A View from Stanage Edge in the Peak District

ID Cards and the National DNA Database

(Published: 1 November 2006)


The whole ID Card debate is not just about carrying a 'harmless' piece of plastic to enable an individual to identify themselves to the 'authorities'. The issues go much deeper than that. The introduction of a mandatory ID Card scheme and the massive database that supports it will mark a fundamental change in the relationship between the Government and the general public that it is supposed to serve.


The Labour Party's Pet Project

Labour have been pushing this 'monster' project for several years now and have tried to justify it with several different arguments - each one of these 'justifications' has been shown to be bogus. Labour have also been very cagey about disclosing the overall cost of the project. The Government's track record with IT projects half this size has been very poor in the past with many costing several times the original estimate and arriving years late.

Labour say that this project is vital to the future prosperity of the country and the individuals who live here. Well, in order to bring in such draconian reforms the Government must present a convincing case for them (which they have yet to do), not ask for the public to present a convincing case against them.

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The DNA Database

My biggest concern is the proposed DNA database - we don't yet know what sort of information can be extracted from an individuals DNA profile and yet the Government is determined that we must all have our DNA taken and stored on a central database to be queried as they see fit.

Your DNA is a blueprint to the very essence of your being and it could shortly be the property of the Government. A DNA database could allow civil servants to know things about you that even you are not aware of - ultimately this could determine your future in society. You might be unaware that you have a genetic disorder. You might decide that you'd rather not know, but your DNA may let the civil servants know and could affect your eligibility for employment, benefits, health care or insurance.

If you want an idea of how a DNA database could shape our future society then I recommend you watch the film Gattaca - many Science-Fiction stories become science-fact and this story seems too close to the truth for comfort. Forget about your ambition to be an air-pilot; if you've got the wrong DNA profile then sweeping the street is the best job you'll be getting. Of course, if your blood-line is descended from the 'elite family tree', then you'll be fast-tracked to a top job.

Are you 100% sure about the parentage of all the individuals in your family? Does it matter to you? The Government will know for sure - they will have yours and all your family's DNA on a database. Just takes a few seconds to cross-reference the DNA entries to get a definitive answer.

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The DNA Detectives

The current case for a national DNA database is that "it will help solve crimes" - well, you may be confident that you can recall your whereabouts for the last month, but what about your DNA? It can be transferred to locations you've never been to through touch alone.

So, how much DNA is regularly transferred from handing over money? How much DNA is regularly transferred from clothes donated to a charity shop? How much DNA is regularly transferred from touching door handles in public places? Traces of your DNA could be anywhere in the country and if the police find it at a crime scene and you can't account for how it got there then you could find that you are the prime suspect.

Is a national DNA database really going to help solve crimes or is it going to give the police hundreds of dead-end leads to chase up when they could be looking at other areas of enquiry? Will it not just take them away from the real detective work while they spend hours filling in all the extra paperwork generated by 'false' leads?

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Who Are You?

Another concern is the initial interview process - yeah, that's right, every single one of us will have to attend an interview (at their convenience, rather than yours) where your fingerprints, iris scan and DNA will be taken and your identity will be established. Can you see the flaw? If I can prove my identity in the initial interview without an ID card then why the hell do I need one? How will they identify those people who don't currently have a valid form of ID such as a passport or driving licence? What about those people who are already living here under a false identity - this process will legitimise their false identity! Can you see a flaw in this process?

Also, guess who's responsible for ensuring that the data they have on the database is up-to-date and correct? That's right, you are. There's massive fines and even jail terms for forgetting to inform them of a change of address or circumstances and you'll have to put your life on hold should you ever lose a card.

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The Matrix Has You Now

Here's my prediction of where all this is leading - some of the following scenarios are my best guess and some of them have actually been proposed by the Government as a real intent.

Once the ID cards are rolled out and the database is set up, the really dangerous activities will begin. Initially, your ID card will become your key to interactiing with Government services - you'll have to present it when you visit a doctor, the hospital, the job centre, the housing office or any other public facing Government organisation.

The police can stop you on the street and ask you produce your ID card for examination - failure to do so will result in your immediate detention until your identity can be determined. If you simply left your card at home or you have lost it then you'll receive a hefty fine.

Very soon, commercial institutions such as Banks will begin to prefer the ID card for identifying account holders. The Government has already indicated that it intends to compel shops to log purchases over a certain amount against the ID card of the purchaser - so, now civil servants will have access to a log of all your major purchasers.

Some time after the initial introduction of the ID card, it will be declared a complete success and further measures will be introduced to improve the process. It will shown that many people are forgetting to carry their ID cards or failing to report lost or stolen cards and are therefore having to pay fines and penalties - the solution to this problem will be an implanted chip. A tiny device will be inserted under the skin (probably in the arm) and walkthrough scanners will be installed in buildings all over the country. Those volunteering to accept the implants will be fast-tracked through secure areas, whereas those carrying traditional cards will have to queue and have them manually checked - the airport will be an area where most people will be able to see the 'advantage' of having an implant. To get the kids behind the scheme, exclusive night clubs will offer financial incentives to those willing to have an implant (believe it or not this has already happened).

When the majority of the population have finally surrendered to the implant, then a new radical idea will be proposed - link your bank account with your ID. No need to carry money - shops will be able to scan your implanted ID chip and get a payment authorisation instantly. All you need to do is allow your fingerprint or iris to be scanned for confirmation and the transaction is done (and logged).

Now the Government will be able to log every single item you have ever bought - from a pint of milk up to a new car and beyond. How much do spend on petrol? How much do you spend on newspapers and magazines? Which papers and magazines do you read? Where did you buy them? How often do you buy them? Did you go to the polling station to vote? All this and more will be available to anyone with access to the database.

Some people might be reading these scenarios and thinking "this all sounds rather convenient!" - and of course it does. But what happens when things go wrong? What happens if the technology fails? What happens if the crooks manage to clone your ID chip and empty your bank account? What happens when some civil servant confuses your records with a criminals and disables all your privileges? What happens when the government starts selling your data to third-parties in order to pay the enormous cost of administering such a system? What happens, is that you find out the hard way that when you allow Governments to interfere with your day-to-day lives, hard-fought for freedoms evaporate.

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Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear?

The benefactors of such an ID scheme repeatedly chant "If you've got nothing to hide, then you've got nothing to fear" - which roughly translates as "As long as you don't attract the Government's disapproval, then you've got nothing to be afraid of". That doesn't reassure me at all; it terrifies me. Hitler would have been proud of such as scheme - imagine how much easier he could have implemented 'The Final Solution' if he could simply produce a list of 'undesirable' gene streams from the national database.

Your DNA could ultimately be used to discriminate against you and your family. Certain 'doors of opportunity' might be closed to you (possibly forever) purely as a consequence of being born with the 'wrong' DNA profile. But, if you're still not convinced that the ID card / DNA database is a bad idea, then at the very least you must accept that at some point, your DNA profile will end up in the hands of unauthorized individuals who may exploit the information it contains for their benefit rather than yours.

Finally, ask yourself this - does a farmer brand cattle for his benefit or the benefit of the cattle?

Richard Gunn - November 2006

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Further Information

Don't let the spin doctors re-assure you that this is just about a 'harmless' piece of plastic - go to the following web sites and read about the counter-arguments to Labour's 'pet' project.

Wikipedia - Related Articles

Home Page - www.wikipedia.org

Article Links and Summaries:

  • ID Cards - An identity document (also known as I.D. or ID) is a piece of documentation designed to verify aspects of a person's identity. If an identity document is in the form of a small standard-sized card, such as an ISO 7810 card, it is called an identity card...
  • UK National DNA Database - The United Kingdom National DNA Database (NDNAD; officially the UK National Criminal Intelligence DNA Database) was set up in 1995. As of the end of 2005 it carries the profiles around 3.4 million people, over 585,000 of them taken from children aged under 16...
  • Genetic Fingerprinting - Genetic fingers, DNA testing, DNA typing, and DNA profiling are techniques used to distinguish between individuals of the same species using only samples of their DNA...
  • Mass Surveillance - Mass surveillance is the pervasive surveillance of an entire population, or a substantial fraction thereof. Mass surveillance may be done either with or without the consent of those under surveillance, and may or may not serve their interests...

No2ID Campaign

Home Page - www.no2id.net

Extract from the Web Site:

NO2ID is the UK-wide, non-partisan campaign opposing the government's planned ID card and National Identity Register. We bring together individuals and organisations from all sections of the community and seek to ensure that the case against ID cards and the database state is forcefully put forward in the media, in the corridors of power and at grassroots level.

We continue to actively campaign on all fronts for the abolition of the ID scheme and repeal of the Identity Cards Act 2006.

Liberty - The Human Rights Organisation

Link - Campaign Against ID Cards

Extract from the Web Site:

Liberty is opposed to the ID Card scheme. Though we wont be forced to have an ID card when renewing passports until 2010, we will have our details entered onto the National Identity Register much sooner.

If completed, the NIR would be the world's biggest biometric database, holding fifty two pieces of information on every adult who remains in the UK for longer than three months.

As well as being a tremendous waste of public money, the scheme will cost us personally, both financially and in terms of our privacy and relationship with the state. Opposition will continue to grow as more people understand these costs and doubt the accuracy and security of such a huge government-run database. They will change our society and the way we live, forever.

Liberal Democrats

Home Page - www.libdems.org.uk

Extract from the Web Site:

The Liberal Democrats are campaigning against Labour's expensive and ineffective plans for mandatory ID cards. We would scrap them and use the savings to put 10,000 more police on the streets, and equip them to combat crime more effectively.

ID Cards - Expensive. Intrusive. Ineffective.

Privacy International

Home Page - www.privacyinternational.org

Extract from the Web Site:

For more than two decades, governments and companies have used technologies to collect, process and disseminate a vast spectrum of personal information. Since the late 1980s, when computer and telecommunications systems began to converge, this process has accelerated. The result is that personal privacy is endangered as never before.

In 1990, in response to a growing number of privacy threats, more than a hundred leading privacy experts and Human Rights organizations from forty countries linked arms to form a world organization for the protection of privacy. Members of the new body, including computer professionals, academics, lawyers, journalists, jurists and human rights activists, had a common interest in promoting an international understanding of the importance of privacy and data protection. Meetings of the group, which took the name Privacy International, were held throughout that year in North America, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific, and members agreed to work toward the establishment of effective privacy protection throughout the world.

The formation of Privacy International is the first successful attempt to establish a structured world focus on this crucial area of human rights.

GeneWatch UK

Home Page - www.genewatch.org

Extract from the Web Site:

GeneWatch UK is a not-for-profit group that monitors developments in genetic technologies from a public interest, environmental protection and animal welfare perspective. GeneWatch believes people should have a voice in whether or how these technologies are used and campaigns for safeguards for people, animals and the environment. We work on all aspects of genetic technologies - from GM crops and foods to genetic testing of humans.

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