Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blair adds whole UK to police suspect list

John Lettice, one of the few journalists who has demonstrated an understanding of the serious implications for society of the UK government's identity card scheme, has been analysing the Prime Minister's latest pronouncements on the plan.

"The National Identity Register will allow police to add the entire adult population of the UK to their suspect list, giving them the opportunity to check fingerprints left at scenes of crime against those collected from ID card and passport applicants, says Tony Blair. Nor are fingerprints in other EU countries necessarily safe - the introduction of biometric technology, he adds, will "improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

Blair made the pledge to collar the lot of us, and some, as part of a rag-bag of warmed-over, half-baked, misleading, and just plain untrue claims issued in an email to the near-28,000 signatories of the Downing Street petition calling for the scrapping of the ID card scheme. The notion of the police having access to the NIR fingerprint data in order to tackle unsolved crime is not entirely new (the Home Office document Identity Cards Scheme - Benefits Overview tentatively suggested this could happen a couple of years back), but it's not something that has previously been pushed by senior ministers...

Logically, in Blair's Wonderworld of Criminal Justice, police showing up at scenes of crime will as a matter of course scan it (um, with what?) for prints, and then compare the images with the NIR in real time (er, how?) in order to discover... Yes, that this particular set of fuzzy images unearthed at Anwar's Doughnut Bar might have been left by any one of several thousand of the 60 million people on the NIR. The Boys in Blue are going to love this gear, which doesn't even exist yet (mobile fingerprint readers do, but these are for taking prints off real people).

We shouldn't leave this demented scheme without noting that the production of matches that will pass muster in a court of law will still require the presence of the traditional fingerprint squad at the scene of the crime. And if police do start to make routine automated checks at scenes of crime then we're going to need a lot more traditional squads to chase down the leads, so more specialists would be needed at this end of the process as well."

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