverpool Street train station at roughly 8.50 AM, almost exactly the time when one of the explosions occurred there this morning. (Luckily, by chance I happened to be working from home today).

Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased (currently numbered at 30), and with the scores of injured commuters caught up in the blasts.

Early indications are that the explosions were ostensibly the work of “Al Qaeda” (although as we all know, Al Qaeda is really just a convenient blanket term for a mythical “worldwide terror network”, a.k.a. “the bogeyman”).

This got me wondering how long it would be before someone in the UK Government starts using today’s terrorist attack as the latest “justification” for introducing ID cards in the UK.

Currently the UK Government is trying to push through a bill to introduce a national Identity Card Scheme. They were previously called “Entitlement Cards”, but were renamed following criticism that they weren’t being clear on the cards’ purpose. Interestingly, the Government still does not provide a clear explanation of the purpose behind the cards.

The cards themselves are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition, the scheme includes the introduction of a national identification register (individual checking and numbering of the population), marking many personal details as “registrable facts” to be disclosed and constantly updated.

Not surprisingly, the proposed scheme is facing major opposition in the UK. The main criticism for the proposed scheme, besides the lack of an obvious reason for it, is that the scheme is using a swathe of unproven technology on an unprecedented scale.

The Government record with computer projects is poor (there’s a string of hugely expensive UK Government IT failures, costing the country billions). The proposed IT system for the National Identification Register (NIS) is overcomplicated and has numerous points of failure.

The proposed scheme will use biometrics: individuals will be fingerprinted. The system will be deployed on a vast scale with variably maintained and calibrated equipment, prompting fears that many people will be wrongly identified. Identity theft is also a major concern, as the cards risk making it easier to steal someone’s identity.

The #1 justification for the scheme is that it will help combat terrorism. While this is a noble cause (and no one can argue that we want to risk seeing more atrocities like this morning’s explosions), the problem is that there is no evidence that a national ID register would prevent such atrocities. It just wouldn’t. From the No2ID website:

“Research suggests that there is no link between the use of identity cards and the prevalence of terrorism, and in no instance has the presence of an identity card system been shown a significant deterrent to terrorist activity. Experts attest that ID, unjustifiably presumed secure, actually diminishes security.”
[ID Cards – the case against]

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.