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17 February, 2006

The other ID database?

NØ2IDWe already knew that the cards themselves aren't the real issue, but it seems the high-profile ID cards database is only part of the problem, too.  The Guardian reports on another, less well-known attempt by the government to collate information on individuals for its own administrative convenience, which could, in theory, be used against individuals – "For the good of society", of course (sorry to sound paranoid, but I feel the possibility of abuse should be prevented).

'Government Connect' is a scheme to link computer systems in local and central government, with the stated intention of faciliating 'citizen-centric e-government' (whatever that really means: probably more like 'government-centric e-citizens'). The plan is for councils to write to citizens already on existing local systems, offering them the opportunity of creating a 'single sign-on to government', i.e. one could "go online to do official chores without needing to know which arm of the state carries them out". No thanks.

This first phase will be voluntary, and will only involve the same level of ID verification as one would need to obtain a library card. However, there's a stated intention to bring medical records and similar truly private information into the system in a later phase, which would involve – surprise, surprise – the Home Office ID cards database.
I can't avoid a suspicion that if the 'overt' ID cards register becomes crippled by public opposition and Parliamentary amendments, that scheme's proponents will try to sneak in the functionality they really want under the cover of seemingly tangential schemes.

This whole programme raises a fascinating question. If a primary selling-point of the ID cards database is that it would be a single sign-on for government systems, why have local authorities decided to also develop Government Connect?
Or rather, if people are given the opportunity to sign up to GC (or not, if they choose), what's the point of ID cards?

[Update 23/02/06: Interesting. The final three paragraphs of this entry have appeared on today's Guardian 'Technology' letters page.]

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