Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Identity Cards

Grasshoppermind asks for a POSIWID take on identity cards, refers us to the latest story in Computing Identity card scheme to cost $5.4bn, and suggests that the purpose of the system is to subsidize the IT industry.

There are many other large IT schemes for which this explanation might make sense, including the NHS's National Programe for Information Technology (NPfIT). (For general information about this scheme, see the NHS IT Info page put up by a number of senior academics including Professor Ross Anderson.)

Obviously there are some highly influential representatives of the IT industry who have excellent access to Government ministers, and there are government ministers (as well as opposition politicians) who happen to have a background in management consultancy and IT.

Not surprisingly, the main beneficiaries of these very large schemes tend to be a small number of large IT companies. So the effect is not an evenly distributed subsidy of the IT industry, but a concentration of economic power.

And I think that's the clue. Perhaps the hidden agenda behind these schemes is not subsidy but centralization?


But there is something particularly odd about the identity card scheme, which the other schemes don't share. Identity cards are being proposed to solve a rapidly-shifting series of social problems, including terrorism, crime, identity theft, illegal immigration and benefit fraud. Whenever some expert points out that it will not solve problem A, the proponents of the scheme immediately start talking about problem B instead. Which makes us doubt whether any of these stated purposes are genuine.

We also need to recognize that the widespread criticism of the scheme includes articulate voices from some of the largest computer companies, including Kim Cameron of Microsoft, Michael Osborne of IBM, and of course our old friend Robin Wilton of Sun Microsystems.

But the Government seems determined to go ahead. Is this just some massive folly, like the Millennium Dome squared, or is there some more sinister explanation?

See my earlier posts: The True Motive for Identity Cards and ID Card Compromise, as well as a post on Identity Cards on the TrustBlog.

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