Saturday, 24 May 2008

NO2ID Birmingham sets out its stall

Braving the wind, but thankfully not the rain, nine supporters from the recently formed NO2ID Birmingham group quite literally set out their stall today in Birmingham city centre in a bid to raise public awareness around the identity card scheme and the controversial National Identity Register, the database underpinning it.

The stall, on New Street from 10am till 3pm, attracted lots of interest from city shoppers wanting to know more about ID cards and the personal data required under the scheme, which will cost anything between the government's most recent £4.7 billion estimate [1] and the highest estimate of £19.2 billion [2] the London School of Economics put on the scheme.

Fifty-six people, including some of the nearby Hare Krishna singers, signed the petition opposing the scheme and many more took away NO2ID leaflets to read and ideas to chew over. Campaigners got a bit jittery when two community support police officers approached the stall, as they had been warned about overzealous officials, but it turned out one of them simply wanted to sign the petition!

NO2ID Birmingham Co-ordinator Michelle Graham said: "The public are largely unaware of the details of this scheme, which we believe is intrusive, expensive and unnecessary. We were delighted by the level of support we got from local people. We're hoping to make our campaign stall a regular feature on the streets of Birmingham."

Pictured: Stall organiser Lesley (right) with (left to right) Ghiyas, Kelvin, Val and Steve. Also there on the day: Anthony, who helped organise the stall, plus Jennie, David and Michelle. Well done everyone!

1 IPS Identity Cards Scheme Cost Report (pdf)
2 LSE ID Card Final Report

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Going public

The NO2ID call will be heard on the streets of Birmingham for the first time this weekend as the city's local group holds its first campaign stall in the city centre this Saturday 24 May.

We're aiming to raise awareness of the ID card scheme across the city through face-to-face discussion with the public, distributing leaflets and collecting signatures for the petition. Support from any NO2ID sympathisers in the local area will be most welcome!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

NO2ID Birmingham May meeting

The next meeting of NO2ID Birmingham will be in the Seminar Room at The Drum, 144 Potters Lane, Birmingham B6 4UU on Tuesday 27 May from 7.30pm till 9pm. The Drum is behind The Bartons Arms pub in Aston and has both on-site and street parking. It can also be reached on bus numbers 8, 33, 34, 51, 52, 107 and 113.

Among other things this month, we'll be learning how to write a successful letter to the press or your MP. And our stall volunteers will no doubt be full of news of NO2ID Birmingham's first of what we hope will be many actions.

We've got a number of other events lined up for the summer, so come along and get involved.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Without due process

If your boss accuses you of theft or property damage, you'd rightly expect to be able to have your day in court. Well, this may be an expectation too far now that your employer can put you on a database of workers 'accused' of such misdemeanours.

BBC News reveals that later this month the National Staff Dismissal Register (NSDR) is expected to go live. Regardless of whether they have been convicted of any crime, 'suspects' can be added to an online database of workers accused of theft and dishonesty, which bosses can access when vetting potential employees.

Harrods, HMV, Mothercare, Selfridges and Reed Managed Services have already signed up to the scheme and by the end of May they will be able to check whether job candidates have faced allegations of stealing, forgery, fraud, damaging company property or causing a loss to their employers and suppliers.

Workers sacked for these offences will be included on the register, irrespective of whether police had enough evidence to convict them. Employees who resign before they face disciplinary proceedings at work will also be on the list.

Though the project attracted little publicity, the BBC News website reveals that trade unions and civil liberties campaigners are warning that it leaves workers vulnerable to the threat of false accusations.

Hannah Reed, TUC policy officer, says: "The TUC is seriously concerned that this register can only lead to people being shut out from the job market by an employer who falsely accuses them of misconduct or sacks them because they bear them a grudge. Individuals would be treated as criminals, even though the police have never been contacted.

"The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) already provides appropriate and properly regulated protection for employers. Under this register, an employee may not be aware they have been blacklisted or have any right to appeal."

James Welch, legal director of human rights group Liberty, says he is concerned that anyone falsely accused will not be offered sufficient redress: "This scheme appears to bypass existing laws which protect employees by limiting the circumstances when information about possible criminal activity can be shared with potential employers."

The initiative, set up by Hicom Business Solutions, is an Action Against Business Crime (AABC) initiative. AABC is "a Home Office supported body set up to help businesses better protect themselves against crime." The Home Office says it stopped funding the scheme last year, having granted it almost £1m during its first three years, but a Home Office spokeswoman says the register is a "commercial scheme" and it was not consulted.

Mike Schuck, chief executive of AABC and formerly of Scotland Yard, says that theft by members of staff costs the British economy billions of pounds each year and rejects the notion that the register is a blacklist.

He says that workers named on the AABC-maintained database will have the right, under the reputedly complex Data Protection Act, to change their entries if they are inaccurate. Should a dispute take place between an employee and an employer about whether an incident occurred, Mr Schuck adds, the worker will be able to appeal to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which enforces the Act.

Is Britain sleepwalking into a dystopian nightmare of suspicion and fear, with society edging away from the burden of proof of guilt or liability towards a society where we are required to prove our innocence? The principle underpinning our legal system is that the citizen is free to go about his life without interference unless he is shown by due process of the law to have committed an offence. Only then can his liberties be curtailed.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

No business case for ID cards says government

"The government has, for the first time, admitted publicly that it cannot justify its controversial £5.4bn National Identity Scheme in financial terms," reports Computer Weekly.

"The admission came from James Hall, chief executive of the Identity & Passport Service, in a response to the report from the scheme's external watchdog, the Independent Scheme Assurance Panel, published this week.

"Hall said, 'Many of these benefits [of the NIS] may be hard to quantify and potentially harder to articulate in financial terms within the scheme business case.'"

The article closes with Computer Weekly stating its opposition to the government's attempts to suppress the findings of its Gateway Reviews, which assessed the Scheme's viability. The government fought in court to keep these details secret, even in the face of recommendations by the Information Tribunal to publish them.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The truth about the ‘surveillance society’

Brendan O’Neill in spiked:

The surveillance/data society radically transforms what it means to be a free citizen. The slogan of the champions of surveillance is that ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’. In short, we must now continually prove our goodness and innocence to the powers-that-be. In the past, we were generally seen as free, self-determining individuals who should largely be left alone unless or until it could be proven that we had done something illegal. Today, under the organising principle of ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’, we must constantly demonstrate that we are decent people, for the benefit of CCTV operators, vetting officials, and the ID database operators. This represents a dangerous new dawn in the relationship between the state and individual. The burden of proof now falls on the citizen to prove that he is good rather than on the state to prove that we have been bad. A new conception of the citizen is emerging: no longer seen as free, adult and due some respect, the citizen has been turned into an object of suspicion who must make a daily performance of his goodness for the watching authorities.

The surveillance/data society degrades the idea of individuals as political subjects. Increasingly, the authorities engage with us, not through political debate and argument, but through monitoring our behaviour and collecting and sharing our data. This is a reductionist view of the public, where we come to be seen as a collection of fingerprints, DOBs, iris scans or as pixels on a CCTV screen rather than as individuals with beliefs, ambitions and desires. The more that the government seeks to connect with us on a technical level, the less it views us as political or active subjects. Where once an individual might have been defined as Labour or Conservative, left or right, progressive or traditionalist, today we are defined as numbers on a spreadsheet.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Boris Johnson on ID cards

New London Mayor Boris Johnson speaking at the recent NO2ID hustings. You may need to turn your volume up as the sound quality isn't the best.