Watch Over You
CCTV cameras, identity cards, phone taps - our
liberty is at risk from this lust to control society
by William Rees-Mogg
Rousseau gave the first modern warning. In 1762 he published his
Social Contract, which contains the famous statement:
“Man is born
free, but everywhere he is in chains.”
H.G. Wells gave a similar
warning in 1895 in The Time Machine. For modern readers, the two
great novels are Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932,
the year before Hitler came to power; and George Orwell’s Nineteen
Eighty-Four, published in 1949. Rousseau was attacking the archaic
tyrannies that had lasted into his age; he underrated the dangers of
the scientific future. Wells, Huxley, and Orwell had seen the early
development of the scientific age in which we live; they raised the
Each of them understood that the new technology of their time could
be use to condition human beings; Huxley, who came from a family of
scientists, thought that chemistry, combined with selective
breeding, could produce a society of human robots who would find
happiness in subordination. Orwell modeled his
police state on an
experience of social thought control in the wartime BBC. A
present-day author, writing about the same issues, might well turn
to the technology of electronic communications. We should read about
the internet, about Microsoft and Google, about supercomputers and
the eavesdropping capacity of the CIA.
In the 1990s the rapid development of the internet and the personal
computer gave rise to unjustified optimism. The internet gave
individuals greater power of communication than global corporations
had enjoyed a generation before. The combined capacity of networks
of computers seemed more important than the centralized power of the
It seemed then that the internet might be a liberalizing influence,
giving the individual more power relative to the State. To an extent
this proved true. Many people found that they could earn a living
using the internet, which left them free to choose where to live: in
country or town, or in the most favorable tax jurisdiction.
Governments were forced to make their tax regimes competitive, or
risk losing revenue. Not much of this optimism has survived. The
21st century has been a period in which most governments sought to
reassert and extend control; often adopting policies that would once
have been regarded as illegal and outrageous.
The decisive event was
9/11. Public fear of terrorism gave governments the support needed
to tighten systems of social control and supervision. In the United
States, the clear constitutional safeguards against imprisonment
without due process were set aside. Any president responsible for
“extraordinary rendition” or Guantanamo before 9/11 would have been
impeached; President Bush was re-elected.
The British Government followed the lead of the United States,
passing a succession of anti-terrorism Acts, each with new
restrictions on personal liberties. Historians are not surprised.
Periods of threat to the nation, whether by terrorism or invasion,
have always seen new limitations on personal liberty. Indeed, the
public demands stronger protection. However, the British Government
took advantage of this opportunity to impose new methods of control
that could not have been put through Parliament in normal
circumstances. In particular, the Home Office, under authoritarian
Home Secretaries, introduced Bills that it had wanted for a long
The whole balance between the citizen and the State was
altered in favor of the State.
Many of these new interventions could partly be justified in terms
of counter-terrorism, but they still invaded the liberties of the
citizen. For instance, Britain has four million CCTV cameras, which
gives the UK a quarter of the world’s cameras to photograph 1 per
cent of the world’s population. Phone taps are now going to be
extended, for the first time, to MPs; and therefore to their
constituents. There are universal taps on the internet, which may be
passed on to foreign intelligence agencies. All of these new powers
can give counter-terrorism benefits, but they can also be used for
intrusions not connected with terrorism, or even with crime.
Tomorrow the House of Lords will return to the worrying Bill that
authorizes identity cards. Many people suppose that identity cards
are an anti-terrorist measure; the security services know that they
are not effective in that role. The main question tomorrow will be
their cost. The Government used to pretend they would cost £100
each; the London School of Economics estimates that the cost will be
£500 a head, or £28 billion in all.
I worry more about the central register
than I do about the cards themselves. This will be held on a
supercomputer that will contain more than 50 pieces of information
about each cardholder, including biometric information. This could
easily develop, as some people think it should, into a collected
register of information held by government departments, including
criminal, tax and health records. I certainly don’t want to be
compelled to spend £500 to give the Government a complete picture of
my private existence.
In Parliament, particularly in the House of Lords, there is a
growing reaction against such social control. Most of us think
policemen should not be turned into busybodies, warning people not
even to discuss adoption by homosexual couples; arresting them for
any trivial offence; threatening smokers and publicans; and
galloping after fox-hunters. We resent this on behalf of the public,
but we also resent it on behalf of the police.
In the history of Britain there have been many periods when liberty
was threatened. The immediate threat is a government with a lust for
control, with little respect for liberty or for the House of
Commons, but enjoying the opportunity of using new technologies for
The British are certainly less free than we were in
1997 or 2001.
The fight-back will be laborious and
difficult, but there is a new mood. We do not want to reach 1984 25
years behind schedule in 2009.
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Project Is Even More Sinister Than We First Thought
by Henry Porter
You may have noticed the vaguely menacing tone of recent government
advertising campaigns. Here is a current example: 'If you know a
business that isn't registered for tax, call the Revenue or HM
Customs - no names needed.' Another says: 'Technology has made it
easier to identify benefit cheats.'
Whether the campaign is about rape, TV licences or filling in your
tax form, there is always a we-know-where-you-live edge to the
message, a sense that this government is dividing the nation into
suspects and informers.
Reading the Identity Cards Bill, as it pinged between the House of
Commons and the Lords last week, I wondered about the type of
campaign that will be used to persuade us to comply with the new ID
card law. Clearly, it would be orchestrated by some efficient
martinet like the Minister of State at the Home Office, Hazel
Blears. Her task will be to put the fear of God into the public at
the same time as reassuring us that the £90 cost of each card will
protect everyone from identity theft, terrorism and benefit fraud.
The ads might imagine any number of scenarios. Here is one. 'Your
elderly mother has fallen ill,' starts the commentary gravely. 'You
travel from your home to look after her. She has a chronic condition
but this time, it's a bit of a crisis and you need to pick up a
prescription at the only late-night chemist in town. Trouble is, she
has mislaid her identity card and you never thought to get one.
Under the new law, the pharmacist will not be able to give you that
medicine without proper ID. So, get your card. It's for your own
good - and Mum's.'
It became clear last week that the government will do anything to
get this bill through parliament, including ignoring its own
manifesto pledge to make the cards voluntary, a fact that we should
remember as each of us entrusts the 49 separate pieces of personal
information to a national database. By the end of last year, the
government had already spent £32m of taxpayers' money on the scheme
and, at the present, the expenditure is edging towards £100,000 a
day. No surprise that Home Secretary Charles Clarke dissembles about Labour promises.
Labour's manifesto said:
'We will introduce ID cards, including
biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register
and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their
It turns out that there is nothing voluntary about it. If you renew
your passport, you will be compelled to provide all the information
the state requires for its sinister data base. The Home Secretary
says that the decision to apply for, or renew, a passport is
entirely a matter of individual choice; thus he maintains that the
decision to commit those personal details to the data base is a
matter of individual choice.
George Orwell would have been pleased to have invented that
particular gem. Yet this is not fiction, but the reality of 2006,
and we should understand that if the Home Secretary is prepared to
mislead on the fundamental issue as to whether something is
voluntary or compulsory, we cannot possibly trust his word on the
larger issues of personal freedom and the eventual use of the ID
Clarke has now established himself as a deceiver, even in the eyes
of his party. Labour democrats such as Kate Hoey, Diane Abbott, Bob
Marshall-Andrews and Mark Fisher all understood that the Lords'
amendments of last week simply sought to underline this concept of a
voluntary scheme, which complied with the 2005 manifesto. Oddly
enough, the compulsory provision of personal information to the
government database is not the greatest threat to our freedom,
though it is in itself a substantial one. The real menace comes when
the ID card scheme begins to track everyone's movements and
transactions, the details of which will kept on the database for as
long as the Home Office desires.
Over the past few weeks, an anonymous email has been doing a very
good job of enlightening people on how invasive the ID card will be.
'Private businesses,' says the writer, 'are going to be given access
to the national identity register database. If you want to apply for
a job, you will have to present your card for a swipe. If you want
to apply for a London underground Oystercard or supermarket loyalty
card or driving license, you will have to present your card.'
You will need the card when you receive prescription drugs, when you
withdraw a relatively small amount of money from a bank, check into
hospital, get your car unclamped, apply for a fishing license, buy a
round of drinks (if you need to prove you're over 18), set up an
internet account, fix a residents' parking permit or take out
Every time that card is swiped, the central database logs the
transaction so that an accurate plot of your life is drawn. The
state will know everything that it needs to know; so will big
corporations, the police, the Inland Revenue, HM Customs,
any damned official or commercial busybody that wants access to your
life. The government and Home Office have presented this as an
incidental benefit, but it is at the heart of their purpose.
Last week, Andrew Burnham, a junior minister at the Home Office,
confirmed the anonymous email by admitting that the ID card scheme
would now include chip-and-pin technology because it would be a
cheaper way of checking each person's identity. The sophisticated
technology on which this bill was sold will cost too much to
operate, with millions of checks being made every week.
That is a very important admission because the government still
maintains the fiction that the ID card is defense against identity
theft and terrorism. The 7 July bombers would not have been deterred
by a piece of plastic. And it is clear that the claim about
protecting your identity is also rubbish because chip-and-pin
technology has already been compromised by organized criminals. What
remains is the ceaseless monitoring of people's lives. That is what
the government is forcing on us.
Practically every week in these columns, I urge you to pay attention
to the government's theft of our liberties.
I would feel a bore and
an obsessive if I hadn't pored over the ID card bill last week and
read Hansard's account of the exchanges in both houses. One of the
most chilling passages in the bill is section 13 which deals with
the 'invalidity and surrender' of ID cards, which, in effect,
describes the withdrawal of a person's identity by the state. For,
without this card, it will be almost impossible to function, to
exist as a citizen in the UK. Despite the cost to you, this card
will not be your property.
People keep asking me what they can do about the lurch into Labour's
velvet tyranny and I keep replying that the only way for us is to
re-engage with the politics of our country. But it is difficult. The
new Conservative regime under David Cameron has not yet found the
voice to articulate the objection to the radical changes proposed in
Edward Garnier, the Tory spokesman on ID cards, did his
best in the Commons last week, but we need to hear his leader
express the principled outrage that comes from conviction and
unyielding values. If we don't, we may justifiably wonder if the
Conservatives are sitting on their hands in the belief that they
will eventually inherit Labour's apparatus of control.
Outside parliament, what needs to happen is the formation of the
broadest possible front against these changes, a movement which
deploys the most principled democratic minds in the country to argue
with the lazy and stupid view that if you've got nothing to hide,
you have nothing to fear from Labour's attack on liberty.
that will happen.
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Pernicious Mix Of Big Business And Busybodies
The National Identity Register, when linked to
other databases, will give the state unlimited powers to spy on us
by Henry Porter
Let me introduce you to Katherine Courtney, an American at the heart
of the government's plans for the National Identity Register and who
is to British freedom and privacy what Cruella DeVil was to
Ms Courtney is now the head of business
development at the new Identity and Passport Service, but in her
previous role as head of the ID card programme, she was able to
stupefy MPs with jargon that few of them can have understood.
This is her answering a question in the Home Affairs committee:
think it is important to say that while the pilot itself is not
really about testing the robustness and scalability of the
particular biometric technologies that are being deployed, it is
about studying the enrolment process and the customer experience and
being able to validate some of the assumptions that we have built
into the business case around the time that it takes to enroll and
the customer acceptability.'
By heck, the woman can talk.
It is not so much the content of her
answers about ID cards that chills the blood, but the unswerving,
robotic certainty of the language with which people like her pursue
Blair's dream of a totally controlled and monitored society.
The Home Office will not say if Courtney is naturalized or remains a
foreign national, but I do wonder that such a person may sweep into
government with a CV that features Cable and Wireless and BT Exact
Technologies and the next moment be attending conferences as a
government official with companies such as BT and Siemens Business
Services. It seems incestuous and it is worth noting that it was on
her watch that Professor John Daugman, who developed and patented
the iris recognition technology that is to be used in the ID card,
was appointed to the independent scientific group to advise the Home
Office on identity cards.
There may be nothing untoward in this, yet one cannot help feeling
that the threat to British privacy and rights is being mounted by
people inside the corporate loop who, with their fanatical
admiration for business systems, have little concern for individual
privacy. In their PowerPoint presentations, they may pay lip service
to balancing the interests of the state with those of the citizen -
or customer, as Courtney would have it - but this can only be to the
detriment of our right to privacy as it stands now. Balance must
mean we each surrender something of ourselves to a state whose power
grows ineluctably under Tony Blair.
The British state presents a menace to individual privacy in the
21st century in two ways, as the Information Commissioner, Richard
Thomas, demonstrates in his commendably clear report, 'What Price
The first is that under Tony Blair's 'transformational
government', the Civil Service is moving to merge all its databases
into one network with single entry points, so that someone with the
right access could, for example, surf between the tax and customs
database, criminal records, vehicle registrations and health and
education records in their search for information on an individual.
If you add to this unified system the new National Identity Register
(NIR) which, as Thomas points out, will include 'identifying
information, residential status, personal reference numbers,
registration and ID card history, as well as records of when, what
and to whom information from the register has been provided', we
will end up with an awesome apparatus of control and surveillance.
Why should we worry about this if, as is the case, each one of us
may already appear on as many as 700 separate databases?
How does a
joined-up, centralized database threaten us more?
One answer appears
in the body of the Thomas report which shows that the security of
databases ranging from health records, to the driver and vehicle
licensing authority and the police national computer, which has
10,000 entry points, is regularly breached.
The report describes how inquiry agents use the system to supply
personal information to, among others, newspapers and insurance
companies. Warrants obtained by Thomas resulted in the arrest of a
private detective working from his home in Hampshire who had regular
access to BT's phone records, the DVLA and police computer.
documents seized, Thomas's team realized how extensive was the
market in unlawful personal data and how easy it is to steal from
official records. Imagine a determined stalker gaining access to
this proposed unified system and NIR, or a criminal gang, or a man
in a custody battle, or a reporter from the News of the World or a
foreign intelligence officer.
The threat of illicit use is as nothing compared to the misuse that
it will offer government agencies. For one thing, there will be no
knowing when and by whom your personal records are being inspected,
so intrusion by the state is likely to become the norm.
big problem is the phenomenal incompetence of the government when it
comes to databases. Remember the fiascos in the Child Support
Agency, the immigration service records, the old passport agency and
with the benefits card. Only last week, the Criminal Records Bureau
admitted that it had wrongly labeled 1,500 innocent people as
pornographers, thieves and violent criminals.
As a result, some
failed in their job applications, which must surely mean they have a
very good claim for damages against the government, based on the
loss of reputation and earnings.
The Home Office refused to apologize and, instead, excused itself by
saying that it had erred on the side of caution when making the
checks against criminal records. That reaction is not good enough
and it underlines the lack of accountability in government and the
arrogance of officialdom when it comes to the reputations of
ordinary people. It also raises the question of what might happen if
a similar error were to infect the unified system.
If the government can't run the Criminal Records Bureau without
defaming ordinary people, it is hardly likely to make the much
larger NIR work. There may be some slight hope that government
ineptitude will protect us from official intrusion, but experience
from all the past cock-ups tells us that it is those private
individuals who have no power and few opportunities for redress who
are always the victims. And from the Thomas report, we may conclude
that whatever the security measures put in place, the number of
terminals with access to the NIR will mean that people's privacy
will almost certainly be breached illegally.
The ID card bill has become law.
'Enrolment facilities' are being
built and Courtney is seeking the best way of charging the private
sector for checks against the database. We are going ahead with this
thing despite ministerial admissions that the scheme will do nothing
to stop illegal immigration or terrorism, and is unlikely to deter
criminal gangs which have already compromised the chip and pin
The option now remaining is large-scale
public protest. We need a national debate on the running of official
databases and the handling of personal information, for let's not
forget that privacy is dear to us. The Information Commissioner's
report makes clear that protecting people's personal information
ranks third in the list of the public's social concerns, alongside
the NHS. Concern in this area is growing, the report says, which is
something that David Cameron should note.
In the meantime, I find myself wishing a hearty damnation to
Courtney and her business plans, to the unified database of
'transformational government', to the incompetence and arrogance of
the Home Office, to any bureaucrat who seeks to define an
individual's identity with compulsory biometric measurement backed
up by threats.
If one thing has become clear in the last few weeks,
it is that the government is not fit to be trusted with either
setting up the National Identity Register or running it.
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Revealed - The
Cash-For-Fake-ID scandal At The Heart Of The Government
Civil servants have sold the personal details of
hundreds of thousands of people to criminal gangs
by Francis Elliott and Sophie
An internal investigation at the Department for Work and Pensions
(DWP) has found that civil servants are colluding with organized
criminals to steal personal identities on "an industrial scale".
Ministers have been privately warned that the investigation will
show that hundreds of thousands of stolen personal details have been
ripped off from official databases, often with inside help.
personal details such as national insurance numbers can be used to
commit benefit fraud, set up false bank accounts and obtain official
documents such as passports.
The ID theft from DWP and Revenue and Customs databases is currently
the subject of an internal investigation, codenamed Trident, carried
out in conjunction with the Government's official data-protection
One government figure said:
"We have been told that DWP staff
have been colluding with organized criminals to commit identity
theft on an industrial scale. It is far wider than just tax
credits and reaches right across Whitehall."
A minister confirmed that the issue was
causing panic in the office of John Hutton, the Secretary of State
for Work and Pensions and a key ally of Tony Blair.
"It's clear it's
pretty serious," she said.
The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, told
on Sunday that there are "widespread concerns" that poorly paid
staff in tax and benefits offices are "open to temptation".
Ironically, the true scale of identity thefts from the DWP came to
light only when its own civil servants were the victims of an
audacious attack on the Government's tax credits. The personal
details of 13,000 staff were passed to gangsters who used them to
steal an estimated £15m in benefits.
Today, however, it can be revealed that the scam is just one of 25
incidents of "significant organized fraud" so far uncovered. The DWP
refuses to comment, saying only that there is an "ongoing
Mr Hutton's nervousness could be explained by the fact that official
statistics are now overdue on how much tax credit was paid through
error or fraud in 2003-04. Ministers already admit that an initial
sum of £430m will have to be revised sharply upwards.
Richard Bacon, the MP who exposed the foreign prisoner debacle, has
now written to the Government's spending watchdog asking him to
"It is clear that the security of individuals' personal details has
been far more severely compromised than has been admitted thus far
by ministers. I have written to Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and
Auditor General, asking him to investigate urgently this failure by
the Government to protect our IDs from fraudsters."
One senior Whitehall figure said that civil servants were being
unwittingly duped into giving away personal identities in most
Figures published last week show there were 100,000 offences
under the Data Protection Act in the DWP and Revenue and Customs
between 2000 and 2004. Neither department will release the figures
for Trident, set up in 2004.
Mr Thomas, who this week called on the Government to stiffen
penalties for releasing personal information from a fine to a
two-year prison sentence, said:
"There are widespread concerns that
lowly paid staff can be open to temptation," he said.
[officials] need to say to their staff this [illegal selling of
data] is a very serious matter and from time to time they do say
this. I've seen newsletters from Customs and DWP reminders to staff
that this is a very serious matter. It is a disciplinary matter and
you could be exposed to a fine. If they could say in future you
could be exposed to a prison sentence that is really going to be a
Union officials say Revenue and Customs
investigators believe they
know from which DWP office at least some of the information has been
stolen but have so far been unable to narrow the search further.
Staff appraisal records, containing names, dates of birth and NI
numbers, were removed some time last year, investigators believe.
The information was enough for an organized criminal gang to claim
millions of pounds in tax credits by making thousands of fraudulent
claims for the credits, a means-tested top-up for low- income
Charles Law of the Public and Commercial Services Union says it
could hardly have been made easier for the fraudsters to use stolen
NI numbers to make bogus applications for tax credits online.
"People applying online for tax credits were supposed to receive a
telephone call to confirm their ID but, of course, there were too
few staff to make the calls and they didn't happen."
Mr Law told the IoS that the fraudsters who targeted JobCentre staff
almost certainly had inside help.
"Staff have access to the ID details
of pretty much the whole country and so there is always going to
be a risk."
The sheer scale of the potential abuse
was underlined by a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which
found that government departments hand out state support to 2.1
million lone parents - even though the best estimate is that Britain
has just 1.9 million single-parent households.
Mike Brewer of the IFS has said that the 200,000 "phantom" lone
parents shows just how successful the ID fraudsters have become.
Step 1: Fraudsters are passed
details of national insurance numbers by civil servants with
access to the Revenue and Customs database.
Step 2: The details are used to
receive utility bills bearing the names and details of the IDs
stolen from the database, which records every man and woman in
Step 3: The criminals can use
utility bills to open fake bank accounts, providing themselves
with a crucial element for the new identity.
Step 4: An internet search by the
fraudsters helps them to apply for a replacement birth
Step 5: The fraudsters apply for
replacement passports, which can be sold to gang masters for
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