OK, I’m on a bit of a political trip this week, but bear with me. There have been a couple of ludicrous pieces of paper voted on in the Commons this week, neither of which affects me directly, but both of which offend me mightily.
Let’s start with the “Terror Bill”, which sought to make it illegal to glorify terrorist acts like the atrocities of 7 July last year. Now, you may think this is a reasonable piece of legislation because you don’t agree with people who speak in superlatives of the actions of suicide bombers, but disagreement is not sufficient foundation for this legislation. And how do you define such a ‘criminal’ act?
In the words of Lord Thomas of Gresford, the Lib Dem home and legal affairs spokesman, “It has to be very well and clearly defined. Now, what on earth does glorification mean and what is the impact of the use of such a word upon the legislation?”
Amen to that. And what’s more, where are you going to lock up all these people who say they think suicide bombers have the right idea? The nation’s prisons are full to bursting, to the extent that more legislation is being discussed to hand out more non-custodial sentences to “minor” offenders. Talk may be cheap, but is it “minor”? Answers on a postcard….
Now, the ID Cards bill is a monster. Ill-advised at best, but at worst it ushers in a new era of government intrusion into public privacy. As to its benefits, I’ve yet to be convinced. How will ID cards prevent an impassioned young zealot from strapping a load of explosives to him and going on a Tube journey? How will it prevent crime, when fake ID is easily purchased once you have the cash and know where to go? And to resurrect a well-worn argument, what did ID cards do to prevent the Madrid bombings?
As to the risks of such a database of personal information, I hardly know where to begin. The thing is that they speak in soothing tones and say “Don’t worry, it’s just basic identification information – if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to worry about”, but it really is the tip of a very large iceberg indeed. So far, electronic ID information has been nabbed from a card in Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. So you get eye colour, date of birth, a few bits and pieces, but what if?
RFID technology (a word the powers-that-be are trying very hard to avoid using) is mind-boggling in its capacity to store information and disseminate it to any compatible reader within close proximity. How close? You tell me – 2 centimetres, as the government tells us, or 20 metres, as some techs claim they’ve read a card from. But the real worry for me is the data store that all this is linked to. Imagine being on a government database that has every possible piece of information on you from birth, including schooling, club memberships, banking records, health records, job history, political affiliations, blood type, etc. etc….
Two points: one, why does anybody need to have all this information in one place? As a database programmer, I appreciate the convenience of having all your data under one roof, but I’m also aware of how insecure a data store of that magnitude can be – security, backups, disaster recovery, all these issues. But even that aside, why does my doctor need to know my political affiliations – why, for that matter, do the police? Who gets what? How is it parceled out? What’s wrong with the informational status quo?
Point two is the idea of a government project managing data as sensitive as this. Government IT projects have a shambolic history, and nothing is changing in that regard. Projects run wayyyy over budget and past schedule, and there’s nothing to suggest this will improve. If these project managers were running a creche, would you trust your baby to them? I’m unconvinced as to the security of the data; there is *no* guarantee that these ID cards will not facilitate identity theft and fraud even further, and no evidence whatsoever that they will do anything for national security. My impression? Waste of time. But does my opinion matter? No – I voted for the other bloke, so my local MP doesn’t give a toss…
All that said, two points: first, I’m not a sympathiser with any terrorist groups, so the first piece of legislation won’t affect me. Second, I’m Irish, and UK passport rules don’t apply to me. Yet. Give it ten years, and they’ll have us all hamstrung. The buggers…
Don’t worry – happenins is not going political! I just wanted a bit of a rant, so that I don’t end up inflicting it on my mates down the pub, thereby destroying a perfectly enjoyable evening of pointless alcohol abuse. Nuff said.
In other news, I had myself a great time in France, and brought back a couple of lovely bottles of wine from the local hypermarket there. One, costing €2.60 (£1.78!), was bloody marvellous, and I’m pretty sure I could develop a serious habit on my humble budget! I’ll be back, oh yes…
Anyway, must get on with enjoying my weekend – been working too hard lately. Normal service will be resumed one of these days….