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UK ID card service mounts birth, marriage, death landgrab

A big hello to whole-life logging

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The UK Identity & Passport Service (IPS) has staged an identity landgrab on birth, marriage and death records. From April 2008 the General Register Office, which is responsible for recording these matters and is currently a directorate of the Office of National Statistics, is to become part of IPS, meaning that IPS will be logging you from the moment you're born until the moment you die.

The logic of the move is chilling. The UK ID card scheme itself only requires registration for an ID card from age 16, while the passport part of the deal only, obviously, needs to have data on people who have passports. But... IPS has entirely and obviously unfeasible plans to make money by promoting itself to the status of the UK's de facto identity services broker, with passport validation and identity verification services being early manifestations of how it proposes to make money out of this. But if IPS is to be able to grow its offerings from simply checking if a passport is genuine into a general ID verification service, then it makes sense to have everybody in the database, whether they like it or not.

IPS also intends to use biographical footprint data as part of the passport application process, so the birth record has a relevance in that sense. As Home Office Minister Meg Hillier* says, "In order to... fully realise the benefits of combining registration of life events in England and Wales and the issuing of passports, it is sensible that the IPS and GRO should be part of the same organisation." It's worth noting here that the Scottish citizenry has some opportunity to maintain a slightly greater level of freedom, or at the very least to be entertained by some grandstanding on the subject from First Minister Alec Salmond. Passports are a UK national issue, births, marriages and deaths are devolved - in Scotland, to a hostile Nationalist administration.

Also worth flagging is that reference to "registration of life events". This relates in some measure to the Office of National Statistics' idea of "through life records", which were intended to take the basic and relatively uncontentious matter of birth, marriage and death registration and flesh it out into the somewhat more chilling notion of of a continually updated life record. So was that Web 2.0, or just Stasi?

Considering the new owners, it's now pretty clear which it is. The ONS/GRO has already been co-operating with IPS on data sharing, one of the objectives of this being to tackle "Day of the Jackal" ID fraud, around 30 years after Frederick Forsyth first drew it to the world's attention. Previous statements on the relationship between the ONS/PRO side of ID and the IPS spoke of increased co-operation and data sharing, and during the passage of the ID Cards Act it became clear that the ONS' plans to build a population register via the Citizen Information Project were a dead duck. Two population registers made no sense at all, and as the National Identity Register was flavour of the month, that was obviously the one they were going to keep.

But how far down this road would you go? The answer, evidenced by this week's announcement, appears to be all the way. The government has followed up the effective merger of the ONS' population register with the NIR by subsuming the GRO in the IPS Borg, and the uncontentious register that previously existed will, as of next April, be run by an organisation which proposes to make money out of compiling and continually updating the "biographical footprint" of every live individual in the UK (see here for more detail on the identity verification service and its roots in IPS' Personal Identification Project, PIP). So not a lot of controversy there, then. If you're thinking of getting born any time after Q1 2008, you might like to consider doing it somewhere else.

* Previous Home Office ministers in charge of passports and ID cards (there have been many) have been given relatively prosaic titles. In keeping (presumably) with the Brown administration's slightly more Orwellian edge, however, Hillier is "Home Office Minister responsible for Identity." Just identity, but all of it. ®

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