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ID cards by the back door.

Stuart Hill presents his card to Robbie, the bus driver
Photo: Shetland News

In Shetland a vulnerable section of the community is being used to pilot a scheme that threatens our fundamental freedoms. It is quite clear that the new 'National Entitlement Card' that provides access to free travel for the elderly and disabled, in fact marks the introduction of ID Cards by the back door.

My research shows that:

  • This is an EU scheme being carried out by the UK government and the Scottish Executive.
  • The government is planning a stealth programme for ID cards, the steps for which are:
    introduction, the current stage where we are offered the bribe of free travel
    full coverage, everybody is required to have one
    full compulsion sounds good in a free country - and finally
    full identity services availability - in other words you can get no access to services without the card.

Read about the political scandal surrounding the introduction of ID cards.

Recently I was denied free travel on the bus because I refused to submit my new 'smart' card to the card reader on the bus. Before the machines were fitted it was sufficient to show the card to the driver. This time it was apparently not enough that I could show my card – it had to go on the machine for data to be recorded. As far as I know, I have not given permission for my personal details to be collected in this way.

Since then I have been making some investigations into the origin of the travel concession cards. What started out as a feeling of unease about the new system has now turned to outrage. Here is a little of what I have discovered.

My first step was to enquire what information was held on the card. It’s an innocuous looking thing with my photograph on it. There is no magnetic strip and I assumed that my photo was all the information it carried. However, very careful inspection reveals a small round imprint top right under the word 'Islands', which I now assume is the ‘smart chip’.

One thought struck me: why the expiry date? Am I suddenly going to stop being over 60 years old in 2012?

A phone call to the helpline number on the card (the Shetland Islands Council helpline turns out to be in Northampton!), reveals that it contains the following information: name, address, phone and email, post code, local authority, gender, over 60, not disabled, proof of address and ferry voucher number. I called the SIC transport department, who confirmed that the information was indeed on the card (and that other information could be added at a later date). Read some further revealing conversations.

I was therefore surprised when our MSP Tavish Scott was reported in the Shetland News strongly denying the card carries any personal information. An executive spokesman was reported as saying that the only information transferred is that a pensioner is making a concessionary journey. "There is no personal information on the card," he said.

Was I misinformed, were they misinformed, or were they just being evasive? These are serious questions. I emailed Mr. Scott to find out if he had been misquoted, but have had no reply.

The proper name for the card is the National Entitlement Card and the name gives an idea of its intended scope. The Scottish Executive is simply an agent of the EU on this issue. As with all things EU, the trail is very contorted. As far as I can see it originates in a 1977 EU Directive on Electronic Signatures, the scope of which has now been expanded to cover ID cards.

Every six months an organisation called Poorvoo meets at various locations throughout Europe. Representatives from countries in Europe and around the world gather to deliberate on ID matters and plan how to push things forward. At the last meeting (Nov 2-3, 2006), the UK was represented by people from the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority), the IPS (Identity and Passport Service) and DWP (Department of Work and Pensions), who reported their progress with a Powerpoint presentation. These departments are all working together on an integrated ‘ID Management System’ for the whole of the UK. The information is too voluminous to reproduce in full, but the following extract makes chilling reading:

The man from the DWP outlines how the UK government ‘manage identities’ from now, through the introduction of the ID Card, to full coverage/full compulsion/full identity services availability. (my emphasis).

This is the classic approach of the nice man offering sweets to a young child. The introduction stage starts with the bribe of free or reduced cost travel – we are finally trapped when we find all services are available only with the card and our every movement, bank, pension and benefits transaction, the books we read, films we watch and who we meet are all monitored ‘for our own protection’.

The 'Oyster' travel smart card in London collects the user's travel and payment history and this has been used during police enquiries.

From my research it is clear that the National Entitlement card is part of the introduction phase of this creeping intrusion process. I am told by official sources that other information can be added to it and The Scottish Executive makes it plain that its scope will be extended to other services. If you think this is a load of hot air, read this:

From an EU site called IDABC:

The proposed ID cards will be unique to each cardholder and will include photo identification, biometric data (fingerprints, facial scan, iris scan) and basic identity details. The card will be linked to a central database – the National Identity Register (NIR) – where all biometric data and identity details will be stored. The NIR will hold at least fifty fields of information on each citizen, including up to ten fingerprints, digitised facial scan and iris scan, and current and past UK and overseas places of residence. It will also contain links to information held on other government databases.

UK citizens are concerned that the new scheme poses a threat to privacy and the security of personal information. The strict requirement to register residential moves (with heavy fines for failure to report changes of address), the audit trail of every card use and the sheer amount of personal data collected have led to unease. (My emphasis again).

Interestingly, the same site in 2005 reported the impending launch of the Scottish Smart Card - I'm beginning to detect a nasty smell!

This from the Privacy International website: In June 2003, Scotland's Justice Minister Jim Wallace vowed to oppose the plan (to introduce ID Cards) in Scotland, challenging the right of Westminster to impose the cards on Scotland.
This lead to Blunkett backing down from his proposal in October 2001.
In February 2002, it returned as an "entitlement card" designed to help people obtain government services.

Are we beginning to see a picture here? The National Entitlement Card will be an ID card in future.

If none of this worries you, take a look at the equipment produced by just one manufacturer, Databac. You will find tiny hand-held card readers that could be used in the street to steal your identity without you ever knowing. Even reader/writers that can change the information on your card. Once your whole life centres around your 'entitlement' card, how would you feel about being switched off? No banking, unable to travel, buy anything etc. etc. Having all your personal details in one place is a gift for identity thieves. According to The Daily Telegraph: "Overwhelmingly, the public is unwilling to trust Government promises not to misuse personal information and fears the national ID database will contain inaccurate and unreliable information about them."

Tavish says the new scheme is voluntary, it’s just that you just can’t get access to the service without having the card read and giving up personal data. I'm entitled to the service, I’m prepared to show my card to show my entitlement (as I've done in the past), but not to have my personal details and movements downloaded to some central database. The government is not exactly renowned for its management of large computer systems and I'm not convinced they will neither lose or abuse my data, or allow it to fall into the wrong hands.

A common question is ‘what is the problem if you have nothing to hide?’. I ask ‘why does the government need this information?’ I have nothing to hide, but I don’t want my movements, the books I read, or any other private information collected and stored on an insecure central database – and I don’t want to be made a criminal if I move house without telling Big Brother. The ID Card Act provides for a £2,500 fine for not registering and a £1,000 fine for not notifying a change of address. For this priviledge we wiil be required to pay at least £100 for the card by present government estimates.

I'm not against technology - it enables me to write this web page. What I am against is the abuse of technology to deny our freedom.

There is an easy solution – make the system so users only have to show their card to get the service. The card has a photograph to identify the person – nothing more is needed – and the system has enough information for the service to run properly.

I am making my stand because I believe Government and politicians have lost sight of the fact that they are there to serve the people, not control them. This kind of thing has no place in Shetland, or even Scotland. I want to get on a bus where the driver knows my face and simply has to press a button to record a pensioner’s journey - or if I am travelling outside the local area, he can look at the photo on the card to check it’s me.

Tavish Scott says the cards have to be read to combat crime – what crime? Is there a massive scam by pensioners to get free travel for their mates? Is there a problem with over-charging by the bus companies? Or is this just more scaremongering? Can we see some evidence please, Tavish?

We recently gave tribute to the men and women who died protecting our freedom. Those people would be appalled at how much of that freedom is now being threatened by the very people who are supposed to serve us.

"Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither freedom or safety."
- Benjamin Franklin

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Stuart Hill, Cunningsburgh, Shetland, UK