When society makes technical decisions

When society makes technical decisions

Summary: Britain's plans for a universal ID card  have suffered at the hands of of a London School of Economics report (PDF) that called into question the scheme's implementation.  Now, an organization called the Pledge Bank has started a campaign to build a legal defense fund for people who publicly declare that they'll refuse to register for the new ID card.

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TOPICS: Data Management
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Britain's plans for a universal ID card  have suffered at the hands of of a London School of Economics report (PDF) that called into question the scheme's implementation.  Now, an organization called the Pledge Bank has started a campaign to build a legal defense fund for people who publicly declare that they'll refuse to register for the new ID card.  The organization's goal was to get 10,000 people to sign up by October 9, 2005 and as of this morning they're already 779 over their goal.  Here's the pledge:

"I will refuse to register for an ID card and will donate £10 to a legal defence fund but only if 10000 other people will also make this same pledge."

There's also a site for people who won't refuse but are willing to contribute to the defense of those who do.   That fund is not nearly as well subscribed (a mere 221 of 50,000 required pledges).

There are those who object on philosophical grounds, but many technologists object because of the problems inherent in large-scale identity systems like this one.  Like the public key infrastructure (PKI) that backs digital certs, there is a hierarchy of trust that ultimately comes down to the integrity and accuracy of the National Identity Registry database.   As a society we should be careful about basing life and death decisions on the accuracy of any single database.    There's just too many ways databases can be corrupted whether by malicious intent or not.

I was fairly active in trying to influence Utah's latest decision on electronic voting machines--another important decisions made by government that has significant technical underpinnings.  I can't say we had much luck since Utah picked Diebold's DRE solution, albeit with a printed record.  I sat in the Lt. Governor's office a few months ago trying to explain computer security to him.  He was willing to listen, but he ultimately didn't see technical limitations or flaws trumping other considerations. 

Democracy is not necessarily the best way to make technical decisions, but the reality is that it's often all we've got.  Like voting systems, I suspect that governments will press forward with technically-based ID card systems that no security expert will love.  That doesn't mean that engaging governments on technical issues is hopeless.  Governments do, for the most part, listen and I've seen public input change decisions on numerous occasions.  Just don't expect ideal solutions.  Be willing to settle for "better." 



Topic: Data Management

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  • government officals allowed to lag...

    Watching your back is a full time job, so few government officials have the time to appreciate or understand technology. There is no "think tank" that I know of to help the ignorant politicians, who while being well meaning, are depending on influence peddling corporations for data. The recent trend to make sports heroes, and movie stars our politicians has not helped either.
    pesky_z
  • Diebold

    It was not the IT it was a Mormon to Mormon deal in Utah. Diebold has connections to the church.
    300002
  • Republic not democracy.

    To limit the affect of 'heat of the moment' passions and smooth tongued demagogues, the founding fathers chose a representative form of government. They then included protections from that government with 'checks and balances' in its setup and the 'Bill of Rights'. The cost of a 'representative' system is the requirement to look over their shoulders, vote out the incompetents, and prosecute to the fullest the 'corrupt'. Corruption is in the eyes of the beholder. A Texas representative slips a windfall of 1.5 billion into the omnibus energy bill for his friends after the bill is 'Quote' closed. the other 49 states see corruption, Texas sees an 'effective' politician.
    Diebold voting machines are a pet pieve of mine. The company that make the majority of ATM's with excellent paper trail procedures. When they design 'voting machines' they don't have a paper trail. Seems they listen to a California 'nut case' who pushed a conservative agenda without thinking about the consequences. Diebold lost a lot of respect because the obvious 'double-blind' paper trail is easy to implement. Society is an amorphous group with loud opinions, no resposibility for implementing those opinions, and thankfully constrained by government's inefficiency. Involved individuals are the cost of a republic. If you leave any choice, not just 'technology', to the legislators then its the lobbyist who are heard.
    plumley@...