Transcript: Database State

Below is a transcript of the Database State session. It is loosely edited.

Guy Herbert: We claim that this is the most important session, so congratulations for coming to attend it. The Database State is the new threat to liberty. It’s not as new as all that, as I will cover in my introductory remarks, but it is quite newly recognized.

So, what is the Database State? Well the phrase, which was very kindly credited to me by Sharmi in this morning’s session, was first applied in this sense in about 2004. Before that it was a technical term from computing. Its reference to political science is new and it means essentially, the use of computers to govern us. The centralisation of information and the management of government services and hard government as it was described to me during the lunch break, government regulation oversight, control, discipline of the population through the collection and dissemination of information, either information to be monitored for intelligence’ sake, or information to be acted upon in one of any numbers of ways and it’s that pro-active management of information that’s new. It’s a product of, if you like, as communism was supposed in one Leninist tag to be Soviet power plus the electrification of the Soviet Union, so that the new Jerusalem is supposed to be created by networked computing applied to British government power and increasingly world government power.

The concept is older, the concept of collecting information, as you know, goes back to the Doomsday book, there have always been government records, nobody is necessarily against government records. If you go back to the Doomsday book, we go back to all kinds of tax records and every kind of government department has generated records. That’s what bureaucrats do, but the conceit of using computers to collate and to manage it all is relatively recent, although it has been around for as long as there have been large scale computing projects. Perhaps Sir Stafford Beer, the founder of cybernetics in the 60s was one of the first gurus of transformational government. I certainly recommend his work to you, if you’re looking at the prehistory of the subject. But what has really put the glint in the eye of politicians, is the idea that modern networked computers, the micro computer, the centralised networking and transmission of information, the sort of thing that has given us the Internet, can enable government to be more efficient and make us all happier. We think, on this panel, that that’s a misconception, that it has an unparalleled power, not just for happiness, but for human misery and that’s what we’re here to discuss this afternoon.  


Sam Talbot Rice: Thanks very much Guy. As Guy said, transformational government is a subject that we think is belatedly coming out of the shadows in recent months and we’re delighted for the Centre for Policy Studies to be supporting the seminar. Guy also referred to a publication about a year ago, I’ve got a limited number of copies, it’s also on our website called Who Do They Think We Are by Joel Kirby. Now, transformational government is a clumsy phrase, because the concept of it does have the potential to transform the relationship between the state and the individual, but what I’d argue is that this is transformation for the worse. It’s also worth saying at the outset that this agenda isn’t a sort of post 9/11 security agenda. It’s been around for at least a decade. It belonged to the guys of e-government in previous years and originally really was designed to be about cost efficiency and government saving back office costs and the like, of which more later.

By way of a summary of what exactly the government envisions achieving by this concept of sharing, this process of sharing and collecting personal data and this idea of identity management, let me quote from the canonical text really on all of this which is Sir David Varney’s report in 2006 for the Treasury in that it envisages by 2020 and I quote here: “All the people, children and young people, workless people and other customer groups can choose packages of public services tailored to their needs. Public, private and third sector partners collaborate across the delivery chain in a way that is invisible to the public. The partners pool their intelligence about the needs and preferences of local people and this informs the design of public services and the tailoring of packages for individuals and groups. Measured benefits, services and facilities are shared between all tiers of central and local government and other public bodies. The public do not see this process, they experience only public services packaged for their needs.”

It’s striking, it seems to me, how this process is supposed to be invisible and out of the sight of the public. In most areas of public policy, it seems to me that the government has talked a lot, but arguably achieved little. But in this case there’s really, really not much talk at all, very little public scrutiny, parliamentary debate: but a huge amount going on behind the scenes. Now it seems very clear to us at the CPS, that transformational government’s wrong both in principle and in practice. The philosophy that lies behind it is one of centralisation, using technology to achieve better state planning and by doing so, to set the balance between the state and individual too far towards the state. And the programme is equally flawed in practice, in terms of costs. You hardly need me to go into detail here, because we know the track record of government IT projects.  And the Convention produced a very useful briefing on the estimated cost of state-run databases, over the next 10 years, which they put at 30 billion pounds, just at the time when we need to cut the cost of government. And secondly there’s of course, the security concerns associated with gathering large amounts of personal data and storing it in databases and again the convention have put together an excellent briefing on just the sheer number of data losses that we’ve seen from the state in recent months.

So if you take this state today of transformational government which again and I quote, “is to develop a deep truth about the citizen based on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs, needs and rights”, which is a quote from the Varney report, or the idea of a single source of truth about it all which is a phrase used by Lord Carter in another review in 2002, I’d ask who would trust government at all to undertake this kind of programme efficiently and securely?

Now if I could draw for a moment on the justifications that are used for transformational government and deal with them. They normally hinge on the Tell Us Once argument, which is the argument that people don’t want to have to notify different agencies when, for example, a member of their family dies. They should be able to just submit the information once and government should be able to share that information accordingly. This example still being trotted out at regular intervals is the central justification for Jack Straw’s provision for greater data sharing powers in the Coroners and Justice Bill. But the reality is that this is a spurious justification. NO2ID have pointed out that you could rectify this simply by seeking people’s consent to share information when a death is registered. The Tell Us Once is better described as Tell Us Everything, where we’re customers of the government as a whole, rather than users of a single service. And in fact it’s worth saying that the scope of this programme is much more ambitious than simply collecting names and addresses. It involves a kind of predict and provide mindset where we’re the sort of passive recipients of a package of public services. It’s formulated from our personal data and yet unseen by us. In fact, according to the Varney report, the idea is to assess the needs of the individual, on the basis of previous information and the behaviour of the individual, taking us into a whole other world of behaviour management. As a 2005 Cabinet Office document made clear, this does lead inexorably towards the biometric identity card and the national identity register. So that’s the Tell Us Once argument.

The other argument is the Tesco Club card argument, which is, in the same way that Tesco does gather information about customers purchases to plan their stock and target advertising, so government needs to collect this personal data in order to plan public services more efficiently. Now of course again this is a spurious justification, because as dominant as Tesco is, none of us are forced to shop there and even if we do feel forced to shop there by the lack of choice, you’re not forced to use a club card when you go there. The Tesco model only works in a system where there’s choice and competition and where there isn’t an element of compulsion, but of course in public services there is that element of compulsion and inadequate supply of choice and competition.

Another justification for data collection and sharing on this kind of scale focuses on the inevitability argument. In other words, the challenges of the 21st century, whether it’s fighting terrorism or delivering public services means that technology simply has to be used this way. In fact one cabinet office report said that the whole process ought to be irreversible by 2011. In this way opponents can be labelled as Luddites: ‘you don’t really understand technology, you are in some way resisting innovation and progress’. Yet the reality is, the more I look at this and talk to IT experts, the more one realises that the government are behind the curve on this in terms of technology, because technology itself should be moving us away from the Database State model. Just to quote one expert from Microsoft, he said that, “putting a comprehensive set of personal data in one place, produces a honey pot effect, a highly attractive and richly rewarding target for criminals.” Now it’s fashionable at public sector, or public policy conferences to attack silo governments. Silo government is always a bad thing and the demand is for more joining up of public services. But a silo is not necessarily a bad thing. Really the definition of a silo should be ‘a place of safe keeping’. In the case of personal data that can hardly be more important. And also I guess the concept of joining up has become a bit of a panacea. It’s not an automatic panacea and certainly not a guarantee of good services, you have to just look at the tax credit regime within the Revenue and Custom Service to see that joining up is no guarantee of good services.

Now, we’d argue that an alternative path should take us down a track of data minimalisation so that rather than amassing sensitive personal data and storing it in one place where it’s liable to security breach, the retention and use of data is strictly limited to the minimum amount required for the minimum time required. And allied to this, a key principle for us is that individuals should have greater control over the storage and use of their data. Talk of personalising public services while a laudable principle, is contradictory if you’re gathering more power and information at the centre. True, personalisation would mean decentralising power, giving more choice and control to individuals and breaking up the centralised structures in Whitehall which transformational government actually builds up.

So, just to sum up, over the coming months we want to be looking at specific alternatives to the Database State. We know what we’re against, but we want to be arguing for an alternative and really look at how we can take back ownership of our personal data. By doing so we want to look at how other countries put privacy much more seriously at the higher levels of government and a greater distinction between access and control of data, because our fundamental principle in all this is that it’s our data and not the government’s. The policies that we put forward hinge on the idea that we need to take back control of our personal information, thereby giving greater power and choice to the individual rather than this idea of using technology to empower and extend the arms of the State. What we like to say is we want to move towards an information society rather than a database state. Thanks very much.

Tony Bunyan: You may not know, but Statewatch monitors civil liberties in the European Union and we’ve been doing that since 1991, so we were around when 11 September happened and that helped us understand what was happening before and what had been happening since. I think it’s a sad reflection on our politics generally in this country, that even in a conference like this the word Europe hardly appears and I tell you, I might talk a little bit about why Europe is important, even if we disagree with many of the things that they do and I disagree with them as well. When this conference came up I thought right I’m going to talk about Europe and the surveillance society. Data retention of all communications and the fingerprinting of people for passports started in the EU, in the latter case, in the G8 before it came to the EU under policy laundering. So we really need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that the debates we have here are disconnected with the outside world.

I often found myself thinking of a piece of work I did last summer for the shape of things to come, how they are going to put in place a new five-year programme, the Stockholm Programme and one of the key themes of that, for the five years from 2010 onwards, is going to be harnessing the digital tsunami, as they see it, to be used by the state. Another piece of work we’ve done in Statewatch by Ben Hayes is called Arming Big Brother. This is about how the EU took a decision five years ago now to create a military industrial complex, better called ‘security industrial complex’ in the European Union to compete with the USA’s military industrial complex. Most of you probably don’t even know this is happening, but the words in that 2004 report, the first one, talked about the tracking of movements of all goods, vehicles and people and applying technology and science to achieve that end. That was five years ago. It’s now coming onto the street and when I hear debates about ID cards and national database I think to myself, hang on, I’m looking at the European level. I can see one card, one card which is a passport, ID card, driving licence, health card and e-government services. It is so obvious to anybody looking at it that it’s not a hundred years away. They’re all individually being discussed and linkages are being discussed. So I’m thinking our debates here need to take this into account and understand where these ideas are coming from.

It’s a really very old phenomena, when I talk about a military industrial complex, a security industrial complex. In 1961, the late Dwight Eisenhower in his retirement as US President, spoke of the need for a military industrial complex and used the following words: “because it would enhance liberty, dignity and integrity amongst Peoples and amongst Nations.” We use the same ideology now, except the EU is now taking this game seriously. So, when we look at the European Union, let us remember that when a directive or regulation is adopted in Brussels, the regulation applies everywhere and a directive has to be transferred to national law. If you are opposing the tracking of Internet usage, you have to realise that that decision was taken in Brussels 3 and a half years ago. So if we’re to fight those decisions being handed down, we’ve got to get our local and national levels understanding the struggles at the European level as well. Because the UK plays a special role. Mass data retention, a fingerprint passport, the UK was running around Brussels, all its officials, permanent people in Brussels, bringing people over, to say what a good idea it was. Even though we weren’t part of everything, Britain wanted our multinationals, our home office, our summit to be part of that decision-making. Of course they are. We are talking about megabucks being made out of the system.

Now, why is it happening? A lot of people think that it might be 11 September 2001 when it all started. It didn’t. It was there before. The capability was there before. Technologically, capitalism had reached that point. It had a global reach that now needs translating into action. It had the capacity to do it. What the 11th of September did was give the green light to get on with it. In 1998, mass data retention had been kicked off the agenda by the campaigning activities of groups like Statewatch, Privacy International and others. On the 25th of September 2001, it went straight back on the agenda again – 14 days after the 11th of September – as one of the four priorities.

But why is it happening? Why this is happening is obvious, what our governments try to sell us is that this is exceptional power for exceptional times – implying time limitation, but we’re finding now the exceptional is being used to define the law. So one of the answers they use is, say you park your car and your car gets lost, don’t you want to know where your car is? If it has been stolen, then we need to track every car. You might say, hang on, I want some privacy as well. They say, you might get ill, so your health card with this chip on it, which can be used across Europe, that’s going to help you. What they’re doing in each of these cases and the same with the children’s database here, they’re choosing exceptional situations to define the norm and make compliance compulsory. And that compulsory compliance is critical, not just for our state, it’s critical for the multinationals, for putting up all these technological solutions with the law enforcement agencies. It’s that universal application which is not only going to make them a lot of money – it’s going to let them go about their own business better – It’s so they can say, show us your passport, show us your ID card, tell us who you are.

I want to contextualise what’s happening in Europe because sometimes there’s this idea that somehow, Europe is, you know, value free. Let’s get right what I’m talking about. We’re talking about a Europe in 1999 at the time of the European Parliament elections then when they were 15 member states, 12 of those 15 were broadly social Democratic, three were on the centre-right. Now in the European Union there are 27 member states, 21 on the centre-right or far right and six are on the so-called social Democratic left including the government of this country. There’s been a massive shift to the right in the European Union that means that the people running the Council of the European Union which is the most powerful body on every single count, the one that makes the final decisions – there’s 27 governments, a myriad working parties, 40 working parties in our area of civil liberties – is being run, and the instructions are being given from national capitals to Brussels, is being predominantly run by the centre-right and far right governments at the national level. And in European Parliament elections, the far right and even worse still, racists and fascists are a growing presence in the European Parliament. The last time in 1999 it was 66 racists and fascists elected into European Parliament. 46 of them disappeared into the Conservative group and European Union of Nations group, leaving 19. The next time around we face the possibility that group is going to be a real group and much bigger. So these are challenges which affect all of our work.

In conclusion I want to say this, our governments tell us that this terrorism we’re confronting and they say it in Brussels, they say it in London, will destroy our way of life, destroy our democracy. Quite the reverse. This form of terrorism will never destroy our way of life and our democracy. What will destroy our way of life and our democracy is the reaction of our governments to that terrorism as you see. And the systems of surveillance, this is wider than just surveillance, it’s about social control, too. A measure they would never dared have introduced in the Cold War, think about it, a measure the Soviet Union would be proud of – that shift that happened between the 70s and 80s and now. It is a terrifying thought, not quite terrifying, but here’s David Omand, the former Whitehall executive advisor, talking about his national security strategy report in the Guardian, who got an amazing quote. I hope I’m quoting correctly, he said, “essentially, this is talking about the role of security, the need to have security and surveillance is a necessity to fight terrorism, providing you have ethical standards”, and then he says basically, ”this depends on the essential reasonableness of the UK police security intelligence agencies.” What?! Has nobody got a sense of history? Was the British Empire benevolent? But they’re telling us what we should think, what is absolutely essential. They say, go away and keep your heads down: trust us. It makes us what we are of course, it makes us subjects rather than citizens.

And the other important thing about this surveillance we’re seeing is this, it is not just about the collection of data and privacy, it is about how that is used. That is equally important and it is being used of course. The people who know it best are migrants who are trying to get into the European Union, who are fleeing from poverty or persecution, who are facing that surveillance system. They’re facing the tracking, the fingerprinting, the misinformation, the intelligence reports that they can’t see, the police reports that they can’t see. The Muslim communities around Europe, not just in Britain are facing surveillance, extraordinary surveillance into all their social and political lives. We’ve got cases all across Europe. Also all across Europe protests have been feeling different, now you’ve got a conflation of security in policing. They’ve conflated the policing of big international events with almost a local street demonstration. The EU has now got one manual to cover those two things, not two, they’ve brought them together. And the other thing we have to do and it is very difficult when it looks like we’ve got an avalanche of things going through, we have to be sure that we don’t cut ourselves off from other struggles. Yes we’ve got to campaign our own issues, but we must not become single issue campaigns, we’ve got to work in a context within this country and in Europe and internationally. We have to have an understanding about what is happening here and what is happening there in order that we best compete with it.

The last point I wanted to make was this, because there is a kind of technological determinism. We heard Tony Blair say it, if it is technically possible, why shouldn’t we use it if it makes people’s lives better? That is a sort of mantra. But what is effectively happening when you look at the European Union level in particular and the same history here, with its military industrial complex? They’re bunging lumps of money like 35 million euro on this project, that project, here, there, everywhere. They’re developing the technological ideas long before there’s been the political debate. So what they’re doing, if they’ve developed technical ideas with the multinationals sitting down, with the researchers, law enforcement, security people – this is unseen. We can hardly see it and having developed that technology, they then construct a legitimation for it and when they construct that legitimation, the last thing that happens is, oh we’d better genuflect to the privacy and civil liberties, we’ve got to mention them. In Europe we need to have a situation where there has to be a political debate before you start developing the technology and bunging our money at it. That space is there to some extent, but it needs to be pulled together. We’ve got to start occupying that space to insist that a political decision is taken before we get the technological development and not the other way around. So if we don’t watch it, that old scenario of the death of civil liberties by a thousand cuts, we’re a long way down that thousand cut road now and if we don’t watch it, when they come for us there will be nobody else there.

Simon Davies: I’m delighted that the historical and the global perspectives have now been positioned. Because I want to take a look at, not just what is being done, but what we could do. Just a quick show of hands, just to give me a sort of flavour where people are coming from, could you raise your hand if you feel now you’ve been here for a day hearing all this, that maybe the balance between rights and surveillance is tipped too far in the direction of surveillance, can I just see a show of hands? Oh boy this is going to be a tough crowd, isn’t it? Okay, right, change of tack, slight change of tack, – I think you’re getting a sense of what’s going on here.

Let me just dispense with what’s going on, straight off. I believe what’s going on works at three distinct levels. It’s not just the technological, it’s not just the creation of, not the silos, but networks of networks, the creation of links between networks which we might call data sharing, interoperability, however you want to describe it. I believe the two other systems that work, the two other strategies, if you like, are manipulation of language and imagery and the destabilisation and sometimes destruction of due process. Put those three together and you’ve got real trouble. The problem is it turns the public consciousnesses. As I see it, in many other countries as well, there’s been a penetration on level 1, on the technological level, but without any awareness of levels two and three. Without that, you’re never going to get the motivation, the anger, the frustration that we need to destabilise the first level. I have no doubt, for example, that if we put to government as we have done, you know, countless times, hey where’s your justification, where’s your business case, where’s your evidence, where’s your statistical work, where’s your quantification of results, – it’s not available. But there are a series of assertions that use manipulated language to achieve their goals.

I mean, modernisation, what’s that? When someone says to me modernisation, I think they’re going to screw me. When they talk about review, that means to rip apart. So when we talk about the data protection act review, what do we do? We take out the consent principle: it’s not a review, it’s a slash and burn policy. When I hear stakeholder consultation, which funnily enough used to mean something, now stakeholder consultation is merely, as it is borrowed in fact from the private sector, a means of ensuring that a certain box is ticked. If you go through the Cabinet Office guidelines, which have now, of course, gone across the bar, you see that whereas four years ago there was almost a compulsion on governments to consult, it is now, well let’s say, an option that you could consider in some circumstances with you know, indeterminate results. These go to the core of the decision-making processes which are screwing us up. Now, I am delighted this conference exists, I am absolutely thrilled and it testifies, it’s a testament to the strength of feeling and concern out there, but since we’ve been drifting into the subject of history, let me remind some of the older people in this room that we’ve been here before and we’ve got to make sure that we don’t have dead chapters of our history.

Seven years ago, eight years ago and dare I utter this name in this room, the Daily Telegraph had a similar convention, partnered with Channel 4, with a distinguished list of speakers, heavily publicised, off the back of a three year free the country campaign. Does anyone remember it? It changed the Tory party, it strengthened the libertarian cause within the Tory party, it created massive change, it created ripples that I think have largely dissipated now, but were very, very important. But what happened was there was no empowerment resulted from that process. What we need is long-term empowerment. The interesting thing, looking at the figures, the number of people who are changing the course of history at the moment in this particular domain, and numerically as I look out into this room, do you know if there was a commitment from everybody in this room to redouble your energy in this, to actually create innovation, this room could change that course, this room could reverse the current trends. I don’t want to go into the whole one drop, you know, creates a waterfall spiel, but it’s true and I think and I hope that coming out of this conference is that sustained action from every single individual who feels concerned.

Now, I believe that’s going to come down to every time you hear the language manipulated, imagery manipulated, every time you hear an unsubstantiated statement from government, then try and spread the message, tell people about it, tell them about the deceit, the lies, tell them about the manipulation. People do not like being deceived, it’s the one thing we know about British history. Consistently people hate deception, absolutely hate it, that and hypocrisy. And the final thing I would say, and I said this at the Computer’s Freedom and Privacy conference in the United States, we have in fact the entire gamut of liberties on the net. 12 years ago, following Scott McNealy’s famous “get over it there is no privacy”, I said, it’s probably about time to start considering outing the invaders, really putting pressure on it at a personal level. And I would say 12 years later that that is now without dispute. I know I had an argument with my board at Privacy International at the time about the ethics of this. But I think now is the time to identify the perpetrators, to identify those in power who are creating this problem, or let’s say enabling this problem, those who have financial interests, those who have their deals cut for them. Out them and make sure the pressure is directly applied to those individuals and predominately those in the civil service. I never thought I’d hear myself saying that again, but I think the situation in this country has gotten to that point where it’s going to be necessary to declare that level of war. Otherwise we are not going to win. It’s going to take another 20 years before level two and three permeate the public consciousness and its then going to be too late. It’s already possibly too late. But I doubt it, I think we can turn this around, but now we turn up the heat and believe me, the talents in this room, and God, I know a few faces here and I know there’s talent, the talent in this room could turn the course of history and I believe we can and we should. Thank you.

Christina Zaba: The point about the national identities scheme is that it’s about you and me and him and her and every single one of us, our children, our parents, our relatives, our colleagues, our enemies, our friends. I’m the daughter of a man who came to this country after the war, having fought in that war across Europe for freedom. We seem to have, and I assure you this isn’t planned, a common thread of historical resonance going through this panel. This is therefore what a national identity card used to look like, it was a bit of paper, it had a number on, a name, several changes of address and all sorts of terrible warnings. Any other entry or any alteration, marking or erasure is punishable by a fine or imprisonment, or both. My dad kept this card very carefully; it’s all worn out with stamps on it until 1950, after which the scheme was scrapped.

Now, when people talk about the national identity scheme and the database state and identity cards, they’ve got this in their head. Simon was saying it’s about imagery, kill this image, if you have one thing that you take away from this session here today, kill this, kill it, because this is not about a card, this is about computers knowing things and keeping information in enormous databases so vast they are incomprehensible, about you.

Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act 2006: information that may be recorded in register;

  1. personal information, a) his full name b) other names by which he is or has been known c) his date of birth d) his place of birth e) his gender f) the address of his principal place of residence in the United Kingdom g) the address of every other place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere where he has a place of residence.
  2. a) a photograph of his head and shoulders showing the features of the face b) his signature c) his fingerprints, 10 d) other biometric information about him.
  3. a) his nationality b) his entitlement to remain in the United Kingdom c) where that entitlement derives from a grant of leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, the terms and conditions of that leave.

And then we start;

  1. 1.a) national identity registration number b) the number of any ID card issued to him c) any national insurance number allocated to him d) the number of any immigration document.

Ladies and gentlemen, we don’t have time, but this goes on for pages and pages and pages, so think about it, all that information, remembering that information online cannot easily be destroyed and cannot be kept secure. Remembering that they can already populate the national identity register with the linked databases that already exist on all of us, if we allow them, remembering that biometrics isn’t just infrared light, fingerprints, it can also be DNA, it can also be…

Guy Herbert: It’s inaccurate, sorry.

Christina Zaba: Sorry, I’ve got, I was told that by somebody else, okay, biometrics, Guy?

Guy Herbert: Biometrics, any physical feature, externally visible physical feature, so it could be a footprint, fingerprint, anything they choose to record about you.

Christina Zaba: It’s open, and then there’s the audit trail, when you swipe your card, it goes on the database, it goes under your identifying number, it’s really dangerous. It’s a dangerous system because it can’t be kept secure, it can’t be, it’s not within our remit to keep control of it and this information belongs, not to you and me, the greatest, monstrousness of all, is that my information, and yours, isn’t ours. In law it belongs to the authorities. Once we register on the national identity register under a national identity number that we’re all going to have, that information, which is valuable, it has monetary value, is no longer ours. It belongs, in law, to the Secretary of State.

Now, later this year airside workers are going to be made to register on the national identity scheme as a condition of retaining their jobs. That’s the beginning. The government has been trying to get a way to start this river flowing. Because once this river of information starts to flow onto that identity register, it’s too late, you can’t call it back. And it will not stop terrorists, and it will not help identity theft, security, the reverse, once my stuffs online, all sorts of people get access to it, who never had access to it before. The ramifications of what this might do to our civil structures, to the legal system, to the financial system, have not been thought through and cannot be thought through. In 2005 when I started working on this as a journalist, I spoke to technical experts who were, as technical experts are, involved in the beauty of creating something technical, that’s what they do and they were heartbroken, because this national identity register is not technically sensible at all, in fact it’s primitive. It’s a stupid, lock steps, 70s, insane, database based identity management system which no leading-edge technical expert would give the time of day to.

None of this is necessary technically we don’t need databases, technically speaking. The technology exists to keep the information private on the card and to keep it safe. The political will though, does not exist for that, and I have to say that, afraid as I am of this system, I’m even more angry by the deception and duplicity of stupid people who haven’t even bothered to find out what it means, who sell us this lie about how putting all our data, personal data under identifying numbers. I’ve spoken to hackers, I’ve spoken to leaders of companies, I’ve spoken to academics and they’re confused, and they say, why don’t they listen to us, we keep telling them, it’s not going to work. And I think what Simon said about language is very important, because one of the problems is that the technical community, the political community and the civil community all have a different vocabulary and in the middle of that different vocabulary, ladies and gentlemen, the truth is lying dead on the floor, murdered. We have to stop this and get a hold of what this means, so let’s say what it means, it means lack of privacy, it means a house without doors, walls or windows, it means utter vulnerability, it means babies, numbered as they emerge from the womb or even before and your dead, remaining on the register when you want to go and collect the body. It means the total ownership of our real electronic self which is becoming more and more and more substantial with every keystroke. This is a new technology, we don’t, we’ve never been in this before and a politics is turning around to own it which is, make no mistake, extremely toxic and it’s dangerous.

So, I agree with all the other speakers, I think that this place here and now, in the heart of London, the oldest democracy, there have been fine words spoken today about how here, now, you know, we have the power, we can do things. And it’s true, I was chairing a meeting upstairs before on trade unions and one of the speakers, one of the people in the audience said, he was from South Africa and he said that countries like the UK set an agenda, the world looks, in some sense, to the old freedoms and the old countries that hold those freedoms for inspiration and for leadership. And it’s no accident that the identity scheme that is being imposed willy-nilly on Britain without us being told what it’s really about, is the worst in the world. It’s the most invasive, it’s the most draconian and it’s the most pervasive. So, this is the place to put it right and so I don’t think there’s any better company in which to make my pledge, this is the No of ID pledge.

Guy Herbert: There’s one in everybody’s goodie bag that came with the entry to the convention.

Christina Zaba: We can all do this, so I’m saying here and now, in this witness that I solemnly and publicly promise that I shall not register for a national identity card, I shall not supply personal details or fingerprints to a national identity register, I shall not apply for any documents or service if joining the national identity register is a condition of obtaining it, and I shall not co-operate with any identity and passport service interview concerning my identity. And I do that because I believe that this is the only way to stop this monstrous scheme and preserve our liberty and keep our humanity what it should be, unpredictable, free. My father fought for freedom, many of our forebears died for freedom. It matters.

So, back to my pledge, I’m going to ask Guy to sign it, in a minute, as a witness and I urge you all to take this on as your personal problem. Don’t just let someone else think about it, because as we said before, first they came for the others, in the end there was nobody to come for you. But what I’d like to say to you also, in the words of John Donne who, 400 years ago was on this very spot preaching: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of mine own or of my friends were: any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply