New Labour drops ID cards

Not before time, Alan Johnson has signalled an end to the ID card programme. It’s a mark of just how low my expectations are of Britain’s awful government that I’m happy it’s only wasted… £2bn or so on the madcap scheme.

Three reasons why it was fundamentally flawed:

At base level, it wouldn’t have worked. Governments have no ability to make large IT projects give value; it would have cost countless billions over the billions budgeted – which, thanks to New Labour’s existing profligacy, the UK hasn’t got.

A level up, though, are the technical difficulties: sixty million people and a hundred bits of information for each. The law of large numbers states that errors in the database rise exponentially as the amount of information rises linearly – not due to bad design or physics, just the way large and complex systems tend to operate when multiple parties have access to them. Nobody’s record would have been accurate. And when databases are already taken as gospel by police and social services irrespective of whether they’re correct, the opportunities for inadvertent incrimination would’ve been huge.

At top level, though, comes the biggest issue of all: it was never an ID card scheme. New Labour cleverly positioned the debate to be about a card in your wallet. It wasn’t; it was about interconnecting multiple databases from multiple government agencies, and giving a very wide variety of civil servants access to your life they never deserved. The database would have been ripe for fishing expeditions by the cops, intimidation tactics by local governments, and – just as bad – create commercial pressures for release of data.

ID cards were a bad idea: expensive, badly planned, and impossible to implement. (All the hallmarks of New Labour.) It took a recession to get rid of them, but now they’re gone. Let’s work to keep them off the agenda forever.

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