MPs are debating the ID card bill in the House of Commons today and sadly new Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, has labelled opponents "wooley liberals." I can see the standard of the debate is not going to rise to the merits and demerits of the cases for and against.
I've also just heard an interview with Jean Corston, MP, on Radio 5 live's Drive programme. This lady is "Chairman" of the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.
She dismissed a question about the reliability of the ID card database by suggesting it was irrelevant and that databases do work too, you know. Well that puts my concerns that the ID card system won't work well and truly to rest. After all this woman is the "chairman" of the Human Rights committee.
She was apparently against ID cards until two years ago when she did a consultation exercise in her constituency, during which she "learned" that some women in ethnic minority communities were desparate to have an ID card, so they could identify themselves. They were absolutely desparate because they didn't have passports which were taken away and they didn't have bank accounts or anything like that.
She conceded there might be privacy issues associated with the ID card but the thing that convinced her to change her mind was an interview with a "terrorist" on BBC television. Apparently this terrorist claimed he had moved to the UK from France because it was easier to get around the UK, since we don't have ID cards like the French.
A "terrorist" on a TV programme says ID cards make life more difficult for terrorists and this is sufficient evidence for the "chairman" of our parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights to change her mind on years of opposition to ID cards.
Even if I wasn't against the scheme on the pragmatic basis that the system will not work, won't address any of the problems it is claimed to be addressing, will create a huge range of other problems, will cost a fortune that could be more effectively spent elsewhere, I would want to hear from the "chairman" of such a committee questions as to whether there was any substance to the charges of principle made by opponents of the scheme.
It seems that "I ran a few focus groups and saw a TV programme" can be the deepest level of scrutiny we can expect of our parliamentary representatives, when it comes to matters of fundamental importance to the future of our democracy. Well we get what we deserve in parliamentarians and if we're prepared to put up with this superficiality, then we may take the consequences uncomplainingly. It is, however, a pretty appalling reflection on the state of our democracy.
One Just one more time in brief, then, for Mr Clarke and Ms Corston,
1. What problem does your proposed solution (ID cards) solve?
A: Lots allegedly - terrorism, immigration, benefit fraud, social cohesion etc - all ill defined.
2. What architecture has your proposed solution got - what does it look like?
A: Complicated - high tech cards, massive database which no computer scientist in the world could secure, decentralised networked registration centres, huge numbers of decentralised verification devices for police, GPs etc.
3. How well does it solve your problem(/s)?
A: Not at all.
4. How can it fail and what other problems does it create?
A: It can fail in many ways and cause lots of other problems - errors in database, failure of remote verification and registration devices, unreliable biometric technology etc etc.
5. How much does it cost?
A: Billions of pounds.
6. Is it worth it?
A: No, the money could be more effectively spent on [well trained] extra police, security service, customs and immigration staff.