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Running queries on the HMRC database fiasco

Dis-information systems management

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Finally, the ID card thing

Chancellor Alistair Darling has been quoted as saying that the disaster actually strengthened arguments in favour of ID cards. OK, I’m game, let's think this through. One of the advantages of ID cards is that they make it easier to tie data from several disparate systems together. For example, it appears still to be possible for a person in this country to be drawing benefit while working. An ID card, complete with unique identifier, should make these anomalies much easier to spot.

So, on the surface, this argument sounds reasonable. The data was being shipped so that it could be cross-correlated between two systems. ID cards make cross-correlation easier. Therefore, this is an argument for ID cards. However, there is a glorious technical flaw in this argument.

ID cards may help to identify people more accurately but they don't, in any shape or form, help with the movement of the data. ID cards would have made no difference whatsoever to the fact that the data has to be moved. Indeed, had the ID data been included it would, presumably, have been one more piece of data to delight the bad guys.

I'm used to the fact that politicians don't understand technology, but it frightens me that, in the midst of one crisis, they can still find the time to misuse it to promote another unrelated political agenda.

Finally, of course, the fact that our government has demonstrated a complete lack of ability to protect our data is, for me, a strong argument against ID cards. But then, I'm not a politician.

Summary

Once again, it is fair to say that we aren't being told the technical details and neither should we be. However, these security concerns also provide a convenient smoke screen from which can emerge bland assurances like: "It would have been very expensive to do this", "this strengthens the arguments for ID cards". While we cannot directly gainsay these, if we make reasonable assumptions, it is clear that many of them are nonsense. ®

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