Monday, September 29, 2003

More on ID cards 

As a follow up to the last post on Id cards, I've received more information.

ZDNet UK has a story on how the UK government managed the consultation period. In the interest of spin, a selection of complaints was ignored. The reason seems to be they were anti Id cards, and submitted electronically. So much for e-government and freedom of speech. Its ok, if you agree with us. If not, we'll have your email address flag on your Id card as a trouble maker.

There is also an article on Computing about the cost of the card. The estimate here is 5 billion, compared to the governments own estimate at 3.1 billion. Going on the debacle on the cost of the Scotish Parliment where the parliment building is now costing 400 million, up from 40 million, its a dangerous choice to make. There is also an interesting observation about dissent. How many people would need to not participate in the scheme to make it unworkable? On a straw pole, this scenario is going to happen.

The main protest site seems to be Stand I would go and check it out if I were you. As usual, the spin from the government is there. We have received lots of support for Id cards. From whom? Er, IT companies, credit companies, civil servants. What about complaints? Er, not sure if we have but we will get back to you so long as they aren't from a preasure group.

Stand also has a section on RIP, the regulation of investagtory powers. This is where the local councils get to tap you, investigate you, all without authorisation of a judge. Are you worried? Well I am. On the basis of Southwark council's perfomance where they will do anything to protect their personal reputation, council and employee, even to the extent of telling lies at public inquiries, this is a truly Orwelian nightmare.

More on illegal immigration. One rational is that illegal immigration is an UK issue because of the lack of Id cards. Er, so why do countries that have Id cards still have an immigration problem? Red herring alert.

There is another article here on Id cards being used for digital certificates. Again a red herring. You can get digital certificates now if you want, without an Id card. Even with the demise of MSN chatrooms, its possible to get a digital certificate to use them. You just have to pay for a service via a credit card, and that will vouch for you.

It's a bad idea. Say no.

If you want to say no, fax your MP. Try this site for a start. I've used it several times and always got a reply. Thanks to Simon Hughes for being more switched on than most.

ID Cards 

The UK government has a working paper out called ‘Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud’. Note the spin, since is all about ID cards in the UK. There are lots of reasons to be worried.

For a start, let’s deal with the obvious spin. It’s an ID card that is being discussed. Authorised people can ask you for your card, and you have to produce it within a set period of time. Since it’s not mandatory to carry the card, it can’t be a compulsory scheme. Pure spin again, since it is mandatory to produce it, its compulsion to have a card.

To obtain services such as health care you will have to have a card. OK, what good is this going to do? Hospitals are going to have to introduce card readers in order to check on people’s entitlement. This will have to be wired up to a central system in order to check. If this is not done and it’s down to nurses, doctors or receptionists to check the card visually, then the cards can be forged, and the cards would serve no purpose.

Will the cards combat terrorism? No, clearly terrorists will get cards, and for all intents and purposes will appear as normal members of society. Tourists will not need to carry cards, so there aren’t any advantages here.

Will the cards prevent benefit fraud? No, since the majority of benefit fraud is about making false claims, not about making a claim in someone else’s name.

What about illegal immigration? Illegal migrants are driven by economics. They are here to work, and the problem is one of illegal working. The current situation is that it is down to the employer to check. Lots of employers turn a blind eye. With entitlement cards nothing is going to change. The employers will still carry on turning a blind eye, so there isn’t going to be a change.

Crime detection isn’t a problem about identity. It’s very rare that the police cannot prove the identity of someone. The problem is in providing the evidence linking the person to the crime.

In the case of fraud, I think the effect will be negative. If a card or the system is compromised, then the system benefits fraudsters. A universal identity card that is widely accepted would enable a fraudster who has obtained one piece of evidence, the card, to commit fraud with less effort than at the moment. People would be more complacent with an id card than is the current situation.

Data protection is also a concern. Since the cards will have chips with information on the chip, how do you get to see this information? What about data centrally stored and linked? Do you get to see this data? It’s unlikely. The government will not want this information given to individuals.

The governments’ track record in this area is bad. If they can’t organise and control national insurance numbers or driving licenses is there any hope that they can control an id card that contains sensitive data?

It is proposed that the card contains biometric data such as fingerprints or iris scans. It wouldn’t be much of an extension to include DNA. There is a major problem with biometric information. Let’s consider the fingerprint case. If the system is compromised and someone downloads your fingerprints, they can then print the fingerprints onto rubber and make a fake fingerprint. Now they can use this fingerprint to authorise transactions. It’s not far fetched. It’s been known for pensioners who have died in India to have fingers frozen so they can be used to collect pensions. A fingerprint is used instead of a signature when the pensioner is illiterate. Now look at the situation. With a password, where you can get the password revoked, you cannot revoke your biometric data.

Privacy is an issue. Currently if you have a pass on London Underground, your movements are tracked. There is nothing stopping London Underground from tracking your movements, selling the data, or passing the data on to third parties without a warrant. How is your private data going to be secured? Who gets access to see the data? What prevents someone in the NHS from accessing your tax records? What prevents someone in the Inland Revenue finding out that you have visited a clinic for a sexually transmitted disease?

Then there is the cost. Given the governments track record in running projects, it’s going to over run. There is the integration in with existing systems such as tax, driving license. There is the new hardware that would have to be put into anywhere where you get access to your entitlements. There is the cost to the individual at 40 pounds a time. 50% of a pensioner’s on a state pension weekly income. The cards would need renewing. Cards would get lost and the replacements will cost the individual.

What about advantages? Well if you want to privatise the NHS, it’s a start. You would need to identify people’s entitlement to health care or which insurer to bill.

All in all, it’s a bad move and needs to be stopped.

Monday, September 22, 2003


Frontpage has got my goat. Its truly and awful product. Why a company that can produce an excelent product like Excel can produce something this bad is beyond me.
The style sheets are gross. Its impossible in my view to actually go and change them. Its impossible to find decent examples on the web. So, I've given up on the idea of using it to build a home page.
Requirements are to host a blog, without banners. Well Blogspot handles the posting fine and I've got the pages set up without any problem. I'm slightly concerned that if I use Frontpage to publish, then its going to overwrite the blog. I can probably get around that with some dudicious use of directories.
Style wise, I want simple. Zen even. Left hand column for links with a banner at the top. Simple pastel colours. One or two of the Blogger templates have caught my eye. A quick look at the source and they are simple. Cascading Style sheets (CSS) for the formatting. I didn't really how powerful they are. Its clearly the way to go and to drop all the formating from the HTML. Going this route for the main website means that its possible to coordinate the schemes between the blog(s) and the main website. Like a lot of programming consistency matters, and only code it once, in one place.
As for producing the pages, I've coded them up in XML using XMLSPY. XMLSPY is the best XML technology tool going. XSLT, XSD etc with lots of tools to manage and make life easy.
I'm not sure of the approach to take. There are two that I can envisage. Either post the raw XML, but here I'm not sure about browser support. Alternatively, process the XML off line to produce HTML, and post the HTML.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Booze Cruise 

Some friends decided to do what lots of people have been doing, re-mortgage and buy a toy. In this case, a 8 birth speed boat. Top speed a little over 30 knots if it’s calm. So last Saturday, it was down to Brighton to do a booze cruise to France - a total distance of 70 miles.
Ok it was a little rough, but the first surprise was fishing. We stopped 3 times. twice going and once coming back. Each time, we were into mackerel within seconds. On the last stop, I hauled in 10 in 3 minutes, all on feathers. There was nothing special about where we stopped either. There must be a lot of them down there. I would point out not all were big.
The second, we ended up at a port called Fecamp. What was interesting was first thing in the mornings. They had a small row of tile tables. From what I can tell, there were only 3 working fishing boats and it looked like all the fish went to these stalls. There was a considerable queue of people waiting. Skate wings, plaice, soul, Dover soul, gurnard, squid and others. Fish was filleted and skinned in front of you.
The other titbit was the restaurant the first night. Open fire and the beef was roasted in front of you, French style.
And the icing on the cake so to speak was the aperitif. There is a vin doux called Beaume de Venise. It comes from Drome in the south of France on the slopes of Mont Ventoux. Only reason I know that is an old girlfriend has a place near by. Its a wine where the grapes are left on the vine until shrivelled and covered in fungus. Harvested in December it makes a delicious sweet wine. An amber coloured wine that tastes of sultanas and much better than your usual Sauterne. Anyway, it was served the best way possible - very cold. Personally, I like it on the rocks in a whisky glass. You get the same rivulets running up and down the side of the glass.