Sunday, February 02, 2003

ID cards ... love them or hate them

A few interesting stories on the ID card consultation this week. One on Kablenet lauding the survey results (more research, but this time they post the question that was asked) from Schlumberger-Sema that say there is strong approval for a card. Apparently 50% of people were fine with having a photo of their iris on their card, whilst 30% wanted a fingerprint. Impressive - I can't believe that they found 1000 odd people that would know about how the iris is scanned and didn't have a problem - haven't they seen Demolition Man or Minority Report? Fingerprints are notoriously unreliable - something like 20% of the population don't scan well (think builders who deal with rough materials all day, or people who work with chemicals that have burned off most of their skin!), and (as far as I remember), they're fine for closed populations (i.e. you scan 20 people and say that these 20 can open the door to the secret room) but don't work well for large populations (too many variables, too big a databas to scan, too many issues with the angle at which the finger is placed and so on). The conclusion from the survery results is ... SchlumbergerSema also published its own response to the proposal, advocating the use of an iris scan on the card and suggesting that different security measures could be used for different transactions. A personal identification number could be used for most transactions, but for more important ones, such as entering and leaving the country, the biometrics on the card should be matched with those of the person presenting it. All of the relevant information would be stored on a national database In contrast, the Register notes that there is more opposition to cards than was thought. Which probably goes to show that research results depend more on the questions asked than anything else. Or, perhaps more accurately, on who is asking the questions and for what reasons. After all, the Stand folks get responses from those who are against the ID cards, S/Sema get responses from those who are pro - both sides have a direction in which they would wish to lean, rightly or wrongly. So maybe none of it is worth anything? Better still, what it hopefully tells us is that democracy is alive and well but that it takes a bit of prodding from people with a point to press before it actively emerges. One of the great challenges facing government today is how to get people more engaged in the democractic process. I don't mean voting, although it's clear that turnout could do with a boost, I mean looking at the issues that we face today. People like Stand and, for that matter, The Register and the other online journals and news-breakers do a good job of prodding at the issues and making people aware of them, but it's not clear how to get from the (I imagine) relatively small audiences that these sources attract to more mass market involvement. I've developed an idea about that, here's how it might work (and I have to credit Matt Durcan at HP for sowing the seeds of this at a meeting perhaps a year or so ago). Matt alerted me back then to something he'd heard about a plan to create an 888 number - just like 999 but for those things that weren't emergencies. That might mean everything from a cat in a tree to a pothole in a road to a zebra crossing light being broken. Nothing has emerged on such a number and, try as I might, I haven't found anything that relates to it. Now, imagine if the 888 service was web, phone, SMS text, DTV and kiosk integrated - so that no matter what level of income you had or what devices you had access to, there would be a way to get to it. People would report issues to the 888 service, all of which would be logged. The output would be a colour coded map of your postcode, your street, your borough, your town or your county, showing the issues being raised in your area. So if a particular road had holes in it and the local people were suitably mad, they'd get together, contact 888 and the map would glow flashing red. The local council seeing that they had a community of interest that was on their case would despatch the road fixers. Take this a little further forward and say there's a 777 service (or maybe still the 888 one) that lets you express concern about fox hunting, people who wear furs, drink driving or whatever ... interest groups could drive their members and supporters to log their point of view via this service and rapidly drive up support (or ant-support) for any given issue. The 777 service could be restricted to topics du jour, it could require authentication (using an anonymous token, as used in voting) to make sure that no-one voted more than once on any issue, for instance. Would something like this, developed a bit further, I'm sure help engage more people in important issues? After all, Downing Street say around 2,000 responses on ID cards, Stand say they put nearly 5,000 in - but that's only 7,000 out of 60,000,000 on an issue that concerns us all.

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