The UK ID card scheme will, it is alleged, greatly aid the forces of law and order in establishing the identity of offenders and suspects. But, as UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith found himself blurting out in the House of Lords yesterday, there's an easy way out of this for the thinking minor offender - give the police a false ID.
This is apparently an approach frequently used today by the more dubious sections of society. You are stopped by the police while speeding in an untaxed, uninsured vehicle that may or may not be yours, and you have no documentation, driving licence or proof of ID on you, so the police ask you for your name and address, and tell you to report to a police station within the next seven days with the necessary bits. Later, the police note your failure to show, but only discover that you gave a false name and address when the summons fails to connect a couple of weeks later.
So, asked by Lord Dubbs (Labour) if ID cards would make a significant difference to this situation, Goldsmith replied that it would not, because the government would not be requiring the compulsory carrying of ID cards. Lord Marlesford (Conservative) then intervened, first looking like coming close to hitting the bullseye, but in the end missing it entirely. "This is an example," he said, "not of the importance of identity cards, but of the importance of the authorities having biometric information about individuals, which should enable certain identification."
So near and yet so far. Goldsmith happily agreed that using biometric data was a very important part of the way forward.
Well yes, but rewind to the hard shoulder some years hence where the offender is not carrying ID and is giving the police a false name and address. The logic of the law as it currently stands is that no one has a right to challenge us if we are going about our lawful business, and therefore we do not have to carry ID. However, should we have committed an offence or be suspected of committing an offence, the police may require us to establish our identity within a reasonable period. Now, on that future hard shoulder in the world according to Blunkett, the police have about their person a wireless biometric reader which could be used to shorten that reasonable period to, well, immediately. So Lord Marlesford is correct about the importance of biometrics here.
Regular readers will know that The Register is absolutely convinced that the mobile readers will prove to be an unusable disaster, but we'll let that pass - go with the Blunkett theory here for the sake of the argument.
Why are the police on this hard shoulder not using this reader? Well, given that the Home Office has specifically and loudly ruled out making it compulsory to carry ID, it has to tread carefully when it comes to the circumstances where your ID will be checked. And as it has said on numerous occasions that it's not the ID but the biometric that is important, i.e. you are your ID, reading the biometric as a matter of course while claiming carrying ID isn't compulsory does rather look like cheating.
And a change in the current relationship between police and citizen, and a reneging on the commitment made in the draft ID bill to retain the seven days grace. The law abiding citizenry, who support the use of biometrics to catch criminal, fraudsters and immigrants, can themselves be pulled over by the police, and probably wouldn't be impressed if they were then fingerprinted. So even if it's logical (which it is), the government can't let the police do it because they're afraid of losing public support. Of course, when the House of Lords and outraged law-abiding citizens discover that the police have this technical capability but are being forbidden to use it, thus allowing criminals to escape, things will change. But that'll likely be a few more years.
The Lords exchange, by the way, reminds us of something that's been puzzling us recently. BBC Radio 4 runs a late night Today in Parliament programme, and the same thing the next morning as Yesterday in Parliament. Except they're not always the same. Last night, for instance, the reported exchange went something like, question to Goldsmith, Goldsmith fails to answer and produces waffle about general benefits of ID instead, follow up question demands proper answer, Goldsmith confesses. The report broadcast this morning, however, misses the tetchy follow-up and gives the impression that it was all a lot more under control than it sounded like last night.
Come on, BBC editors - the world is quite surrealistic already without you lot sticking your oar in - knock it off, OK? ®