ID Cards: Ignorance is not Strength


Well, I did promise to stop yammering on about aliens…

For those of you not in the UK, ID cards have been simmering away in the background of British politics for several years.  They are expected to be in the hands of every UK citizen (and some visiting non-UK citizens) by around 2011: trial issuings are occurring as we speak, with 3,500 individuals registered.

I was somewhat bemused by them initially: why do we need ID cards? We have passports and driving licences.  A glance at the Identity Cards Act (2006) reveals what is really unique about them: the concentration of information.  The NO2ID organisation seize on the first sentence of the Act:

An Act to make provision for a national scheme of registration of individuals and for the issue of cards capable of being used for identifying registered individuals…to make provision facilitating the verification of information provided with an application for a passport; and for connected purposes.

This National Register will constitute a list of all individuals in the UK with an ID card (i.e. everyone who’s supposed to be here), and collate up to (and not limited to) fifty individual pieces of information (according to NO2ID), including your passport, national insurance and driving licence numbers.  Needless to say that if your ID card (keyed to access this information) is stolen, then it makes for extremely efficient identity theft.

Even with these apparently obvious reasons against ID cards, I find myself strangely ambivalent.  I could see how collating information about me is useful: I expect that the Government could collect this information from several departments, with my details becoming garbled a la Chinese Whispers (which could be dangerous!), and I would rather they obtained them more reliably.  The theft of this data is somewhat unsettling: but no more unsettling than having an entire wallet stolen (which has the majority of this data in individual pieces), which can happen right now.  And there is the classic “I have nothing to hide” which admittedly only holds while the Government’s data requests remain innocent (Are you doing your exercises, Winston?).

What does worry me is the possibility that an ID card can be cracked, says the (ahem, excuse me, sorry, I have to say it) Daily Mail. The Government vigorously denies that it is possible for the security expert Adam Laurie to…

using just [a mobile phone] handset and a laptop computer, electronically [copy] the ID card microchip and all its information in a matter of minutes.

Although I must say the security expert’s finesse in adding “I am entitled to benefits” (classic Mail fodder) and a message  stating “I am a terrorist. Shoot me on sight” to the card is amusing if macabre.  Now, if you’ve read this far, I’m finally getting to my point.  If these ID cards are as (in)secure as is suggested, then we need proof : whether you are against them, and want this whole opulent scheme (£5bn according to the Mail, and other sources seem to agree) nipped in the bud; or if you are for them (or you are the Government), and want your card to be safe; or if you’re on the fence like me, and need convincing.  It’s all very well stating that you cracked the card in a newspaper, and give a layman’s explanation, but it’s not enough.  I’ve not seen a wisp of what I would consider to be proof: a peer-reviewed academic publication of how the card was cracked, detailing the exact method.  Then either the Government or the Mail will be forced to show that they are blackwhite (to flog the Orwellian horse once more, doubleplusbad).

Adam Laurie, Jeroen van Beek, what do you think? If you’ve already published it, then ignore this prolefeed.

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