Critic predicts ID card fiasco

Ian Angell is a curious kind of dissident. The London School of Economics professor in information systems has emerged as one of the most trenchant critics of the UK's troubled ID card project, but not on any of the usual grounds.

Ian Angell is a curious kind of dissident. The London School of Economics professor in information systems has emerged as one of the most trenchant critics of the UK's troubled ID card project, but not on any of the usual grounds.

Angell, speaking at the University of Wollongong and in Sydney this week, professes not to care whether the project goes ahead or not. In fact, on balance, he'd rather like it to. He'd like to "study the Titanic from the drawing board to the iceberg".

Angell and his team at the LSE are predicting disaster for the project, saying costs will be far higher than so far estimated and the risk of technical failure is high. While there are valid arguments against the project on privacy grounds, Angell himself doesn't push these.

"All politicians are collectivists," he says. "They don't care about privacy." In fact, they are afraid of it.

"The ID card project has fiasco written all over it," Angell says. "And I say that not as a privacy advocate, but as a student of information systems."

Angell and his colleagues, under almost constant attack from the UK government since they released an independent report on the project, received some degree of vindication just last week when leaked e-mails revealed senior civil servants have grave doubts about the viability of the project.

E-mails from David Foord, mission critical director of identity and defence at the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), that suggested the government was setting itself up for failure were first published in the Sunday Times.

That was music to Angell's ears. His argument against the cards has always been that they won't work, that complexity will defeat the project and even if it were to get up it will rapidly become corrupted.

With Australia also heading down the path to a national ID card, politicians and civil servants may want to take note.

Angell, who claims to be the only Tory professor at the LSE, says a single ID card will become a "one-stop shop" for identity fraud. It will be a criminal's dream come true.

He says ID theft statistics have been inflated to play on public fears and the so-called war on terror is being used "in a cynical attempt to fool the public".

Angell's combative style is not what you'd usually expect from an academic, but the author of 2000's dystopian The New Barbarian Manifesto is no typical academic. He uses ridicule to make his point, comparing the ID card to the Ahnenpass of Nazi Germany, used as proof of ancestry.

"The control freaks in government have seized the moral high ground and are intent on killing off decades of deregulation and liberalisation of the market place by stirring up a smokescreen of public outrage against drug trafficking, terrorism, corporate greed, paedophilia," he says. The world-wide market for compliance now is US$25 billion, but that's just the beginning.

"In the UK, with the ID card in place, the sky's the limit."

Despite the LSE criticisms, a bill authorising the UK ID card project was finally passed in the House of Commons in March after a series of defeats in the House of Lords.

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