Someone To Watch Over You

CCTV cameras, identity cards, phone taps - our liberty is at risk from this lust to control society

by William Rees-Mogg

from TimesOnLine Website

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 alarm.

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 largest computers.

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 time.


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 social control.


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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This ID Project Is Even More Sinister Than We First Thought
by Henry Porter
from TheGuardian Website

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 passports.'

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 card database.

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 insurance.

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, MI5 and 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 our society.


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.


I believe that will happen.


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This 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

from TheGuardian Website

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 Dalmatian puppies.


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:

'I 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 Privacy?'.


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.


From the 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.


The other 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 security.


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 Goodchild
from TheIndependent Website

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.


Key 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 watchdog.

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 The Independent 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 investigation".

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 investigate.

"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 cases.


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.


"They [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 wake-up call."

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 families.

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.

Stolen Lives

  • 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 the UK.

  • 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 certificate.

  • Step 5: The fraudsters apply for replacement passports, which can be sold to gang masters for people smuggling

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