Press cuttings


Date Medium Article
2016-06-28The HeraldReaders' Opinion: There is no need to rush into any new referendum
2013-08-02The HeraldWe should learn from Europe if we want to keep cyclists safe
2013-07-08The HeraldTransparency on surveillance
2013-06-19The HeraldWe have everything to fear from mass surveillance operations
2013-06-07The HeraldPrivacy implications of Scotland's bus passes
2013-06-06TelegraphAre British universities training Iranian nuclear physicists? The Foreign Office doesn't want to tell us
2012-06-13The HeraldCouncil should not have stored unencrypted details
2012-04-05The HeraldLicence to spy on our web activity would be unjustified and immoral
2012-02-23The HeraldThere is no place in a democracy for mass surveillance
2011-11-10The HeraldBiometric checks should be halted
2011-09-16The HeraldCyclists do pay
2011-05-16The HeraldSmartcards would significantly increase public transport use in Scotland
2011-05-11The HeraldWell done on an SNP victory, but how will party pay for its policies?
2011-05-04The ScotsmanExisting system has more flaws than AV
2011-03-30The HeraldStudents putting club to good use
2011-03-11The HeraldGenerating income should not be main purpose of universities
2011-02-22The ScotsmanVoting progress
2011-02-20Sunday HeraldAitken must resign committee role
2011-01-08The ScotsmanBody of evidence against biometric scans
2010-12-30The HeraldAdvantages of Scottish Parliament system
2010-12-20The HeraldOur students should not be loaded with debt before they even begin their careers
2010-12-17The HeraldIt is not the job of the police to discourage genuine peaceful political demonstration
2010-12-08The HeraldMillions of people already had access to the sensitive information put out by WikiLeaks
2010-12-01The HeraldLeaks reveal extent of American ambition to build up databases on European citizens
2010-11-30The HeraldPublication of sensitive material shows the danger of having centralised records
2010-11-05The HeraldScots should be proud of their tradition of free education and fight to maintain it
2010-09-19Sunday HeraldEasier ways to cut carbon use
2010-09-07The HeraldScotland could lead the world in promoting desperately needed humanitarian work
2010-09-06The HeraldTony Blair takes a Journey around a bookshop
2010-06-29The HeraldSharing of patients’ data will make GPs become state informers
2010-06-02The HeraldID cards have been an expensive error
2010-05-31The HeraldApology and offer to repay money show that MP knew he had broken the rules
2010-05-27The HeraldThere are ways to reduce the cost of concessions for bus travel without scrapping the scheme
2010-05-26The HeraldGreater choice of candidates is needed in the contest for Labour’s leadership
2010-05-19The HeraldLabour has been neither progressive nor served those most in need of help
2010-05-05The HeraldA more nuanced system for our elections would discourage dogmatic political folly
2010-03-31The HeraldMPs’ tax returns should be published annually
2010-03-18THe HeraldPunish MPs who squander our taxes and liberties
2010-03-13The HeraldCoalition government indicates a strong parliament and reflects the public’s wishes
2010-02-24The HeraldRadioactive waste is the big problem
2010-02-19The HeraldBody scanners serve very little purpose
2010-01-15The HeraldMeasures such as those used in Northern Ireland can prevent electoral corruption
2010-01-09The HeraldNow we are all to be viewed as slaves
2009-12-29The HeraldIndiscriminate screening of our activities won’t make it any safer to travel by air
2009-12-22The HeraldChristmas number one illustrates obsolete business models of the music corporations
2009-12-15The HeraldPolice complaints
2009-12-05The HeraldSpotlight on CCTV reveals many failings: Scattergun approach does not work
2009-11-16The HeraldProud of Glasgow
2009-11-02The HeraldWhy have a drugs adviser if he cannot be allowed to speak the truth?
2009-10-31The HeraldProtect our freedom to communicate
2009-10-22The HeraldBNP will be hoist by the petard of its own odious words and policies
2009-10-01The Herald'New’ ID card scheme will be compulsory to all intents and purposes
2009-09-29The HeraldAbsurd waste of money
2009-09-21The HeraldMissing the piracy point
2009-08-18The HeraldThe government should get on its bike if it is serious about taxing cyclists
2009-08-07The ScotsmanDatabase threat
2009-08-07The HeraldAnother flaw identified
2009-08-03The HeraldDenying our identity
2009-07-26Scotland on SundayID cards herald a snooper state
2009-07-24The ScotsmanIdentity problem
2009-07-09The HeraldCostly passports
2009-07-08The TelegraphPersonal information is the property of individuals, not Whitehall departments
2009-07-06The ScotsmanPrivate matter
2009-07-02The ScotsmanAn ID climb-down?
2009-07-01The HeraldID database will still be compulsory
2009-06-30The HeraldHow to police protests
2009-06-24The HeraldNo pay rise: instead link MPs' salaries to how many votes they receive
2009-06-19The HeraldFiring blanks
2009-06-11The HeraldConstitutional reform is far too important to be left to politicians
2009-06-09The HeraldReal power in the land
2009-06-05The HeraldTake the pledge
2009-06-04The HeraldWill the Home Secretary’s departure finally torpedo the foundering ship of government?
2009-05-27The HeraldAssault on our liberties
2009-05-26The HeraldGlasgow MPs did not vote for transparency over expenses
2009-05-22The HeraldHome Office treats asylum-seekers shamefully
2009-05-20The HeraldScapegoat for a rotten system or complicit in its excesses?
2009-05-18The ScotsmanData legislation
2009-05-15The HeraldRadical constitutional reform could remove the overwhelming bureaucracy that stifles democracy
2009-05-13The GuardianFact and fiction
2009-05-12The Herald‘Within the rules’ is a pathetic excuse from those riding the gravy train
2009-05-07The ScotsmanID scheme savings?
2009-05-05The HeraldScheming politicians should put an end to spin if they want to be believed
2009-05-02The HeraldThe name game
2009-04-28The HeraldHeavy hand of the state is evident in the erosion of civil liberties
2009-04-25The Herald'You cannot have pre-emptive justice'
2009-04-25The HeraldPolice 'infiltrate' green activists
2009-04-24The HeraldBudget has failed to tackle the government's 'public sector monster'
2009-04-16The HeraldUnacceptable approach to policing protest
2009-04-10The HeraldSerious concerns are raised by death of man during G20 protest
2009-04-06The HeraldHonesty about database
2009-04-02The HeraldGross invasion of privacy
2009-03-31The HeraldPublish MPs’ web use
2009-03-26The HeraldFree speech is essential to democracy
2009-03-25The HeraldMcNulty’s expenses claim shows need for complete transparency
2009-03-24The HeraldBritain is in danger of being turned into a snitch state where we all learn to spy on one other
2009-03-20The HeraldAn invasion of privacy
2009-03-17The HeraldLower the voting age
2009-03-12The HeraldNow the leadership has failed, we are masters of our own destiny
2009-03-11The HeraldDatabases do not work
2009-03-03The HeraldDoes Harman want to be judge and jury also?
2009-02-28STVCivil liberties conference confronts ID cards and CCTV
2009-02-23The HeraldNo freedom without the freedom to say no
2009-02-19The HeraldIs the ­government sure that ID cards are so popular?
2009-02-09The HeraldPrivacy and liberty are under threat
2009-01-31The HeraldHonour? Nobility?
2009-01-22The HeraldCustomers need better treatment from the NHS
2009-01-20The HeraldWe have learned from the story of NHS 24 that if healthcare’s not broke, then don’t fix it
2009-01-13The Herald SocietyDon’t sleepwalk into Big Brother surveillance, schools warned
2009-01-12STV NewsNational entitlement card causes row over school meals
2009-01-11Sunday HeraldSchool bosses tell pupils: no meals without an ID card
2009-01-07The HeraldCyclists cause very little damage to roads but already pay for them
2009-01-03The HeraldGovernments and big databases do not mix
2008-12-20The HeraldVanity projects
2008-12-15The HeraldConsent to access medical records
2008-12-10The HeraldHuman rights and civil liberties are not bartering chips
2008-12-05The HeraldPrivacy intrusions should be open to scrutiny
2008-12-02TelegraphHidden ID costs
2008-12-01Edinburgh Evening NewsTerrorists are not fazed by ID cards
2008-11-28The HeraldDanger for travellers
2008-11-24The HeraldNew ID cards could deter star performers
2008-11-20The HeraldBNP propaganda is not welcome
2008-11-04Cambridge Evening NewsCards optional
2008-10-24The TelegraphThose favouring identity cards should realise that all databases contain errors
2008-10-17The HeraldThe society feared by Orwell is getting close
2008-10-13The ScotsmanKeeping our details safe
2008-10-13Edinburgh Evening NewsWorry over levels of security at MoD
2008-10-11The HeraldIronic promise
2008-10-07The HeraldGovernment must fund school meals
2008-09-26The HeraldLaunch of ID scheme is a cheap stunt
2008-09-25The HeraldPassport interviews sordid and intrusive
2008-09-16The HeraldGovernment bull
2008-09-13The ScotsmanProtecting personal data
2008-09-12The HeraldProtecting our data
2008-09-01The ScotsmanLoss of personal information
2008-08-25The HeraldIdentity crisis
2008-08-25The ScotsmanSecuring sensitive data
2008-08-21The HeraldPersonal information and an identity register
2008-07-31The HeraldGovernment is not to be trusted with DNA
2008-07-21The HeraldIf MPs have a right to privacy, so should we
2008-07-01The HeraldNine arrested after protest at minister’s identity cards meeting
2008-07-01Edinburgh Evening NewsID protesters to face court
2008-07-01The ScotsmanNine held in ID card demo
2008-07-01Daily Record9 Arrests At Demo
2008-07-01Data Quality NewsProtests and arrests over ID cards
2008-06-30STV NewsID card protesters say Home Office is stifling public debate
2008-06-30BBC NewsArrests made at ID cards meeting
2008-06-30 The HeraldID scheme: the truths, the half-truths and the outright deceptions
2008-06-30 The HeraldID card protest planned as minister visits capital
2008-06-25 The HeraldID scheme is a shambles, is poorly conceived and serves no useful purpose
2008-06-21 Edinburgh Evening NewsNot raising a glass to ID proposals
2008-06-18 The HeraldID scheme is a sophistic reversal of right to privacy
2008-06-14 The HeraldBy-election will allow debate on 42-day detention
2008-06-13 The Herald42 days detention has nothing to do with our security
2008-06-04 The HeraldID card scheme is riddled with problems
2008-05-26 Edinburgh Evening NewsWe can't trust them to keep data safe
2008-05-26 The HeraldEroding privacy does not provide security
2008-05-25 Sunday HeraldCampaigners taste victory in `backdoor ID cards' battle
2008-05-23 The HeraldThe secret is to maintain the right balance between competing freedoms
2008-05-22 The HeraldOur freedoms are being severely curtailed
2008-05-17 The HeraldHypocrisy over politicians' desire for privacy
2008-05-16 Edinburgh Evening NewsID card scheme is a huge waste of taxpayers' cash
2008-05-10 The HeraldGovernment has little respect for security
2008-05-08 The HeraldMore ID card cost increases
2008-05-07 The HeraldMSPs have the right idea about DNA
2008-05-04 The HeraldMissed out
2008-05-02 The HeraldWhy Gordon Brown should halt ID cards
2008-04-28 The HeraldFacial recognition is same as tossing coin
2008-04-21 Cambridge Evening NewsNo point in IDs
2008-04-11 Edinburgh Evening NewsIdentity fraud cost doesn't add up
2008-04-10 The HeraldThe minister, the internet and the phrase that 'disappeared' from Hansard
2008-03-22 The HeraldKeeping data private will keep it secure
2008-03-10 The HeraldWill the PM listen to the Home Office or the experts?
2008-03-06 The HeraldWho do they think you are?
2008-03-06 STVFive Thirty
2008-02-29 Info4SecurityAll eyes on Terminal Five
2008-02-28 The HeraldInternal passports reminiscent of the cold war
2008-02-19 The HeraldHistory teaches lesson of ID cards' intrusion
2008-02-15 The TimesLearner numbers are a step towards ID cards
2008-02-05 The HeraldMPs should work to restore the public's privacy
2008-02-03 Sunday HeraldRoutine fingerprinting at Heathrow provokes outrage
2008-01-22 The HeraldID cards would benefit racketeers, not public
2008-01-16 The HeraldScotland should concentrate on renewables
2008-01-02 BBC Radio WMDanny Kelly show
2008-01-02 The HeraldInfringement of liberty is a price worth paying
2008-01-01 BBC World ServiceThe World Today
2007-12-31 BBC Radio 5 LiveDrive
2007-12-30 BBC Radio 5 LiveWeekend News
2007-12-30 Sunday TelegraphEngineers plan crash-proof computer car
2007-12-26 The HeraldChecks not so benign
2007-12-19 The HeraldChancellor should withdraw funding for ID cards
2007-12-08 The HeraldToo-long detention
2007-12-07 The HeraldData and privacy
2007-12-03 BBC Radio ScotlandThe Investigation
2007-12-02 BBC ScotlandThere is no longer any privacy
2007-11-29 The HeraldWe are all put at risk by identity scheme
2007-11-26 The IndependentBiometric data is not secure
2007-11-24 The TimesDatagate and the threat of a digital dystopia
2007-11-23 Evening TimesOur privacy was lost in the post
2007-11-22 The ScotsmanData discs blunder reveals the folly of trusting government on ID card plan
2007-11-22 The HeraldGovernment has treated public with disregard
2007-11-16 The HeraldScreen MPs, not bags
2007-11-08 The HeraldFreedom to speak out against the system
2007-11-05 The ScotsmanLoss of identity
2007-11-02 The HeraldAgainst ID cards
2007-11-01 The HeraldVote for liberty and democracy
2007-10-31 The HeraldMinister got exactly what he deserved
2007-10-05 BBC Radio ScotlandGood Morning Scotland
2007-09-16 Scotland on SundayFirms invited to bid for tenders to supply controversial smart cards
2007-09-15 The HeraldWorld's End retrial
2007-09-12 Cambridge Evening NewsDatabase danger
2007-09-11 The Herald SocietyBeing taken for a ride?
2007-09-11 The HeraldE-passport chips and microwaves
2007-09-08 The HeraldSend ID-card supporters to the Isle of Self-Righteousness
2007-09-08 The ScotsmanDNA database pollution
2007-09-06 The HeraldAnother threat to liberties that we must oppose
2007-08-26 Sunday Herald'Back-door' ID cards under fire
2007-08-24 The HeraldNationalists are deluded by a Brigadoon view of life
2007-08-21 The HeraldProtection of our children in database state
2007-08-11 The HeraldBlame the government for airport stress
2007-08-09 The HeraldThere's is still time to fight data sharing
2007-07-27 The HeraldWe have failed to learn lessons of Northern Ireland
2007-07-05 The Big IssueCouncillors say NO2ID
2007-07-05 The HeraldNot the way to engineer an election result
2007-06-12 Worcester NewsDiseases won't be checking ID cards
2007-05-31 The HeraldTrading freedom for the illusion of security
2007-05-29 The HeraldDystopian vision
2007-05-26 The IndependentSleepwalking into a police state
2007-05-25 The HeraldWhiff of hypocrisy
2007-05-11 The HeraldA good day to bury bad news?
2007-05-04 The HeraldLessons of McKie case for the ID card scheme
2007-04-30 The ScotsmanInsecure databases
2007-04-27 The HeraldLet's have wide-ranging debate on ID cards
2007-04-24 The ScotsmanAnother fine mess
2007-04-05 The HeraldRisk to abuse victims of national ID registration
2007-04-02 The HeraldCycling is much more than just a hobby
2007-03-26 BBC Radio ScotlandScotland Live
2007-03-24 The ScotsmanID spin over passports
2007-03-17 The HeraldA plan to fossilise the party system
2007-01-24 Yorks PressMistaken identity
2006-11-08 Evening TimesWar heroes died in vain if we get ID cards
2006-11-08 The ScotsmanFlimsy ID-card argument
2006-11-08 The HeraldOur terminally ill democracy
2006-10-05 The HeraldTories must go further in stopping ID cards
2006-09-21 The Big Issue Scotland'Too expensive and they aren't secure':
two out of three Glaswegians are against ID cards
2006-08-18 The HeraldID cards would be little help in stopping terror
2006-08-08 The ScotsmanSale of personal data
2006-07-13 The ScotsmanShambolic NIR scheme
2006-07-10 The HeraldWasting billions of pounds just to save face
2006-07-07 The HeraldSecrecy on ID cards
2006-07-05 Daily RecordRight to worry
2006-07-04 BBC Newsnight ScotlandDefinition of terrorism
2006-05-30 The ScotsmanAvoiding social control
2006-05-23 The ScotsmanScope for bungling
2006-05-19 The HeraldHome Office should not waste money on ID cards
2006-05-15 The HeraldHighlighting dangers of identity register
2006-05-15 The HeraldPeople urged to renew passports to stall ID
2006-05-04 The ScotsmanMissing passports
2006-04-11 The HeraldOther countries' lessons on identity cards
2006-04-01 The ScotsmanSupport for ID cards does not add up
2006-03-31 The HeraldThe campaign against ID cards must continue
2006-03-25 The IndependentDiversionary tactics over ID cards
2006-03-09 Evening TimesID scheme is flawed
2006-03-09 The ScotsmanMisleading over ID cards
2006-03-08 Daily RecordPassport proof
2006-02-16 The HeraldLack of regard for the privacy of others
2006-02-14 The HeraldIdentity cards offer no medical advantage
2006-02-13 BBC Radio ScotlandScotland at Ten
2006-02-08 The HeraldIdentity cards and flawed forensic data
2006-01-24 The GuardianID cards look set to be a costly failure
2005-12-16 The HeraldA reminder of the dangers in store from ID cards
2005-10-22 New ScientistScrap the database
2005-10-19 The ScotsmanUntrustworthy ID cards
2005-10-18 Evening TimesDitch ID fiasco
2005-10-18 The HeraldSurveillance society must be stopped
2005-10-15 Daily RecordIdentity tax is unfair
2005-10-05 Evening TimesPolice abused terror law
2005-09-29 The ScotsmanID cards by coercion
2005-09-16 Evening NewsBiometrics technology is still far from ideal
2005-09-14 BBC ScotlandReporting Scotland
2005-08-02 The TelegraphWe need increased border checks, not identity cards
2005-08-02 The ScotsmanID card claim demolished
2005-07-02 Daily RecordWorthless plan
2005-05-17 BBC Radio ScotlandTwelve to Two programme
2003-10-25 New ScientistSoftware patents


2016-06-28 The Herald
Readers' Opinion: There is no need to rush into any new referendum

IT seems likely that we are to face another referendum in the near future. During each of the last three referendums, there has been excellent, nuanced debate on the streets, in societies and city pubs, but this seems to have bypassed the official campaign messages and swathes of the mainstream and social media which have largely focused on polarising arguments.

Whatever question is set for the next referendum, whether on Scottish independence within the EU or reconsideration of EU membership for the UK, I do hope that it will be a multi-option referendum with preferential voting, to encourage nuanced debate and consensus building, to hopefully lead to a better decision and more generally accepted outcome.

2013-08-02 The Herald
We should learn from Europe if we want to keep cyclists safe

I READ with interest your coverage of cycling and safety ("Scheme aims to change behaviour on roads", The Herald, July 29, and Letters, July 30, 30 & August 1).

Having just returned from Berlin, a city in which "almost all motorists are cyclists" in the words of one local resident, it is clear that Glasgow falls far short of the standards of a modern European city.

Hiring a bike and cycling on busy, unfamiliar roads in the German capital, I felt far safer than I have ever felt on the familiar roads of Glasgow. Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians there generally treat each other with respect and courtesy.

Segregation of motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, with adequate provision of space for each mode of transport, reduces conflict and antagonism between road users. A system of well-designed traffic signals, with separate lanes and signals for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, with priority for more vulnerable road users, encourages respect for rules of the road that are lacking here.

Underpinning the infrastructure, strict liability laws protect cyclists from motorists and pedestrians from all other road users, whether on the road or the pavement. With barely a helmet or item of high-visibility clothing in sight, in a well designed environment it is a pleasure to see parents happily carrying children on the backs of their bikes, or cycling alongside their children rather than ensconcing them in motor vehicles.

Returning to Glasgow, I am ashamed to imagine how any Berliner must view our city's transport infrastructure. City planners here have utterly failed to provide a safe environment for all road users. The council and Scottish Government should commit to implementing proper infrastructure for the city and planners should visit Berlin (or Amsterdam or Copenhagen) to learn how a modern city should be designed.

2013-07-08 The Herald
Transparency on surveillance

IT is disappointing that Alison Rowat considers unwarranted routine surveillance of electronic communications to be part of an unspoken contract between governments and citizens ("A thin line between hero and zero for whistleblowers", The Herald, July 5).

The notion runs counter to Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that "no-one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence".

Many people already feared the extent of secret surveillance on ordinary citizens before confirmation from recent revelations, but that does not justify the act. It is naive to assume that surveillance without judicial oversight is always undertaken in the interests of the public rather than for the political benefit of official agencies.

As we learn more about Metropolitan Police interference with the Lawrence family, friends and campaigners, including spying on meetings with lawyers and attempting dig up dirt for smears in a misguided attempt at reputational management, it becomes ever clearer that there must be transparency in the rules governing surveillance; rules which must be enforced and overseen by the courts.

2013-06-19 The Herald
We have everything to fear from mass surveillance operations

"Give me six lines written by the most honourable of men and I will find in them an excuse to hang him," as Cardinal Richelieu may have said.

In six paragraphs, Bill Brown betrays a lack of understanding about modern mass surveillance methods and the risks posed in this digital age (Letters, June 17).

Maintaining mass surveillance does not require numbers of staff beyond the means of Government agencies. Notwithstanding that GCHQ and MI5 employ one person for every 6000 adults in the UK, while making extensive use of additional consultants, interception of digital communications needs not be a labour intensive operation. Automated systems can hoover up data for bulk analysis by computers without bureaucrats monitoring all of the information in real time. That such surveillance may produce inaccurate intelligence is not necessarily a barrier in Whitehall, where the ineffectiveness of big Government IT projects is rarely a major barrier to misconceived implementation.

It may be a comfort to believe that one has nothing to hide or fear but this is a false security. One can never know what false conclusions may be inferred from information about our communications, with adverse consequences when the shadow of suspicion is cast; but even true deductions can be harmful to innocent individuals, revealing health conditions, intimate relationships or a host of other details of our lives that individuals quite rightly wish to keep private. People should be free to seek information about medical conditions (physical or mental), domestic abuse or sexuality, approach rape crisis centres and seek marital advice without fear that civil servants have access to all the intimate details of our lives.

Details now emerging about how UK officials spied on foreign delegates' phone and internet use at the 2009 London G8 summit amply demonstrate how surveillance is used to advance Government policy objectives. For political activists, whistleblowers corresponding with journalists, or anyone who might ever be an irritation to current or future governments, there is everything to fear from a permanent record of our communications.

2013-06-07 The Herald
Privacy implications of Scotland's bus passes

DR John Welford describes the similarities between concessionary bus passes and ID cards ("Open letter to readers: The Scottish identity card scandal", The Herald, June 6).

It would be appropriate for the Scottish Government to now review the privacy implications of these passes (National Entitlement Cards) and their associated Citizens Accounts.

Following well-publicised losses of large quantities of sensitive personal data by HM Revenue & Customs and other public bodies several years ago, the Scottish Government reviewed information security and data handling procedures.

Subsequently, it published new guidelines: The Identity Management and Privacy Principles (Privacy and Public Confidence in Scottish Public Service); an excellent set of principles which was well received and contributes to much good practice in the way that government agencies now design systems for storing and sharing personal data securely.

Unfortunately, National Entitlement Cards and Citizens Accounts were designed before these guidelines were written. The guidelines state that bus passes should prove entitlement without requiring the user to reveal unnecessary personal information, so age-restricted services should simply require proof of age rather than more detailed information; large centralised databases should be avoided; and persistent identifiers should not be shared between different systems. Scottish concessionary travel cards fail on all of these points.

It will undoubtedly require time and money to redesign smart bus passes to adhere to the Scottish Government's privacy principles. Meanwhile, concessionary ticket holders should be given the option of using old-fashioned, and cheaper, passes that simply confirm entitlement to travel on the basis of a photograph.

2013-06-06 Telegraph
Are British universities training Iranian nuclear physicists? The Foreign Office doesn't want to tell us
In an article about FCO reticence to release information about the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS):

The FCO also turned down a request from Dr Geraint Bevan, an engineering lecturer at Glasgow, asking how much the scheme cost to run – again, citing national security.

2012-06-13 The Herald
Council should not have stored unencrypted details

IT is with astonishment and dismay that I learn that the bank details of thousands of individuals were stored unencrypted on a laptop stolen from Glasgow City Council offices at the end of May ("Details of 'vulnerable' residents on stolen computer", The Herald, June 12).

Given the high-profile afforded security of personal data in recent years, including reviews following the loss of CDs containing child benefit payment data which led to the publication of the Scottish Government's guidelines on identity management and privacy principles, it is inexcusable for the council to show such reckless disregard for residents' personal data. Such data should never have been stored on an unencrypted laptop.

2012-04-05 The Herald
Licence to spy on our web activity would be unjustified and immoral

COLETTE Douglas-Home is right to rail against Westminster's continuing plans to spy on all our web activity ("We would be fools not to fight this snoops' charter", The Herald, April 3).

It is important to be clear just how intrusive the proposal is. The Government seeks to hide the true scope of the data that would be collected by pretending that there is some distinction between "traffic data" and "content" on the web. It is an entirely false proposition. Knowing the address of a website that someone has visited allows the content to be viewed.

People seeking information about rape crisis centres, medical symptoms, pregnancy, paternity or abortion services, divorce lawyers, or anything else that might be sensitive in their personal context, would be faced with the knowledge that myriad state workers would be able to infer very private information. And it is not just the state.

After the revelations of the Leveson inquiry, nobody could credibly suggest that such data would not filter through to tabloid newspapers on an industrial scale.

In this time of austerity, with beloved public services being cut, high-salaried civil servants are being paid to find a way to squander billions of pounds on this unjustifiable, immoral and unwanted scheme. The Home Office is a cancer at the heart of the British state and needs to be cut out entirely.

2012-02-23 The Herald
There is no place in a democracy for mass surveillance

Colette Douglas Home is right to worry about the level of surveillance to which we are routinely subjected and her points about ubiquitous CCTV are well made ("It is time we stood up to the Big Brother mentality", The Herald, February 21).

However, there is a greater threat to privacy than visible cameras: the hidden records of the database state. Alas, it now appears that the Home Office is preparing to reincarnate its previously abandoned Intercept Modernisation Programme, in the form of a Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP).

It is believed the CCDP will provide the Government with access, via internet service providers, to long-lasting records of all our internet communication, whether by email, social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter (including private direct messages) and multi- player games.

This is on top of the records that are already retained about our telephone use.

The UK Government's belief in its entitlement to snoop on all of us has got completely out of hand in recent years and is entirely contrary to the spirit of Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which both declare the right to privacy of correspondence.

There are occasions when it is necessary for the police to intercept communications as part of criminal investigations but these should be executed on a targeted basis with specific authorisation from the courts.

Routine unwarranted mass surveillance has no legitimate part to play in the workings of a modern liberal democracy.

2011-11-10 The Herald
Biometric checks should be halted

It is ironic that Brodie Clark, former chief of the UK Border Agency, should complain about being found guilty without being given the chance to respond (“Head of Border Force hits back at May”, The Herald, November 9).

That approach seems to have been the agency’s standard operating practice for several years, with applicants routinely and erroneously denied leave to remain and then left to appeal through the courts at greater public expense than would have been incurred by fair assessments in the first instance.

Nevertheless, the crisis at the UK Border Agency appears to have been precipitated by the long queues that resulted from biometric checks that were introduced to facilitate the defunct National Identity Scheme.

Rather than worrying about which passengers were subject to these checks, the Home Office would be better advised to recognise that reliance on flawed technology is a waste of everyone’s time. The Home Office should abandon its biometric experiments and return to human scrutiny of paper documents; a tried and trusted method that needn’t lead to ridiculously long queues.

2011-09-16 The Herald
Cyclists do pay

The refrain from Alan Taylor, that cyclists should pay for cycle-friendly roads, ignores the inconvenient fact that cyclists already do (“Let’s make cyclists pay their own way”, The Herald, September 14).

Urban roads are financed through council tax, not vehicle licensing.

Alan Taylor complains cyclists don’t use cycle lanes even when they are provided. That is because they tend to be death traps; obviously designed by people who have never ridden a bicycle in their lives. Cycle lanes that start and end abruptly, terminate before dangerous junctions, require cyclists on main roads to give way to side roads, or attempt to constrain cyclists to narrow strips of pot-hole strewn tarmac, serve no useful purpose.

Local authorities really should put more effort into making roads safe for cyclists.

2011-05-16 The Herald
Smartcards would significantly increase public transport use in Scotland

Councillor Jonathan Findlay, chairman of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, opines that Transport Scotland has created a strong platform for an integrated multi-operator system and suggests that plans are well advanced for deployment of multi-operator cashless smartcards for Glasgow’s Subway (Letters, May 14).

In developing these cards, it is to be hoped that greater thought is being given to personal privacy than has been the case for the national concessionary bus scheme. If these smartcards are to be successful, they must offer the ability to travel anonymously without logging each person’s journey history on the expensive databases that generally add so much to the cost and complexity of such schemes.

In particular, the developers of the Subway cards must ensure they are fully conversant with, and abide by, the new Identity Management and Privacy Principles published by the Scottish Government in December last year.

2011-05-11 The Herald
Well done on an SNP victory but how will party pay for its policies?

Dr Alexander S Waugh correctly identifies that the SNP secured a majority of seats in Holyrood despite falling about 5% short of receiving half the votes (Letters, May 9).

This is not as disproportional a result as in Westminster elections, but could be improved. However, his proposed solution – to adopt a single ballot Additional Member System – fails to fully address a greater problem in last week’s election.

The capricious interaction of constituency and list ballots gave voters little control over which candidates from each party were actually elected, with the impact of list votes dependent upon results in neighbouring constituencies. Under AMS, a voter would still not know which candidate from a particular party they were helping to elect. Furthermore, any system that depends upon a closed list puts power of selection in the hands of political parties rather than the electorate.

A better system by far would be STV. With the Scottish Government determined to see amendments to Westminster’s Scotland Bill, it would be appropriate to also demand the use of STV for all future elections in Scotland.

2011-05-04 The Scotsman
Existing system has more flaws than AV

Vivian Linacre (Letters, 3 May) suggests the alternative vote (AV) will give more power to political parties. In fact, AV would transfer power from political parties to the electorate.

Whereas the current system dissuades similar candidates from standing against each other for fear of splitting the vote, abandoning the antiquated first-past-the-post system would allow voters to select from more nuanced positions.

Thus, for example, voters could be offered the choice of an independent Labour candidate as well as an official Labour candidate, without fear of letting a Tory win the election as a result.

The alternative vote system would also help to encourage smaller parties to stand, thus further enhancing voter power.

While 50 per cent of votes would be required to elect a representative, thus making it difficult for niche parties to get elected, AV would eliminate the need for tactical voting and hence allow smaller parties with genuine broad appeal to build support.

AV certainly has deficiencies, including lack of proportionality. But it is better than the current flawed system in every respect.

2011-03-30 The Herald
Students putting club to good use

John Montgomery accuses those who are occupying Glasgow University’s Hetherington Research Club of vandalism and describes them as being not interested in their studies (Letters, March 28).

The occupation against the Principal Professor Anton Muscatelli’s proposed cuts has certainly polarised opinion at the university, but this description of the students seems to be an unfair characterisation.

I don’t know if Mr Montgomery has visited the building, but if he does so he will find that in addition to a programme of cultural activities, enhanced with occasional visits from celebrities such as Billy Bragg and Ken Loach, the occupants are engaged in academic development with activities such as maths tutorials and seminars with guest lecturers.

The Hetherington Research Club is now being put to far better use than it has been for most of the last year, during which time it had stood empty after the university’s management closed it down.

2011-03-11 The Herald
Generating income should not be main purpose of universities

Professor Barry Gusterson suggests that universities are now businesses with corporate responsibilities and says that institutions such as Glasgow University must focus on profitable departments and charge tuition fees if they are to maintain their positions on the international stage (Letters, March 8).

It is perhaps instructive to look closely at the elite institutions with which Scottish universities are competing in the world. At Ivy League universities in the United States, tuition fees play only a minor role compared to the large endowments gifted by alumni. Harvard University manages an endowment fund of approximately $39 billion, more than half the total Scottish Government budget, while Stanford has approximately $14 billion to its name. Tuition fees from Scottish students will never come close to bridging that kind of funding gap.

Universities are great wealth creators, but it makes no sense to measure that wealth in terms of direct income generated on their balance sheets. The true wealth is generated by developing the talents of individuals and the knowledge generated within these communities of scholars.

Of course university principals must ensure that the institutions in their care remain financially viable, but generating cash should not be an end in itself. Income generation should be used to maintain the service of universities to their local communities and the wider Scottish economy.

Part of that service is the education of undergraduate students and it is therefore welcome that Scottish political parties now seem to be shying away from the introduction of tuition fees. Graduates who reap career benefits from their degrees pay more income tax throughout their working lives. General taxation and investment from industry are the right way to fund higher and further education in Scotland.

2011-02-22 The Scotsman
Voting progress

Regarding the proposed introduction of the alternative vote (AV) for Westminster elections, John R Murdoch (Letters, 21 February) wonders how voters are to "put, in preferential order, people they have never heard of, let alone recognise". The current first-past-the-post system is no better in this respect. There is no reason to believe that a system in which voters specifying a single candidate of whom they know nothing leads to better selection of politicians.

Fortunately, however, the question has already been answered. At the last Scottish council elections, voters successfully elected councillors using the single transferable vote, which appears identical to AV when voters complete their ballot paper. There is nothing to fear from reform of the electoral system.

2011-02-20 Sunday Herald
Aitken must resign committee role

In response to the rape of a woman by three men in Glasgow city centre, Bill Aitken MSP is reported to have said: "Somebody should be asking her what she was doing in Renfrew Lane" and "There’s always a lot more to these city-centre rapes than meets the eye".

These remarks are disgraceful and would be unacceptable coming from any MSP, but Bill Aitken is the Convenor of Holyrood's Justice committee. If the report is true, his position on that committee is entirely untenable and he should resign immediately.

2011-01-08 The Scotsman
Body of evidence against biometric scans

Peter Nield, convener of education at Angus Council, says it is important that biometric technology is secure (Letters, 6 January), betraying a poor understanding of the inherent fallibility and insecurity of such systems.

All security systems depend on one or more of three components: something you have (a token); something you know (a secret); and something you are (a biometric).

It is telling that banks rely on plastic cards (tokens) and personal identification numbers (secrets) rather than customers' biometrics to authorise transactions.

Unlike tokens and secrets, biometrics cannot be revoked and re-issued after they have been compromised by fraudsters.

Biometrics are easily compromised. Fingerprints, which are most widely used, can be lifted from glasses that people have handled, from laptop computers they have touched, or from many other surfaces. Forensic scientists working for the police have demonstrated this for decades.

Researchers have shown that, once an imposter has obtained a copy of a fingerprint, biometric recognition systems can be fooled by a multitude of means: from simple photocopies and imprinted jelly sweets to the more sophisticated fake Latex finger coverings used by illegal immigrants to circumvent Japan's biometric border controls.

Biometrics are also discriminatory. In controlled laboratory trials conducted for the Home Office, it was found that 4 per cent of disabled people were unable to enrol successfully with fingerprint recognition systems.

But regardless of the limitations of biometric technology, many people feel a deep unease about fingerprinting children; teaching them that it is normal to identify themselves to the authorities at every turn. Mr Nield may be happy to carry an ID card, have his irises scanned and submit to arbitrary DNA testing, but he must recognise that his view is a minority one. This is not what we should be teaching schoolchildren about the society they live in.

2010-12-30 The Herald
Advantages of Scottish Parliament system

Harry Reid suggests that having one person to represent all constituents in a specific geographical area is “workable and effective”; a valuable part of British life (“Why Cable sting damages the conduct of our politics”, The Herald, December 28). I beg to differ. No restaurant would serve meals to customers on the basis of their post codes rather than their dietary preferences; minorities such as vegetarians or coeliacs would be doomed to eternal disappointment in such an establishment.

It is similarly absurd to think that voters can be represented effectively by politicians who do not share their values or political priorities. No single person can represent all the opinions held in a parliamentary constituency. Furthermore, those with an MP on the government payroll will know that there is no possibility of effective representation when the only recourse is to a politician with a ministerial career at stake.

A great benefit of multi-member constituencies is that citizens have the opportunity to choose which of several politicians can best represent their interests on any particular matter. In this regard, Scottish councils and the Scottish Parliament serve the electorate well.

2010-12-20 The Herald
Our students should not be loaded with debt before they even begin their careers

Alastair Knox resents paying for the education of students who drop out after one year and suggests that it is not fair that minimum-wage workers should support them (Letters, December 18). Most of these students know all about minimum wage work, having to support themselves part-time in addition to their full time studies. Whereas students of Dr Knox’s generation could benefit from maintenance grants and concentrate on their education, that option is not available to most of today’s students. Lack of time for independent study is widely recognised as a significant contributory factor to poor retention rates.

Among some older people who have benefited from a prosperous society, there seems to be an unfortunate desire to protect their accumulated wealth by kicking away the ladders of opportunity for the younger generation. Whereas the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Dr Vince Cable, spoke eloquently about the dangers of personal debt before the current financial crisis, he is now complicit in heaping such debt on students south of the border. Meanwhile, newly-indebted graduates can look forward to a future where there is little job security, final salary occupational pension schemes are closed to new entrants and property markets are entirely out of reach. Generational warfare is certainly not fair on the young.

We must do better than that in Scotland. Students should not be loaded with debt before they even begin their careers. Everyone benefits from a well-educated and learned society. Education funded through general taxation is both fair and efficient, with the greatest burden falling to those with the highest incomes; those who reap the most from our educated society.

2010-12-17 The Herald
It is not the job of the police to discourage genuine peaceful political demonstration

Chief Superintendent Bob Hamilton describes large numbers of people dashing around, entering shops and banks in large numbers and impeding the free flow of traffic through Glasgow city centre; a succinct description of a typical Christmas shopping day (Letters, December 15).

It is reassuring to note that there is no mention of any threat of violence, damage to property or rioting. I am, therefore, surprised that he believes such a seemingly peaceful situation warranted the mass detention of students in George Square, where they were presumably not occupying shops or banks, along with passers-by who were not involved in the students’ protest.

Of possibly greater concern than the detention of people who have committed no crime, is the chief superintendent’s complaint that no permission had been sought from the police before the protest and that there had been no prior engagement with the police. Such a complaint might be reasonable in China or the former Soviet bloc. It is certainly not reasonable to require police authorisation for protests in what is supposed to be a free society.

I am generally supportive of Strathclyde Police, who do an excellent job of keeping the city centre safe. However, it is abundantly clear that, across the UK, the police are using mass detention of protesters as a way of punishing dissent and discouraging young people from taking part in future demonstrations of their political frustration. In this regard, the police are failing in their duty. It should not be the role of the police to discourage dissent or act to ease pressure on the Government. If troublemakers commit crimes, then the police should arrest them or identify them for later prosecution; but we do not live in a police state and the police should cherish and protect citizens’ right to free assembly.

2010-12-08 The Herald
Millions of people already had access to the sensitive information put out by WikiLeaks

Publication of the list of sites considered vital to US interests does seem reckless but, with senior US politicians calling for the assassination of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, we should perhaps ask where the fault truly lies (“Scots firm on WikiLeaks list”, The Herald, December 7).

The sites were identified by US diplomats (part of their job) and distributed to embassies by the State Department. As part of that distribution, the cable was placed on a large database to which millions of US citizens have remote access. At least one of those vetted citizens downloaded the database and passed it to WikiLeaks which, under considerable pressure at present, decided to publish.

It is a truism that any country with an effective intelligence service (Russia? China?) already had agents with access to the database. Are we to believe that none of the millions of vetted Americans has sympathy with violent domestic or foreign organisations that might wish to harm the US government? That not one of the millions of vetted US soldiers is sympathetic to al Qaeda?

Remembering Fort Hood, are we to believe that none of the vetted millions has mental health problems that might make them wish to lash out?

If workers at factories across the world are at risk because of this list, then surely much of the blame must lie with those who first decided to make sensitive data so widely available; those who first decided to publish the information on a database to which millions of vetted citizens have access.

2010-12-01 The Herald
Leaks reveal extent of American ambition to build up databases on European citizens

In September 2009, US diplomats at the embassy in Berlin cabled Washington to say that German politicians should be provided with further information and reassurance about data protection. Never again let it be said that our American friends can’t do irony (“US Secretary of State denounces leaks as an attack on the world”, The Herald, November 30).

At that time, they noted concerns, particularly by Germany’s Free Democratic Party – now part of the ruling coalition – about the sharing of Europeans’ personal data with US security services. The context was concern about the transfer of passenger name records, which may contain a range of information including payment details, email addresses, meal preferences (possibly indicating religion) as well as biographic data about air passengers.

A subtext of the cable is a perceived conflict between European privacy and American security. We now know that the US State Department felt able to share the utterances of presidents, prime ministers and kings with millions of US citizens, including routine unrestricted access for privates in the army. With how many millions of people do they share passengers’ biographic and credit or debit card details?

In truth, there is no conflict between privacy and security; good data hygiene enhances both. The real conflict is between security and convenience.

The US does have legitimate security concerns, but our government must take measures to ensure that the security and privacy of European citizens is not compromised for the sake of America’s insatiable appetite for information. Congress closed down the Total Information Awareness programme when it learned of plans to accumulate personal data about US citizens. European governments must not be complicit in allowing America to build such databases about us.

2010-11-30 The Herald
Publication of sensitive material shows the danger of having centralised records

It remains to be seen whether the release by WikiLeaks of the Sipdis database, detailing US embassy cables, will lead to a period of more honest international relations, or be the 9/11 of diplomacy, as suggested by Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini (“WikiLeaks: Saudi king wanted US to attack Iran”, The Herald, November 29). However, one immediate lesson can be learned by our governments in London and Edinburgh: centralised recording of sensitive information poses a security risk, even if the databases are protected by the latest military-grade protocols and accessed only by vetted officials.

The Sipdis database was created to facilitate information sharing between various intelligence and defence agencies in the United States. The data have now been shared more widely than the State Department ever intended.

The post-9/11 wish to share intelligence information is mirrored by the desire of British and Scottish agencies to share personal data to facilitate multi-agency interventions.

But just as there is now much anxiety in the State Department, unauthorised release of medical records, information about vulnerable children or personal communication data could cause immense distress to individuals. When developing systems to enable effective collaboration between departments, our public bodies must resist the temptation to create and share centralised records of sensitive personal information about us.

2010-11-05 The Herald
Scots should be proud of their tradition of free education and fight to maintain it

It is shameful that a generation of politicians who, for the most part, were able to benefit from student grants and even housing benefit while studying should now seek to heap massive debt on today’s young scholars (“Thousands of university staff facing redundancy”, The Herald, November 4).

I trust that those who assert it is right that students should pay for their education will be proactive in repaying, retrospectively, the full costs of the state-subsidised education that they and their families have enjoyed.

G McCulloch (Letters, November 1) espoused the virtue of students paying for an education in South Africa but declined to mention that one in seven adults is illiterate in that country.

A Government that cannot provide an education for its young (or, indeed, anyone else) has no business being in Government, or raising taxes for any other purpose. Scotland introduced free education long before England. Our Government can have no higher aim than to maintain this tradition, regardless of any loss of enlightenment south of the border.

2010-09-19 Sunday Herald
Easier ways to cut carbon use

Alan Drever advocates introducing cap-and-share trading or carbon cards to ration personal energy use (Letters, September 12). Such schemes offer no prospect of actually reducing carbon emissions and would lead only to a massive increase in bureaucracy and a black market to rival the drugs trade. If the intention is to price carbon out of the economy, there are far better alternatives, for example, it would be more effective and efficient to increase the tax levied on the few primary extractors of fossil fuels and allow this to filter through the economy.

If implemented with a corresponding increase in every citizen’s personal tax allowance and/or benefit payments, a hefty extraction tax could be tax-neutral while providing a financial incentive for companies and individuals to reduce energy consumption, without introducing bureaucratic waste and readily- exploitable loopholes.

2010-09-07 The Herald
Scotland could lead the world in promoting desperately needed humanitarian work

Major Michael Hamilton’s suggestion for a humanitarian rescue service (Letters, September 4) deserves very serious consideration, whether or not Scotland gains independence or remains part of the UK.

By using funds that are currently squandered on misguided military interventions, such a service could also contribute to an integrated and active international development programme, helping young people to see the world and equipping them constructively to improve living conditions in developing countries, instead of training them to kill.

May I also suggest that building and equipping state-of-the-art hospital ships on the Clyde would be a more productive use of resources than building warships, and a better reflection of local aspirations.

2010-09-06 The Herald
Tony Blair takes a Journey around a bookshop

I wonder if Thomas McLaughlin checked both the “true crime” and “crime fiction” sections while searching for a copy of Tony Blair’s Journey (Letters, September 4).

Booksellers may be having difficulty classifying a book which describes true atrocities perpetuated on the basis of fictitious claims, just as the author himself appears to have problems separating fact from fiction.

2010-06-29 The Herald
Sharing of patients’ data will make GPs become state informers

The Scottish Government’s plan for GPs to share patient registration data with the Home Office seems depressingly familiar.

In 2003, when David Blunkett was Home Secretary, he warned that “health tourism” was draining the NHS. He proposed that anyone registering with a GP or seeking non-emergency health care should be required to present what he then called an entitlement card. This was the start of the National Identity Scheme and health tourism, one of the first of the ever-shifting justifications for the Home Office to spy on citizens using the ID database. Patient data would be placed on the National Identity Register, to be shared across government departments, including what would become the Identity and Passport Service, the UK Border Agency, HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions.

At that time, John Reid (then Health Secretary, later Home Secretary) warned that health tourists were taking the NHS for a ride. However, when pressed, ministers were unable to provide evidence of a genuine problem. In 2005, the Commons Third Select Committee on Health reported: “Although we have received assurances from the government that abuse of the NHS by health tourists does take place, it is difficult to place much weight on these assurances since the government was unable to supply us with any data, not even a rough estimate, of the numbers of people allegedly abusing the NHS, or of the costs associated with this.”

So now, while the new coalition government in Westminster is dismantling the national ID scheme, it appears one of the Home Office’s discredited policies has moved north to Scotland. The Scottish Government wants patient registration data to be shared with the Identity and Passport Service, UK Border Agency and HM Revenue & Customs.

The consequences could be extremely damaging – to the health of individuals and the wider public. Treating GPs as state informers undermines the trust that is essential to the doctor-patient relationship. Health problems that might otherwise be caught early are more likely to remain undiagnosed, leading to greater long-term costs for the health and social security budgets as well as increased personal distress. And it is beyond doubt that using doctors as immigration police will cause some people with treatable communicable diseases to shy away from seeking medical assistance, leaving them to infect the wider community.

The Scottish Government can do better than to repeat the mistakes of the previous UK Government. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s Health Secretary, should abandon plans for GPs to share patient data with the Home Office.

2010-06-02 The Herald
ID cards have been an expensive error

John Hein asks why existing ID cards must be invalidated (Letters, June 1). He has perhaps failed to realise that with the repeal of the Identity Cards Act and promised physical destruction of the intrusive national identity register and all information on it, there will be no record of what cards have been issued to whom.

Given the ease with which these cards can be forged, that would present a significant weakness in UK border controls for the next decade.

The entire basis of the identity scheme was fundamentally flawed.

Card-holders may be upset at the loss of the £30 they paid, but that is small change compared to the tens of thousands of pounds every card issued cost taxpayers.

Training border officials and building infrastructure to recognise the 15,000 unverifiable cards held by early adopters would waste further millions of pounds on former Home Secretary David Blunkett’s folly.

2010-05-31 The Herald
Apology and offer to repay money show that MP knew he had broken the rules

David Laws is the victim of a poorly designed system that brings financial accountability into conflict with personal privacy. The expenses abuses revealed last summer were only detectable with detailed knowledge of MPs’ living arrangements; but those abuses were also only possible because of the flawed system of claiming back expenses that parliament operates.

At one time, it was common for people working away from home to be compensated with daily rates for meals and accommodation. But in recent years, a bureaucratic obsession with ensuring that no-one should ever profit from an

undeserved penny has led to an excess of auditing, with every receipt required to be presented, categorised and scrutinised – at great expense.

Overly complex bureaucratic systems increasingly intrude excessively into people’s private lives, whether for purposes of tax and benefit calculation or simply counting concessionary journeys on buses. Who benefits from all this paperwork if it costs more to process than the sums saved?

As the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury reflects on what happened to his predecessor, he would do well to consider whether his department’s desire to have every detail of our lives itemised is perhaps a little excessive. Other politicians would do well to consider that intrusive systems which require intricate monitoring and regulation are often more prone to catastrophic failure than robust systems designed with simplicity in mind.

2010-05-27 The Herald
There are ways to reduce the cost of concessions for bus travel without scrapping the scheme

Means-testing concessionary bus passes would undoubtedly add considerably to the administrative costs of the scheme. In austere times, we should instead be seeking ways to reduce the burden on taxpayers. A first step would be to eliminate the costly inspection and auditing systems currently employed, including the intrusive database of individual passengers’ journeys.

After several years of operation, sufficient data must have been acquired to allow a reasonable statistical analysis of the use of each route by concessionary card-holders. It would benefit the public purse if Transport Scotland now scrapped its privacy-deficient journey database, the associated card-scanning equipment on buses and associated audit functions, and instead agreed a flat fee for each route that would be fair to both taxpayers and the bus companies. These flat fees could be implemented as conditions of each franchise.

What possible argument can there be against a measure that would enhance passenger privacy while cutting costs?

2010-05-26 The Herald
Greater choice of candidates is needed in the contest for Labour’s leadership

There is merit in Robert Armstrong’s suggestion (Letters, May 25) that four-year fixed-terms parliaments for Westminster would be better than five-year terms, to reduce the risk of voter confusion and to allow electors to focus on the specific competencies of a single legislature at each election. Four-year terms would also gives voters relatively more power over the government.

To reduce further the risk of voter confusion, it would be preferable if MPs were elected by single transferable vote, which is used for Scottish council elections, rather than introducing a new alternative vote system. This would have the additional benefit of providing greater proportionality in the final result.

It is not actually necessary that Scottish MPs be elected by precisely the same method as their English and Welsh counterparts. In the forthcoming legislation on electoral reform, consideration should be given to putting responsibility for all Scottish elections in the hands of the Scottish Parliament.

2010-05-19 The Herald
Labour has been neither progressive nor served those most in need of help

Ed Miliband, contender for leadership of Labour, now recognises that ID cards were a mistake and the last government was “casual” in its attitude to civil liberties. It is a pity he didn’t reach this conclusion while in government and able to do something about it, but his conversion is welcome nevertheless.

By the end of the last parliament, every significant political party except Labour had recognised that erosion of civil liberties had gone too far and pledged to reverse the trend. It now appears the Labour Party is in the process of gradually recognising its excesses while in power.

The coalition government is committed to scrapping the ID scheme and next-generation biometric passports (a new national fingerprint database), outlawing non-consensual fingerprinting of school children, remodelling the English and Welsh DNA database along Scottish lines, restoring the right to non-violent protest and a host of other measures.

All of these steps are extremely welcome. But with an emerging consensus that what went before was ill-judged, parliament should go further and try to prevent such mistakes from happening again. Beyond merely unravelling the mistakes of the past, the emerging consensus offers an opportunity to make a positive step for the future.

Parliament should give serious consideration to digital rights. Individuals must have control over how their personal data are used. Consent must be at the heart of any personal data collection, collation and sharing. The arrogance of bureaucrats who see data protection as a hurdle to be circumvented must be ended.

A new data protection model is required – one that puts individuals in control of how personal information is processed. The issues are complex and will require MPs to familiarise themselves with technical matters. But a good start has been made by the Scottish Government’s Privacy Working Group, which has generated a useful set of identity management and privacy principles. That document should form the basis of new UK legislation above and beyond the Great Repeal/Freedom Bill that is planned.

2010-05-05 The Herald
A more nuanced system for our elections would discourage dogmatic political folly

“Strong government”, glorified by adherents of the political status quo, can indeed be provided by military dictatorships, as Stephen Smith suggests (Letters, May 3). We are at little risk of a military coup in Britain, but do suffer from what Lord Hailsham coined an “elective dictatorship”. Our political system delivers political power to one of two tribes (neither supported by a majority of the electorate) and the unchanging bureau­cracy at the heart of Whitehall.

Our first past the post electoral system is a barrier to reform and improvement. In the words of Neil Innes (Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band): “Nobody can win. No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.”

“Strong government” (rigid, inflexible, uncompromising) has not served us well. With a virtually guaranteed majority for the government, parliament serves no more purpose than a rubber stamp.

Political discourse is stifled for the sake of party unity, with broad coalitions of competing interests pretending to agree (or disagree, in the case of the opposition) with everything the government proposes.

A more fluid, nuanced system is possible if we introduce one that allows voters to express true preferences, resulting in a larger number of smaller parties representing different views. We have seen in the Scottish Parliament that this can work. No Scottish Parliament would have approved expenditure of billions of pounds on compulsory ID cards. A need for compromise discourages dogmatic folly.

If opinion polls are to be believed, this election offers a historic opportunity to achieve lasting electoral reform by voting for a hung parliament. I would urge everyone to vote in this election; and to vote tactically for change.

2010-03-31 The Herald
MPs’ tax returns should be published annually

Not content with snooping on our emails, texts and surfing, the government wants the power to intercept our mail, ostensibly so HMRC can investigate tobacco smuggling, but with powers drafted much more widely.

Perhaps now would be an opportune time to demand that the tax returns of all MPs be published in full, on an annual basis. At a stroke, the public would have insight into the financial probity of our representatives; and MPs can hardly complain about the intrusion if they are willing to sacrifice so much of our privacy for the sake of potential lost taxes.

2010-03-18 The Herald
Punish MPs who squander our taxes and liberties

This week Under-Secretary of State for Identity Meg Hillier MP asked businesses to come up with ideas for how national identity cards and the ID database could be used. Four years after the legislation was passed, the Home Office is still unable to give any justification for this scheme.

It has long been evident that ID cards are a solution in search of a problem. Meanwhile, the government is spending almost £250,000 every day promoting these useless pieces of plastic. Yet since the first cards were issued last year, less than 2% of the population has expressed an interest in applying for a card. With the economy in tatters, every worker who fears job cuts or faces a pay freeze should reflect on this colossal waste of funds. It is time for the public to start punishing those MPs who so recklessly squander our taxes and liberties.

2010-03-13 The Herald
Coalition government indicates a strong parliament and reflects the public’s wishes

Harry Reid suggests (“Election will test the people, not politicians”, The Herald, March 11) that voting for a hung parliament would be an abdication of responsibility on the part of the British electorate; the result of indecision. I beg to differ.

Our corrupt electoral system means that the proportion of MPs elected from each party does not reflect the true preferences of the electorate. The truth is that neither Labour nor the Conservatives can command the support of even a quarter of the British public. In the 2005 General Election, those two parties polled a combined total of only 43% of the eligible vote. Significantly more people abstained (39%) than voted for either party (23% and 20% respectively). Hardly a mandate to govern or a ringing endorsement of their visions for our future.

There seems to be a belief prevalent that single-party domination of the House of Commons is necessary for strong government. But a strong government means a weak parliament; and vice versa.

Government ministers should fear parliament, not treat it as a rubber stamp for their shoddy legislation and partisan performances.

Mr Reid recalls enduring minority government in 1974. And yet it seems to work now in Scotland. The difference is that with fixed parliamentary terms, politicians are forced to seek to consensus, whereas variable terms in Westminster instead invite posturing for immediate electoral advantage.

We should be voting for a strong parliament with fixed terms and a composition that truly reflects the preferences of the public. A hung parliament offers by far the best chance of achieving that necessary constitutional reform; and what better time than now?

Believers in democracy should make a definite decision to vote tactically to prevent any one party from dominating the next parliament.

2010-02-24 The Herald
Radioactive waste is the big problem

Professors Colin McInnes and Ken Ledingham make a strong case for nuclear power, but argue that unspent fuel is perhaps the most contentious issue (“A solution to the power struggle”, The Herald, February 23).

Residents of Chernobyl might beg to differ. Nuclear fission brings with it the risk of catastrophic failure and the problem of safe disposal of radioactive waste.

Nuclear reactors are relatively safe; they rarely fail. But when they do fail, the results can be devastating.

If safety is put above all else, if financial considerations are not allowed to impact on design and operation, engineers can surely minimise the risk of catastrophic failure.

Some may believe that we can trust politicians and regulators to ensure that the public good is put before profit and loss accounts. But there is not yet any solution to the problem of toxic waste. Future generations will not thank us for leaving them a legacy of highly radioactive isotopes that will remain dangerous for hundreds of millenniums to come.

Proponents of nuclear power must first answer the question: what will be done with the waste?

2010-02-19 The Herald
Body scanners serve very little purpose

Bill Brown wonders how anyone can object to body scanning at airports, asserting that no passenger is entitled to privacy when absence of weapons contributes to flight safety (Letters, February 17). Presumably, he would support a requirement for all passengers to fly naked.

Mr Brown’s position is clearly predicated on the belief that body scanners aid the detection of weapons, but there is scant evidence to support that view. Indeed, a German TV programme recently decided to put a British scanner to the test. It failed. Our government is keen on expensive but useless security theatre. It will sacrifice our privacy given any opportunity to be seen to be doing something … anything. But these scanners would not have detected the explosives used in the attempted Christmas day attack, so what purpose do they serve?

Rather than wasting money on immature and intrusive technology to provide false comfort to gullible travellers, it might be more constructive if the government would instead acknowledge the extent to which British meddling abroad has contributed to the increased risk of terror attacks that now threaten our safety.

2010-01-15 The Herald
Measures such as those used in Northern Ireland can prevent electoral corruption

Brian Currie suggests that voters should be required to present passports or driving licences before voting. But 20% of the British population do not hold a passport and a significant proportion of that number do not drive.

Furthermore, given that passports are the first documents in line to be “designated” – ie, to require the applicant to enrol on the National Identity Register – and driving licences are widely expected to follow, such a move would disenfranchise the many thousands of civic-minded citizens who have pledged never to register for an identity card.

And even if one assumes that election officials would be able to distinguish valid documents from fraudulent ones – the Identity and Passport Service certainly isn’t set up to handle 40 million queries in a day – what would be the point?

Voter fraud is hardly a pressing problem in this country.

A far greater democratic deficit exists because most of the millions of valid votes cast have absolutely no effect on the election outcome, thanks to an antiquated and rotten electoral system that serves only the interests of the two largest parties. Before tampering with the way that eligibility to vote is decided, we should focus on making votes count.

2010-01-09 The Herald
Now we are all to be viewed as slaves

Advertisements for the national identity scheme have started to appear on the internet, and they give a startling insight into the Home Office mindset.

One of the adverts shows an ID card being used to identify Spartacus from a crowd. Apparently the Home Office sees similarities between national registration of the UK population and the oppression of slaves by the Roman empire.

The parallels between the Home Office’s ID scheme and the Roman empire do not end there.

From this week, the catchment area for enrolling people on the national identity register has been extended across the north-west of England to the Scottish border.

Scots must again stand strong against this menace from the south.

2009-12-29 The Herald
Indiscriminate screening of our activities won’t make it any safer to travel by air

The Christmas Day attack on the Northwest Airlines flight reveals a fundamental flaw in the security policy of western governments: a misguided belief in the efficacy of data profiling (“Yemen provides possible link to al Qaeda as bomber suspect prepares for Detroit court”, The Herald, December 28).

But relying on data profiling techniques is reckless security theatre.

None of the airport charades performed on that day made any difference to the outcome of the attack.

During the last decade, the UK and US governments have sought to gather as much information as possible about each of us, in the misguided belief that a large mass of data equates to high quality intelligence.

It is for this reason that airlines are now required to inform the UK Borders Agency of our meal and seating preferences, credit card details and e-mail addresses, while internet service providers and telecoms companies retain records of our personal communications for subsequent inspection by the security services.

The reality is that this intrusive collection of excessive data dilutes the value of any useful information held.

By placing everyone under suspicion, the government merely lowers the signal to noise ratio of captured data, thus weakening real security.

The US authorities had been notified that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a potential threat but this information did not rise above the chaff of data recorded about innocent people.

Indiscriminate mass screening of our activities will never be a substitute for proper human-led intelligence.

When searching for a needle in a haystack, it is not wise to add more hay.

It is to be hoped this lesson will soon be learned by our government, preferably before many people have to die to teach it.

Bill Ramsay responds the next day:

The response to the failed attack on the North West Airlines flight is proof the so-called “war on terror” is no such thing. We have an international response, as Dr Geraint Bevan so succinctly outlined (Letters, December 29), that will be ineffective in promoting national security. ...

2009-12-22 The Herald
Christmas number one illustrates obsolete business models of the music corporations

There are half a million reasons why Rage Against The Machine are at number one in the charts this Christmas, but beneath the cacophony is a message for Peter Mandelson.

For years, the music industry has resisted the desire of fans and attempted to suppress legitimate trade in portable music files. It sought to impose unnecessarily high prices and “Digital Rights Management” on consumers, with the aim of preventing the transfer of music between different playback devices. While foisting bland TV pop on the nation, the music corporations complain that file-sharers are killing music.

The UK government has responded by proposing that internet connections should be severed if these companies allege copyright infringement – without bothering about court appearances, trials or natural justice.

Yet Rage Against The Machine sit atop the charts after hundreds of thousands of people paid money to download sensibly-priced, uncrippled music files from legitimate traders; something that has only become possible recently.

Music corporations have suffered because they insisted on clinging to an obsolete business model and fighting against consumers instead of catering to them. Their decline is mostly self-inflicted, not the result of file-sharing.

The message for the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is that the government should stop taking the music industry’s side against consumers and instead leave the market to sort itself out. People will buy products when they are offered what they want at a price they are prepared to pay.

2009-12-15 The Herald
Police complaints

Councillor Paul Rooney’s emphasis on the importance of policing by consent (“Rising number of complaints about police must be taken seriously – but must also be seen in context” Letters December 12) must be warmly welcomed.

Unfortunately, Cllr Rooney also wholeheartedly endorses Police Complaints Commissioner John McNeill’s suggestion that a rise in the number of complaints against police across Scotland may be the result of increased public confidence.

If we accept that argument, must we not then conclude that the reduced number of complaints in Strathclyde is indicative of reduced public confidence locally? Clearly that would be a ludicrous position to adopt.

The way that complaints are initiated against the police has not changed in recent years. Later stages of the complaints process may now be more transparent, but it is untenable to maintain that the initial lodging of a complaint is any more accessible now than formerly; and the statistics show an increase in the number of complaints initiated.

It would be foolish to read too much into the figures for a single year; nor is it necessarily the case that the number of complaints is an appropriate surrogate outcome for measuring public confidence.

But it is unseemly to see that those who are supposed to be holding the police to account are so eager to argue both sides of the coin.

Apparently we are supposed to believe that a reduction in the number of complaints indicates improved performance; and that an increase does likewise. Such spin from public servants serves only to demean whatever good work they may do.

Perhaps the Police Complaints Commissioner and local Police Authorities could now let us know whether their objectives demand an increase or decrease in the number of complaints for the next year – before the statistics are compiled.

2009-12-05 The Herald
Spotlight on CCTV reveals many failings: Scattergun approach does not work

The result of a telephone interview with Alison Campsie, following the publication of three reports on CCTV by the Scottish Government

The Home Office through Scotland’s local authorities has thrown a lot of money at CCTV cameras and then commissioned research which shows they do not stop crime. This has not stopped communities installing them, with Shetland now having more cameras than San Francisco, for example. That just seems ridiculous.

There is evidence that CCTV cameras work for stopping car crime in car parks, but are not very good at preventing crime generally. All the money is spent on CCTV could be used to put police on the streets.

If you have a girl walking home late at night, a camera is unlikely to prevent something happening to her, but a strong police presence might.

CCTV cameras seem to be allied to a general lack of trust that the authorities have in the public. Cameras might help to generate a sense of security, but there is also evidence that would suggest they create insecurity. Therefore we have evidence that cameras don’t make people feel safer or actually make them safer.

We need an evidence-based approach to CCTV, rather than this scattergun approach. Fewer cameras doing the job properly is preferable to having lots of cameras, which make people feel insecure and don’t deliver images of good quality.

2009-11-16 The Herald
Proud of Glasgow

From Glasgow Green and St Enoch Square, to George Square and Buchanan Street, thousands of people ranged across Glasgow city centre on Saturday, united in celebration of our tolerant and diverse society.

Meanwhile, a few score Scottish/English Defence League supporters, who had come to Glasgow from across Britain to preach their message of anti-Islamic hate, huddled behind the protection of police at the intersection of Cambridge Street and Sauchiehall Street after finding themselves outnumbered more than 20 to one by anti-fascist demonstrators.

Solemn speeches at the Scotland United rally recalled victims of race violence, but there was good humour aplenty in the anti-fascist marches. A group of demonstrators dressed as giant bananas trying to purge their community of a carrot provided an entertaining perspective on the stupidity of harassing people on the basis of skin colour. Everyone in Glasgow should be proud that so many local people took to the streets to give voice to our shared values.

Strathclyde Police must also be commended for their policing of the day. Officers, who were out in force, did an admirable job of maintaining the peace while allowing protesters to have their say. Aside from a few SDL/EDL sympathisers giving Nazi salutes in town, there seemed to be few incidents on a day that had the potential to be much more troublesome.

2009-11-02 The Herald
Why have a drugs adviser if he cannot be allowed to speak the truth?

The sacking of Professor David Nutt provides proof, if it were needed, that it is not possible for a scientific advisor to the Home Office to be independent.

It has long been apparent that the Home Office does not deal in the truth and that evidence plays no part in formulating policy. Facts are selected to support the chosen political narrative. Supposedly independent advisors are expected to toe the party line.

The Home Office craves the credibility that scientists can bring to debate, as demonstrated by its unseemly haste to publish incomplete research by the Jill Dando Institute to support enlargement of the national DNA database. The institute has since expressed regret for allowing itself to be used in that way.

Similarly, the Home Office selectively released misleading figures about knife crime, before being reprimanded publicly by the Office of National Statistics.

Scientists and academics should sup with a long spoon when dealing with the Home Office. It is still locked in the mindset of the George W Bush years with faith, spin and vested interests trumping science at every turn. Like the former US president, the Home Office is long overdue for removal from any role in government.

2009-10-31 The Herald
Protect our freedom to communicate

Your editorial (“Policing of internet”, The Herald, October 30) states that “the internet does need to be policed”.

Does it? It is not generally deemed necessary to police telephones (although the East German Stasi did) or to police the postal system (envelopes have yet to be banned, surprisingly).

The Internet Watch Foundation, which has taken on the role of censoring the net in the UK, is entirely unaccountable to the public. Recently, millions of Britons, including universities, were blocked from editing Wikipedia because it had been added to the IWF’s list of banned sites – a list which we are not permitted to know the contents of.

So how is this different to Saudi Arabia or China? We presume the authorities block only information that is truly despicable, but have no way of knowing.

It is not that long since freedom of speech and freedom from surveillance were the things that separated “us” in the West from “them” behind the Iron Curtain; think of those poor souls whose photocopiers were marked so the authorities could keep track of the flow of information. Now our police can seemingly get away with calling for us all to have an internet ID so they can do the same thing.

Certainly, the net can be used for malign purposes, as can any other technology. And the police are entirely right to track down and prosecute those who commit heinous crimes, whether via the net or not. But freedom to communicate has far more positive aspects than negative.

Despite a tendency towards increasingly authoritarian government, the internet provides us with the potential for an era of unprecedented liberation. It would be foolish in the extreme to throw away so much and treat the entire population as criminals, for the sake of the few who abuse the benefits that it offers.

2009-10-22 The Herald
BNP will be hoist by the petard of its own odious words and policies

Rarely do I disagree with Ian Bell, but to abandon our love of free speech when confronted by fascists is not so far removed from the idea of abandoning natural justice when threatened by violent criminals; or opposition to torture when confronted by terrorists (“We cannot grant the BNP the rights it would not grant us”, The Herald, October 21).

If we believe in freedom of conscience, and the freedom to hold and express controversial opinions, then that must apply to all. Can anyone really be happy to let politicians decide what it is acceptable for us to think and say? Would anyone willingly take moral guidance from the likes of Tony Blair or Jacqui Smith?

Certainly, freedom of speech does not imply any right to be heard. None of us is under any obligation to listen to fascists, but to ban people from speaking defiles us more than them. Instead of giving up yet more essential liberties for the sake of a cossetted life, free from the risk of being offended, we should use our liberties to build the world we wish to live in. If fascists preach hatred, more of us should use our freedom of speech to defend the values we hold dear.

On Saturday, November 14, the English/ Scottish Defence League intends to take its brand of Islamophobia to Glasgow’s Central Mosque. Calls for the council or police to ban the demonstration are misguided. Instead, decent Scottish folk should be there to make clear their commitment to an inclusive society in which people are free to live in peace, free from discrimination and prejudice.

Let us not give an undeserved victim status to those who would oppress others. Instead, let them be challenged in public. Let their vile opinions be heard and let decent people reject them on the basis of their own poisonous words.

2009-10-01 The Herald
‘New’ ID card scheme will be compulsory to all intents and purposes

To the rapturous applause of an audience that had been misled, Gordon Brown announced no change of any consequence to the ID scheme ("Brown bids to stave off blues with pledges borrowed, old and new", The Herald, September 30). Passport applicants will still be required "voluntarily" to apply to be placed on the National Identity Register, at their own expense, or forego the right to travel.

They will still be treated like criminals, required to hand over their fingerprints to be recorded on a central file. They will still face lifelong reporting requirements, with fines of up to £1000 for each failure to notify the authorities of any change of personal details. Their sensitive personal data will still be put at risk on a vast and intrusive central database. That database will still log activities whenever an identity check is made: hotel stays, banking transactions, applications for credit, visits to clinics and so on.

The Prime Minister promised that ID cards would not be made compulsory for UK citizens within the next parliament. But the government uses a definition of compulsory that would not be recognised by anyone else. It has been published policy since the scheme was first devised that compulsion would not be imposed on determined refuseniks until the majority of the population had been forced to register by other means – the mechanism of designated documents.

Simply put, anyone applying for a passport or other designated document will be deemed to have made an incomplete application unless they also apply to be registered on the ID database. No compulsion, according to the government, but don’t hope to travel abroad unless you comply.

So the Prime Minister’s announcement meant nothing. In contrast, the reaction of listeners, many of whom mistakenly thought that ID cards were being scrapped, spoke volumes. Even among the government’s firmest supporters, there is a clear desire to be rid of this folly. Mr Brown should heed his conference delegates and make the policy reversal that the whole country could applaud, to scrap the ID scheme entirely.

2009-09-29 The Herald
Absurd waste of money

The Home Office will be wasting £544,000 of our taxes during this financial quarter on an advertising campaign with animated fingerprints designed to promote ID cards.

People aren’t stupid. Hordes of deluded fools will not be clamouring to hand over their cash and fingerprints because of cheerful cartoon characters. Where is the target market? People who would subject themselves and their families to lifelong reporting requirements and electronic surveillance on the basis of an advertising campaign?

While ministers in Brighton talk about tough spending decisions and fiscal responsibility, they preside over a government that squanders our taxes for the most absurd reasons.

2009-09-21 The Herald
Missing the piracy point

The good Cap’n John F Dobson seems to miss the point of International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Letters, September 19).

Participants enjoy its light-hearted fun. They don’t embark on a social commentary of banditry off the coast of Somalia.

But perhaps the more pertinent question is: why are we spending billions on nuclear-armed submarines when the world’s navies cannot protect commercial shipping from these relatively lightly- armed bandits who cause such distress?

Perhaps if our government stopped wasting billions on immoral posturing with useless weapons of mass destruction, our navy could be equipped adequately to counter the real pirate menace.

2009-08-18 The Herald
The government should get on its bike if it is serious about taxing cyclists

The Scottish Government's consultation on its Cycling Action Plan ends this week. Among the proposals is a suggestion that cyclists should pay road tax. It has presumably escaped the notice of the consultation document's authors (presumably motorists) that cyclists already pay disproportionately for maintenance of roads through council tax and that vehicle excise duty, which does not pay for road maintenance, replaced road tax several decades ago.

The consultation document also asks how such a tax might be enforced. If the government wishes to reduce the level of cycling in Scotland, the answer was suggested by Kafka, whose main protagonist in The Trial produced a bicycle licence when the authorities demanded proof of identity from him. Perhaps Scottish National Entitlement Cards could serve that purpose - tracking cycle as well as bus journeys. Alternatively, the government could just get on its bike.

2009-08-07 The Scotsman
Database threat

Robert M Dunn's fears (Letters, 3 August) are entirely justified. It is, indeed, the government's intention to make us "slaves to systems", as Mr Dunn evocatively describes the requirement of government-issued documents for the most mundane of tasks.

At the heart of the national identity scheme is a verification "service" which will be used to check information against the insidious database. As well as logging each verification, thus building a detailed profile of all our lives, the system will allow the government to be the final arbiter of trust.

Opening a bank account would become impossible if the government computer says no. Ministers have also said they want to make it impossible to access non-emergency healthcare without verification against the ID database, and impossible to enrol children in school.

This is the reality of the "voluntary" scheme. Everyone is free to refuse, as long as they don't mind giving up any hope of functioning as a normal member of society.

2009-08-07 The Herald
Another flaw identified

In a judgment that could have far- reaching implications for the national identity scheme, the High Court in London has ruled that the civil service cannot be found liable for damage caused by its record-keeping mistakes. The government has long asserted (without justification) that ID cards would provide a "gold standard" for proof of identity.

But without any possibility of compensation via the courts when the records are inaccurate, any organisation that dares to rely on information provided by the Home Office's identity verification service will be pinning its hopes, and finances, on a system backed by nothing more than fools' gold.

It is highly unlikely that banks and other institutions would be willing to risk their money on the basis of information over which they have no control and for which they have no recourse in case of error. Thus, the idea that ID cards might make it unnecessary for people to carry other forms of documentation look naive at best.

With every passing day, the arguments against the national identity scheme become stronger, as does public opposition to it. It really is time for the government to give up on a bad job, admit it was wrong and scrap the scheme in its entirety.

2009-08-03 The Herald
Denying our identity

Dr Alexander S Waugh's informative letter (The Herald, August 3) describes the Anglicisation of UK passports and identity cards.

The arrogance of Whitehall towards the home nations is mirrored precisely by its lack of respect for citizens.

The whole premise of the national identity scheme is that the population should be catalogued, with each person locked to a single identity - determined by the Home Office in London.

With no respect for the freedom of Scots to adopt names at will, or any respect for the right of people to assert their national identity as they see fit, the national identity scheme is a model of arrogance and bureaucratic control over our lives.

Perhaps the Scottish Government could take a greater role in helping Scots to assert a Scottish identity. Scottish National Entitlement Cards are ID cards in all but name. Rebranding the cards to allow travel in Europe could help protect Scots from the Home Office while saving many of us from ever-increasing passport fees - millions of pounds that would be better spent in the Scottish economy than by overbearing bureaucrats in Whitehall.

2009-07-26 Scotland on Sunday
ID cards herald a snooper state

IT IS simply wrong of James Hall, CEO of the Identity & Passport Service, to suggest that the personal information stored on the National Identity Register is equivalent to the data already collected for passports (Debate, 19 July). The passport database requires only a single name and address at the time of application, together with a copy of the holder's passport photograph.

Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 ( describes 50 classes of information that may be stored on the ID database.

These data include every name by which an applicant has been known, every place of residence (in the UK or elsewhere), a photograph, signature, fingerprints and "other" biometric information (eg iris scans), national insurance number, driver number, passport and identity card numbers issued by other countries, and much else besides.

Anyone enrolling on the ID database will be subjecting themselves to lifelong reporting requirements. There are severe financial penalties for failure to keep the authorities notified of any change of detail.

Furthermore, the ID database will store information of a kind that no government department has ever had access to before, except where the security services have placed suspects under surveillance.

The national identity register's audit trail will record every occasion on which an identity is verified, such as stays in hotels and visits to clinics, providing a detailed profile of every citizen's life.

2009-07-24 The Scotsman
Identity problem

It is simply wrong of James Hall, CEO of the Identity and Passport Service, to suggest that the personal information stored on the National Identity Register is equivalent to the data already collected for passports.

The passport database requires only a single name and address at the time of application, together with a copy of the holder's passport photograph.

Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 describes 50 classes of information that may be stored on the ID database. This includes every name by which an applicant has been known, every place of residence, a photograph, signature, fingerprints and "other" biometric information (eg iris scans), national insurance number, driver number, passport and identity card numbers issued by other countries.

Unlike passport applications, anyone enrolling on the ID database will be subjecting themselves to severe financial penalties for failure to keep the authorities notified of any new details.

Furthermore, the ID database will store information of a kind that no government department has ever had access to before, except where the security services have placed suspects under targeted surveillance.

The national identity register's audit trail will record every occasion on which an identity is verified, such as stays in hotels and visits to clinics, providing a detailed profile of every citizen's life.

Constant misrepresentation of the nature of the scheme by ministers and civil servants is to the government's great discredit.

2009-07-09 The Herald
Costly passports

Passport prices have risen again, to £77.50. When Labour came to power in 1997 a passport cost £18. Ministers claim 70% of the cost of the ID scheme is tied to the issue of new passports. It would be more honest to say 70% of the cost of a passport is to pay for the infrastructure for the national identity scheme.

2009-07-08 The Telegraph
Personal information is the property of individuals, not Whitehall departments

SIR – Philip Johnston (Comment, July 6) rightly addresses the tendency for significant legislation to be introduced by statutory instruments. While considering such regulations today, Parliament will also vote on the Identity Cards Act 2006 (Provision of Information without Consent) Regulations 2009, which is every bit as insidious as the title would suggest.

The Home Office is seeking powers to share information with everyone from the security services to the Department of Transport. Such information would include applications for credit, travel bookings, hotel visits and, potentially, even visits to clinics for medical treatment.

2009-07-06 The Scotsman
Private matter

UNFORTUNATELY, Michael Crosby will have to wait to see any savings from the scrapping of the ID scheme (Letters, 3 July). The government is still going ahead with the expensive and intrusive database and still intends to require compulsory registration of all passport applicants from 2011.

However, Mr Crosby makes a serious point, albeit in jest, in suggesting Tesco could take over the database. If there really were a demand for a central arbiter of identity information, the private sector would have met it long ago.

The truth is that most people prefer to keep their private information to themselves, under their own control to divulge as they see fit. The national identity scheme would never have passed the conceptual stage in the commercial world. Alas, it seems that our politicians have worse judgment than bankers.

2009-07-02 The Scotsman
An ID climb-down?

The new Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, describes himself as an "instinctive" supporter of ID cards (your report, 1 July). Can we take that to mean he has no rational arguments to justify the scheme?

In the face of resolute opposition from pilots, the Home Office has been forced to retreat on its plans to target airport workers first. But no-one should be misled by Mr Johnson's announcement that carrying of ID cards will be voluntary. That was always the case.

The government has not yet backed down on its insistence that passport applicants will have to register on the intrusive ID database. They still intend to waste billions on the project.

All that has changed is that the Home Office has been forced to acknowledge opposition is fiercer than anticipated.

2009-07-01 The Herald
ID database will still be compulsory

In the face of resolute opposition from airline pilots, the Home Office had little option but to back down on its plans to target airport workers with the first compulsory ID cards. But even in retreat, the government continues to spin and deceive.

Alan Johnson, the new Home Secretary, says that he wants the introduction of ID cards for all British citizens to be voluntary. But he said nothing about the database.

The government still intends to make it compulsory for citizens to enrol on the national identity register when applying for a passport. It still intends to make everyone pay for this intrusion. It still intends to waste billions of pounds on the project.

All that has changed is that the Home Office has been forced to admit that opposition to the scheme is much stronger than it had anticipated.

2009-06-30 The Herald
How to police protests

"The basic principle that the police must remember is that protesters are not criminals." So said Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, when commenting on his committee's report into policing of the G20 protests. In a democracy, such a thing should not need to be said.

The report concludes that insufficient training was a contributory factor to the problems experienced at the G20. But perhaps it is the nature of police training, particularly at the higher levels, that causes the problem.

Serried ranks of officers decked out in paramilitary kit with arms and armour are not conducive to good relations with those who are being policed.

Those officers will have undergone riot training, during which they have been pelted with missiles by their colleagues and taught to intimidate those they face. Good training for dealing with violent riots; lousy training for dealing with peaceful protesters who want to change the world.

"Protesters are not criminals." It shouldn't need to be said, but perhaps all police officers should rehearse the line before policing any protest.

2009-06-24 The Herald
No pay rise: instead link MPs’ salaries to how many votes they receive

The suspense was palpable. Who would be the next speaker? ("Clean break' Bercow is elected Speaker", The Herald, June 23.) As we waited and waited, so did the MPs. The Order Paper shows that there was no other business in the Commons. No committees scrutinised legislation. No ministers were called to account for their actions.

Our taxes have just paid (salaries plus allowances plus subsidised meals) for 640-odd MPs to spend a day in London doing nothing but voting for a new Speaker. In Holyrood, the vote would have been concluded in a matter of minutes. And at the end of it, MPs chose a Speaker who believes they need a pay rise.

An alternative proposal: MPs' salaries should be set in direct proportion to the number of votes they receive at their election. Maybe then MPs might start to consider how to engage with the bulk of the electorate who do not vote for them, finally bringing a semblance of legitimacy to that rotten parliament.

A reply from Ruth Marr (2009-06-25): Reasons for public anger over remuneration packages paid to our bankers and politicians

I laughed when I read Dr Geraint Bevan's suggestion of paying MPs a salary linked to the number of votes they get (Letters, June 24). The imagination boggles at the prospect of seedy "votes for sale" scams springing up in constituencies or panicky MPs desperately handing out tenners instead of manifestos.

Dr Bevan correctly points out that, under the Holyrood system, the Speaker would have been elected without expensive time-wasting. [...]

2009-06-19 The Herald
Firing blanks

It is simply astonishing just how much ███████ has been bought at public expense.

2009-06-11 The Herald
Constitutional reform is far too important to be left to politicians

The Prime Minister's statement on constitutional reform cuts little ice.

Does anyone still believe that MPs, as a whole, can be trusted to act for the public good rather than for naked self-interest? We need reform: a fair voting system; separation of the executive from the legislature; an end to prime ministerial exercise of the royal prerogative; fixed-term parliaments; an elected, or abolished, upper House; an enhanced Bill of Rights; stronger Freedom of Information laws; and a host of other measures besides.

But our MPs cannot be trusted with matters of such importance. The constitution must set constraints on political power. But our MPs, with their absurd notions of "the Crown-in-Parliament" (sovereignty resides with the people, whatever they say) and "the supremacy of the Commons" are not the ones to enact that reform.

Certainly politicians will wish to have their say. But there must be an independent convention to fix our constitution. It is too important to be sacrificed to partisan considerations.

A reply from Chris Parton (2009-06-13?): This is not my idea of democracy where the people are sovereign

Harry S Truman had a sign on his desk saying "The buck stops here", but Truman was wrong. Had he turned out to be a bad president, the blame would be on the electorate - for, as Dr Geraint Bevan shows (Letters, June 11), sovereignty resides with the people. Being a bad politician is not a crime and cannot be punished as such. [...]

2009-06-09 The Herald
Real power in the land

"British jobs for British workers"; "ID cards for foreigners" - the government must accept much of the responsibility for increasing xenophobia in British politics.

Yet despite getting two seats in the European Parliament, the BNP vote was down from the previous election. It won seats because much of the electorate stayed at home; because many people want to give the Westminster government (and other MPs) a good kicking, but are unable to find any positive way of expressing their anger.

A desperate government is clinging to power, offering nuclear weapons, ID cards and increased bureaucratic authoritarianism instead of solutions to the world's problems. Yet there is little chance to ditch it and install a better alternative. Compulsory voting has been espoused in these pages. It would help to keep fascists out of government, by swamping the votes of extremists with those of the majority. But if we are all required to vote, then we should also demand that our votes count, with a fair voting system and "none of the above" option available on every ballot.

Until MPs stop clinging to an electoral system that denies much of the electorate a voice, many people will continue to see little reason to engage positively with politics in our country.

2009-06-05 The Herald
Take the pledge

Dr Ken Macdonald's call for organisations to make a commitment to the Personal Information Promise is one that chief executives should heed (Letters, June 4). Noticeably absent from the list of signatories to the promise are both the UK and Scottish Governments.

Clearly, the UK Government could not sign the pledge in good faith until the Home Office reverses its entire philosophy and loses its obsession with hoarding our personal data.

The Scottish Government is in a better position, but changes to certain policies would be required. For example, logging individuals' bus journeys is not compatible with keeping personal information "to the minimum necessary". Recording such data may be convenient for bureaucrats administering the concessionary travel scheme, but it is certainly not necessary.

The Scottish Government should lead the way and bring itself into compliance with the principles of the Personal Information Promise as a matter of urgency.

2009-06-04 The Herald
Will the Home Secretary’s departure finally torpedo the foundering ship of government?

We are faced with the resignation of the fourth successive Home Secretary who failed to issue an identity card to a single British citizen since the Identity Cards Bill was introduced by the twice-disgraced David Blunkett ("Brown's reshuffle in disarray' ", The Herald, June 3).

This will be a disappointment to everyone who was eagerly awaiting a Portillo moment in Redditch at the next General Election.

Perhaps David Blunkett will be offered the poisoned chalice again.

Otherwise, Jacqui Smith's successor would do well to consider throwing some policies on the departmental scrapheap: national identity cards, fingerprinting of passport applicants, routine interception of electronic communications, retention of innocent people's DNA profiles, routine exchange of passenger details with foreign countries and the long-term retention of car-journey data captured by automatic number-plate recognition cameras.

The new Home Secretary will have an opportunity to halt the rise of the bureaucratic database state and its accompanying ubiquitous surveillance.

With a General Election looming, the opportunity is one that it would be unwise to miss.

2009-05-27 The Herald
Assault on our liberties

Tragically, Colette Douglas Home is absolutely right ("Those we elected to protect us have failed miserably", The Herald, May 26). Our liberties are facing a sustained and unprecedented assault by a government that plays on the politics of fear, ratcheting up a culture of intrusive surveillance.

A change of government - of any colour - will bring some respite. All opposition parties are aware of widespread public distaste for the ever-encroaching database state. But a mere change of government will not be sufficient to halt entirely the bureaucratic onslaught, replete with its suffocating security theatre.

The problems are structural. The public interest and the interests of the state do not coincide. MPs cannot serve two masters with conflicting demands. Unfortunately, the government is adept at buying votes and rewarding misplaced loyalty with patronage.

If our liberties are to be protected, there must be constitutional reform.

In particular, there must be a written constitution and an enhanced bill of rights specifying constraints on government power. And there must be separation of the legislature from the executive.

Anyone serving the government should forfeit the right to a parliamentary salary and the right to vote in parliament for the duration of their tenure. It is only by fostering antipathy between the government and parliament that we will ever get our elected representatives to appraise critically the legislation put before them. Whatever we may think of American politics, no-one can reasonably deny that the congressional system provides a more robust check on executive power than does our own rubber-stamp parliament.

Such reform could yield several incidental benefits: encouraging better scrutiny of legislation; improving the status of committee work relative to ministerial attainment; and providing a stimulus for smaller government, as Prime Ministers would act to minimise the number of votes lost in parliament. We have been failed by MPs of variable quality working within a rotten system. We must improve both the overall quality of our representatives, and the system within which they work.

2009-05-26 The Herald
Glasgow MPs did not vote for transparency over expenses

Everyone in Glasgow will no doubt be pleased that our local MPs' (redacted) expenses do not show signs of abuse ("Glasgow MPs open expenses to public scrutiny", The Herald, May 25).

I am not entirely surprised. To her great credit, Ann McKechin, MP for Glasgow North, offered to let me see her expenses claims when I wrote to her about the issue before it was known that the documents had leaked.

Nevertheless, we should not give these MPs undue praise. In April 2007, parliament considered whether the Freedom of Information Act should be amended to subject MPs' expenses to disclosure. Not a single MP from Glasgow voted in favour of transparency and the amendment was rejected.

2009-05-22 The Herald
Home Office treats asylum-seekers shamefully

Phill Jones of the Unity Centre is entirely right to condemn the treatment of Fatou Gaye and her son by the Home Office (Letters, May 21).

It is disgraceful, but not, alas, at all surprising, that officials in that department have such callous disregard for a child's welfare

Unfortunately, the Home Office has long since lost any notion of serving the public. It is a department intent on cataloguing everyone and treating people as numbers to be processed, rather than individuals to be treated with compassion.

We would be better off banishing the Home Office entirely from any influence in Scotland. It has a wholly negative effect on our society.

2009-05-20 The Herald
Scapegoat for a rotten system or complicit in its excesses?

The Speaker's background has no bearing on his ability to do the job. It is disappointing that he should be attacked for it, particularly when there are such good, genuine reasons why he had to go.

In the Speaker's name, the House of Commons fought to overturn a decision by the Information Commissioner that MPs' expenses should be published.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of our money was spent appealing to the High Court to prevent us from learning about MPs' expense claims. The Speaker is, therefore, complicit in the abuses now being uncovered.

Meanwhile, he has presided over a weak and supine House of Commons. It appears that back-bench MPs do not even have the power to propose a substantive motion without the assistance of their front benches. In which case, what are we paying any of them for? The Speaker has not protected or enhanced parliament's ability to hold the executive to account. But Speaker Martin must not be made the scapegoat. The fault is not his alone. The purge of the rest must begin in earnest.

2009-05-18 The Scotsman
Data legislation

THE Home Office is introducing new legislation to make audit trail data from the ID database available to, among others, HM Revenue & Customs. The audit trail will comprise sensitive personal information: details about bank accounts, credit applications, financial transactions, visits to hospitals and clinics, travel details, hotel stays, etc.

HMRC is the organisation that lost 25 million people's personal records, including banking details, when it sent the child benefit database through the post on unencrypted CDs.

Parliament must not just rubber stamp this measure. The plug must be pulled on Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's latest legislation.

2009-05-15 The Herald
Radical constitutional reform could remove the overwhelming bureaucracy that stifles democracy

I always enjoy Harry Reid's columns, but I must take issue with his latest offering ("Indignation over MPs' expenses rings false", The Herald, May 14). Mr Reid suggests that there has been no shortage of spending on public services, but that better and more rigorous management is required. I would counter that rigorous management is a major part of the problem.

Given adequate resources, doctors and nurses can be trusted to treat patients; teachers can be trusted to educate pupils; and other professionals can be trusted to act professionally. Improved funding since 1997 should have led to massive improvements in public services. But, in modern Britain, increased funding seems to pay mainly for bureaucrats who come with strings attached: increased interference and micro-management.

Thus we end up with a box-ticking culture in which, for example, managers' targets matter more than clinical need in the NHS and unfortunate patients who have fallen outside government-imposed deadlines find their treatment endlessly delayed solely to prevent other patients close to waiting list limits from being flagged up.

Mr Reid also says MPs are in danger of losing respect and asks about the implications if the British state is rotten to the core. I would suggest that, as a group, rubber-stamp MPs long ago lost the last vestiges of respect and that the cure for rottenness at the heart of our state is radical constitutional reform to replace our wretched centralised bureaucracy with a truly representative democracy.

In the last election, more people didn't vote (38.6%) than voted for the party (21.6%) that dominates Westminster with an absolute majority. While such a situation continues, the notion of public consent to be governed by parliament is on very shaky ground.

2009-05-13 The Guardian
Fact and fiction

James Hall of the Identity & Passport Service (Letters, 12 May), appears not to recognise that whether ID cards are funded by fees or taxation, the money all comes from the same place: taxpayers' pockets. It is obscene that the government continues to waste our money on its pointless, intrusive ID scheme.

2009-05-12 The Herald
‘Within the rules’ is a pathetic excuse from those riding the gravy train

It is all within the rules, they say. If MPs have nothing to hide, surely they have nothing to fear from publication of their expenses. So why have the police been called in at further public expense?

There are two salient aspects to the story of MPs' expenses, neither of which is related to the identity of the whistleblower. First, these expenses should have been published in full since time immemorial. Without the pathological protective secrecy of Westminster, politicians would have been less tempted to abuse the system so flagrantly.

Secondly, there is a fundamental difference of opinion between Westminster and the public on the true worth of MPs. Our elected representatives consider themselves to be on a par with senior civil servants and business leaders. Thus expenses have been used to increase their effective salaries surreptitiously. The rest of us think that many of them are on a par with rubber stamps that can be bought for £1 in the high street.

2009-05-07 The Scotsman
ID scheme savings?

The Home Office has announced that it hopes to save £6 billion over 30 years from a national ID scheme that costs £0.5 billion per year to operate.

If Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, thinks it prudent to proceed with a project in anticipation of a –60 per cent return on investment, it is probably for the best that she no longer teaches economics to high school pupils.

2009-05-05 The Herald
Scheming politicians should put an end to spin if they want to be believed

Hazel Blears laments that the public reacts with incredulity and hostility to policy announcements ("Labour left reeling by explosion of in-fighting", The Herald, May 4).

There is a simple remedy. Ministers must put an end to the spin and deceit. If policy statements were drafted with honesty instead of propaganda, with respect for the electorate instead of contempt, ministers would learn quickly to recognise those policies that are destined for catastrophic unpopularity.

Last week the Home Secretary announced that plans to build a central database of our communications had been abandoned ("Smith considers £2bn plan to let private firms monitor the internet and phone calls", The Herald, April 28). If Jacqui Smith's speech had said simply: "The government intends to spy on all your communications and spend billions for the privilege of monitoring you," perhaps someone might have stopped to ask if this is really the best way for government to serve our society.

Alas, honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability are alien concepts at the Home Office. But our newly invigorated MPs, fresh from their victory on behalf of the Gurkhas, still have the chance to justify to the electorate why they should keep their seats. It is parliament's role to protect the public purse. MPs must demand that the government be called to account for squandering our taxes and liberty in this manner.

MPs are uniquely able to insist on honesty from government. If they were to do so routinely instead of engaging in petty partisan posturing, they would find their jobs easier and their reputations greatly enhanced. Perhaps we would even end up with a government that serves us instead of scheming to deceive at every opportunity.

A reply from Brian McLeish (2009-05-07): We fail to hold our politicians sufficiently to account for their failures

I agree strongly with the sentiments of Dr Geraint Bevan concerning the behaviour of politicians (Letters, May 5). I would go further. Members of Parliament have, as I see it, four main roles. First, as Dr Bevan says, they are the defenders of the public purse. [...]

2009-05-02 The Herald
The name game

David Blunkett, the twice-disgraced former Home Secretary who set the national identity scheme in motion, is now calling for ID cards to be scrapped. He still wants to retain the intrusive database and onerous reporting requirements, but proposes dropping the plastic cards and instead making passports compulsory.

Meanwhile, the Identity and Passport Service has refused to issue a passport to a lady who changed her name by deed poll for charity. Officials told Mrs Pudsey Bear that "IPS is not questioning the validity of the deed poll; however, it is not prepared to issue a passport in a frivolous name which could compromise our mission statement 'safeguarding your identity'."

Leaving aside the question of whether our names should be required to comply with bureaucrats' nonsensical mission statements, could this be the solution for resolving the conflict between civil rights campaigners and the Home Office? A compulsory national registration scheme with exemptions for citizens who are prepared to change their names to the detriment of the Identity and Passport Service might be an acceptable compromise.

2009-04-28 The Herald
Heavy hand of the state is evident in the erosion of civil liberties

Despite fulfilling all the criteria to earn a visa under the new points-based immigration system, a St Andrews PhD student was nevertheless threatened with deportation because his bank balance fell briefly below an arbitrary threshold of £800 ("Family allowed to stay in Britain", The Herald, April 24). Such adherence to mindless bureaucratic rules is indicative of the Home Office mentality that seeks to catalogue us all and monitor every aspect of our lives on vast databases.

These rules were brought in alongside other measures, such as the introduction of biometric visas and residence permits for foreigners, to make Scotland an unwelcoming place. Last November, a multi-signatory letter was published in The Herald warning that the scheme would deter skilled foreigners from coming here. The impact is beginning to be felt.

Only months after the scheme's introduction, the Wool Marketing Board is warning of a crisis facing sheep farmers. They are unable to find skilled labour to shear sheep this summer. Thus the wool may go unsold and the sheep may suffer in hot weather.

The Australian and New Zealand gangs of shearers who usually come here have decided that it is no longer worth their effort because of the cost, hassle and intrusive bureaucratic processes necessary to obtain biometric ID cards. Who can blame them? If the government's obsession with treating us all as livestock is not curtailed, it is not just the sheep that will be feeling the heat this summer.

2009-04-25 The Herald
'You cannot have pre-emptive justice'

It seems that terrorism and activism have been conflated in the minds of the police and we saw that with the over-aggressive policing of the G20 protests.

There is a difference between stopping disruption if there's violent protest, where people are going to be endangered, and police infiltrating a legitimate demonstration before it takes place.

It is the police's job to police protests, not to manage them so they do not happen. They need to accept that people have the right to choose to break the law and take the punishment which comes with that.

Premeditative action against civil disobedience is a dangerous precedent. Could you imagine what would have happened if Gandhi had been prevented from demonstrating for change with his sit-down protests because the police had found out where it was going to take place and stopped it?

The simple fact is the police consider anyone who organises a protest as a potential troublemaker.

The idea of the police infitrating groups is not healthy in a democracy.

There is also the danger the police could end up wasting taxpayers' money by attempting to infiltrate groups because their informant' could provide them with incorrect information about the demonstration to put them off their trail.

It is dangerous to lock people up for thinking about action. You cannot have pre-emptive justice and people have the right to say we want change.

2009-04-25 The Herald
Police 'infiltrate' green activists

Geraint Bevan, co-ordinator of NO2ID Scotland, said: "It is the police's job to police protests, not to manage them so they do not happen. They need to accept that people have the right to choose to break the law and take the punishment which comes with that."

2009-04-24 The Herald
Budget has failed to tackle the government's 'public sector monster'

The Chancellor seeks efficiency savings of £9bn a year by 2013-14. Abolishing the Home Office would save almost £15bn a year. There can surely be few better ways for the government to rein in wasted public spending while improving public services. Perhaps one of our MPs could seek to amend the Budget Bill accordingly?

But if such a measure is too ambitious for cautious MPs, a sizeable proportion of the required savings could be achieved simply by cancelling some of that department's more expensive and wasteful projects. I could suggest several, if any willing MP is short of ideas.

2009-04-16 The Herald
Unacceptable approach to policing protest

I heartily endorse Dr Dick Mooney's sentiments regarding the fairness and professionalism of Strathclyde police with respect to peaceful protests (Letters, April 13). Officers in Glasgow generally have a clear understanding that their role is simply to uphold the law and maintain peace, not to stifle criticism of the government.

The same cannot be said of other parts of the UK, notably Edinburgh and London, where officers seem to be under the impression that demonstrations are somehow wrong, even if not illegal.

Video evidence of an unacceptable approach to policing has emerged following the G20 protests in London. One example is of a policeman striking a small, loud but non-violent woman with the back of his gauntlet before attacking her with a baton. The officer's uniform has been altered to conceal his shoulder number.

There can be no justification for uniformed officers to conceal their numbers. It is clearly a measure to avoid accountability. Such malfeasance in office should lead to automatic instant dismissal and charges being brought against officers.

2009-04-10 The Herald
Serious concerns are raised by death of man during G20 protests

Many serious questions are raised by the tragic death at the G20 protest last week ("Officer in G20 death footage comes forward", The Herald, April 9).

The precise circumstances of Ian Tomlinson's death will, it is to be hoped, be resolved following the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation. There must surely also be a debate about police tactics, in particular the kettling of crowds, and the training of officers to deal with predominantly peaceful protesters.

It is significant and disturbing that, in the wake of the Jean Charles de Menezes affair, the official police version of events has been discredited. Most police officers may be decent people but, as an institution, it appears that the police cannot be trusted.

The widening of the IPCC investigation and the decision to conduct a second post-mortem examination of Mr Tomlinson are the result of photographs and video recorded by protesters.

Without this evidence, it is unlikely that this incident would ever have come to public attention.

Unfortunately, MPs recently granted the police powers that could prevent such evidence being gathered. Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, which came into force in February, allows for the arrest of anyone who takes photographs of police officers which is "likely to be of use to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism". The law clearly offers potential for unscrupulous officers to inhibit the public from obtaining incriminating photographs.

Witnesses to Mr Tomlinson's death have also reported how police officers remarked that it would take a "brave coroner" to find that the police had done anything wrong. Coroners should have no need of bravery. But the Coroners and Justice Bill, at present before parliament, would allow the government to exert pressure on coroners and to impose secrecy on inquests. When there are concerns about killings at the hands of the state, it is in no-one's interest for secrecy to reign.

In the interests of police accountability and transparency, MPs should repeal section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act and strike the measures for secret inquests from the Coroners and Justice Bill.

2009-04-06 The Herald
Honesty about database

There is something deeply disturbing about Justice Minister Lord Bach's assertion that we do not live in a surveillance society; that the government takes its obligations under data protection and human rights legislation "very seriously"

That we now live in a surveillance society is beyond doubt or debate.

As the government systematically dismantles ancient privacy protections, one would hope that ministers could present a strong argument in favour of their changes.

Instead, we get denial: surveillance imposed by stealth and database tracking by deceit.

Lord Bach claims that the government's intentions are misrepresented.

If so, then let him state it categorically: is it or is it not the intention of the government to create a central database to record details of all our electronic communications?

From today , all UK telecom operators and internet service providers are required by law to record and retain details of all our electronic communications: phone calls, text messages, e-mails and web surfing.

A billion pounds has reportedly been given to GCHQ for a pilot programme to build a central database to gather all this information in one place.

Ministers refuse to confirm or deny this, citing "national security".

Why the embarrassment?

If they truly believe that what they are doing is right and in our best interests, then why can ministers not be honest about it?

The transformational government agenda of which ministers and officials are so fond is transforming government into something that intrudes into people's private lives and ill-serves us.

2009-04-02 The Herald
Gross invasion of privacy

Anne Johnstone is absolutely right to highlight the dangers of data sharing and the associated cost to privacy ("It's not what you know, it's who else knows it too", The Herald, April 2). Unfortunately, the potential "wolf in sheep's clothing" - the pensioners' free bus pass - is already well on the way to becoming a sinister national identity card. The cards, also issued to children as Young Scot cards, are a privacy disaster.

The cards' radio frequency identification chips transmit personally identifying information (including the unique citizen's reference number to which Anne Johnstone refers) whenever the card is scanned on a bus. Thus, bus companies have records of journeys made by each passenger; records which are then passed to the government for auditing.

When was there ever a debate in Scotland about whether pensioners and schoolchildren should have their journeys tracked routinely by government?

How have officials managed to design and implement such a surveillance system without parliamentary oversight?

Nor is the information stored securely. Many of the cards issued are based on the "Mifare" system, which has weak security that has long since been compromised. The cards can be cloned with ease and, using readily available software and a laptop computer, anyone sitting beside a cardholder on the bus could surreptiously extract personal information that is useful for credit fraudsters. The same cards are also used in some local authority areas to access library and leisure services or to pay for school meals; each time, exchanging unnecessary personal information to be recorded on a database, associated with the citizen's unique number.

Implemented well, simple entitlement cards could be of benefit to Scots without invading privacy. The scheme has not been designed or implemented well. The Scottish Government still has a long way to go before it can claim to be on the side of the angels.

2009-03-31 The Herald
Publish MPs’ web use

I wonder if Richard Timney, the husband of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, shares her enthusiasm for monitoring use of the internet ("Downing Street defends Smith over expenses for adult movie", The Herald, March 30).

To allay suspicions of impropriety, it must be right that the details of all websites accessed by MPs from their home connections should be published if those connections are funded by taxpayers.

Given that Jacqui Smith intends to log all of the websites visited by us, the paying public, on a government database, she can have no reasonable objection to such enforced transparency for herself and her family.

2009-03-26 The Herald
Free speech is essential to democracy

A short opinion piece written to accompany an article entitled "Backlash over government plans to track Facebook users" (not online).

As published:

Instant communication is a modern wonder. Parents can stay in touch with their children no matter where in the world they are; lovers can maintain contact while separated; social networks can be maintained by people sharing gossip with old school friends. We can bank, conduct business or research health concerns from the comfort of our homes. Two things lie at the heart of this wonder: technology and privacy.

Technology enables instant global communication. Privacy makes it meaningful.

Whether they are talking to one person on the phone, or to selected friends on Facebook, the state has no reason to listen in to the conversations of people who are not suspected of any crime. Nor, indeed, to know with whom we communicate. Our network of friends is our own business. For people whose interests conflict with those in power, the ability to speak to journalists anonymously can even be a matter of life and death.

In enlightened societies, privacy is protected by law. Until recently, a warrant from a judge was required before British authorities could spy on people. But we have also been protected in part by the impracticality of mass intrusion. Only the most paranoid of regimes have been prepared to devote immense resources to placing everyone under surveillance.

Our government now believes that total surveillance can be achieved by the technology that enables us to communicate. It is wrong. State snooping can be circumvented, but we should not have to go to that inconvenience. Our private lives and the freedom to communicate must be protected. Freedom of expression is essential to a healthy society.

As submitted:

Instant communication is a modern wonder. Lovers can maintain frequent contact while separated, exchanging sweet affections over any distance; parents can stay in touch with their children no matter where in the world they may have settled; elaborate social networks can be maintained by people sharing gossip with old school friends or planning visits to the pub. We can bank, conduct business or research health concerns from the comfort of our own homes, eliminating barriers to commerce, generating wealth and providing peace of mind. Two things lie at the heart of this wonder: technology and privacy.

Technology enables instant global communication. Privacy makes it meaningful.

No-one would be happy whispering sweet nothings to their heart's desire with someone else listening to every word; or to share concerns and innermost feelings with family members while strangers are eavesdropping. Different friends and acquaintances see different aspects of our personae; privy to different secrets and levels of intimacy. Confidentiality is an essential prerequisite for business transactions and all doctors understand that patients must trust their intimate details will not be revealed freely.

Whether talking to one person on the phone, or to selected friends on Facebook, the state has no reason to listen in to the conversations of people who are not suspected of any crime. Nor, indeed, to know with whom we communicate. Our network of friends is our own business.

For people whose interests conflict with those in power, whistle-blowers such as Dr. David Kelly, the ability to speak to journalists anonymously can even be a matter of life and death.

In enlightened societies, privacy is protected by law. Until recently, a warrant from a judge was required before British authorities could spy on people's private lives. But we have also been protected in part by the impracticality of mass intrusion. Only the most paranoid of regimes, as in East Germany, have been prepared to devote immense resources to placing everyone under surveillance.

Our government now believes that total surveillance can be achieved by the technology that enables us to communicate. It is wrong. State snooping can be circumvented, but we should not have to go to that inconvenience. Our private lives and the freedom to communicate must be protected. Freedom of expression is essential to a healthy society.

2009-03-25 The Herald
McNulty’s expenses claim shows need for complete transparency

Regarding Tony McNulty's audacious annual expenses claim of £60,000 for his parents' home close to his own and Westminster, Colette Douglas Home wonders why he didn't think "How will this look?" ("Cash-rich MPs are living in a world removed from reality", The Herald, March 24). He undoubtedly did. That's why he stopped as soon as he thought the information might come into the public domain.

Mr McNulty says he stopped claiming this undeserved bonus (more than twice the average salary) in January "when interest rates fell". He neglects to mention that it was also January when ministers finally gave up on plans to exempt MPs' expenses from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

A clearer demonstration of the need for complete transparency in politics would be hard to find. There must be an end to all privileges and exemptions for MPs in legislation. If they make the law, they must be expected to abide by it, like every other citizen.

2009-03-24 The Herald
Britain is in danger of being turned into a snitch state where we all learn to spy on one other

Oh, please! A network of 60,000 informers trained to report any suspicions about fellow citizens to the security services ("60,000 being trained to respond to terror threat", The Herald, March 23)? Along with recording the details of everyone's phone calls and compiling dossiers on every individual, it is clear where the Home Office gets its inspiration from.

We learn of this initiative on the same day that we learn ordering a vegetarian meal on a flight can flag someone up as a potential terrorist suspect. Perhaps we should question the sanity of those in power.

Mass surveillance of East Germans by the Stasi did not save their country's unpopular government from ultimately succumbing to the will of the population. Home Office ministers are fools if they think such measures are an appropriate tool of government.

Really, it is time to scrap the Home Office and sack all the ministers and officials who work there. Good governance does not mean treating all citizens as suspects. We deserve better than this.

2009-03-20 The Herald
An invasion of privacy

Not content with planning to record details of all our e-mails, phone calls and the websites we visit, Home Office minister Vernon Coaker has proposed also to record all data associated with social networking applications (such as Facebook, Myspace and Bebo) in the proposed central database.

The government wants a permanent record of all our random chatter and the messages we exchange with friends and family.

Ministers seem hell-bent on putting an end to free social interaction. Two decades after Margaret Thatcher's quote that there is no such thing as society, the present government is evidently determined to prove her right.

MPs should introduce an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill to require that a warrant be signed by a judge for interception of any person's communications.

There is no justification for the government to treat us all as suspects.

2009-03-17 The Herald
Lower the voting age

Donald Buchanan suggests 16-year-olds know next to nothing about party philosophies (Letters, March 16). I can think of few better reasons for lowering the voting age. No-one can seriously suggest that we are well governed at present. Out-of-touch ministers and securely-embedded senior civil servants treat the electorate with contempt, while a rotten electoral system offers little prospect of necessary change. I fail to see how offering teenagers the pitiful empowerment we have as voters could possibly be detrimental to the interests of this country.

Teenagers have a greater investment than most in the future of the country. They deserve to have their say.

2009-03-12 The Herald
Now the leadership has failed, we are masters of our own destiny

What to do with a failed banker? The question is much on people's minds at the moment.

The Home Office is doing its best to help the unfortunate souls who left jobs in the fraught banking sector. One of these trusted professionals, Alan Gilmour, formerly of Lloyds TSB, has been appointed director of marketing for identity cards. No doubt we shall soon be hearing how our identities will be safe, deposited in their trustworthy hands. To ensure that we hear the message loud and clear, an advertising agency has also been appointed to market ID cards to us. The propaganda blitz will no doubt be a welcome boost in revenue for the chosen marketeers.

At this time of quantitative easing, when the Bank of England is busy printing debt to be repaid from our future taxes, the government's priorities are clear. We can all rest assured that the government is committed to maintaining business as usual in the Home Office.

2009-03-11 The Herald
Databases do not work

No-one can be surprised that the Home Office's latest initiative for tackling domestic abuse is to create yet another database. Government policy now seems to comprise only the simple counter-productive triplet: more legislation, more databases and more debt.

The scathing response from Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, is entirely justified. Databases do not provide security. Another file on another computer will not make women and men safer from abusive ex-partners.

But now that the Home Office has seen fit to link the ideas of domestic abuse and databases, it is surely time for ministers to address serious concerns they have hitherto neglected.

The national identity register will place victims of domestic abuse at increased personal risk. A central database recording current names and addresses, linked to previous details and updated on pain of £1000 fines, will make it difficult for people in refuges to escape violent partners.

What measures will the Home Office take to mitigate this real security risk it is creating?

2009-03-03 The Herald
Does Harman want to be judge and jury also?

Following the lead of Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC - Lord Privy Seal and former UK solicitor-general - if the Home Office should ever attempt to prosecute me or impose civil penalties for offences relating to the Identity Cards Act, I wish to state for the record that I reserve my right to opt for trial in the court of public opinion rather than a court of law ("Sir Fred should not count on getting £32m pension", The Herald, March 2). If nothing else, it would save on legal fees.

I should also be very grateful if Ms Harman would explain the precise mechanism by which a trial in the court of public opinion might be brought against government officials; whether Scottish public opinion has jurisdiction over acts performed in Westminster and Whitehall; and the means by which ministers might be summoned to appear before such a court.

2000-02-28 STV
Civil liberties conference confronts ID cards and CCTV

Civil liberty campaigners are gathering in Glasgow to discuss concerns about the erosion of personal freedom in Scotland.

The Scottish Convention on Modern Liberty is being hosted by anti-ID card pressure group NO2ID and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Strathclyde University.

peakers in Glasgow include Dr Ken Macdonald, Assistant Information Commissioner for Scotland, Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, Green MSP Patrick Harvie, and Dr Geraint Bevan, NO2ID Scotland Co-ordinator.

NO2ID explained its mission as keeping up the pressure on politicians.

2009-02-23 The Herald
No freedom without the freedom to say no

Nanny state or Big Brother? The question is often posed. There is no satisfactory answer. Caring nannies do not record every action of their charges, sharing private matters with all and sundry, or create files destined to haunt for life those whom they nurture.

Yet Orwell's image of a jackboot stamping on a human head forever is not one that sits comfortably with the grey-suited men and women who govern us.

Rather than nanny or Big Brother, think of our government more as an ill-disciplined, selfish child: only vaguely aware that others may have alternative points of view; it pretends to listen when challenged but is determined to follow its own course of action, often based on unreasoned instincts; it never apologises or admits error unless compelled to do so.

As it grows, this wayward child becomes increasingly bossy. Those tasked with holding the government to account, who act in loco parentis, have failed to channel its energies productively or curb its wilder tendencies.

We live in a surveillance society. It has developed ad hoc without justification. Ministers lurch from headline to headline, while backroom bureaucrats try to transform government into a shining monument of the digital age - a magnificent database state in which to immerse themselves, blissfully unaware of the horror caused in those they supposedly serve, oblivious to historical lessons.

We are accustomed to surveillance. Police officers standing on street corners reassure people going about their business. Gradually they are replaced by less effective, cheaper, ubiquitous CCTV. In Glasgow, we shall soon discover whether residents are comfortable with their conversations being monitored by microphones attached to the cameras. But the most intrusive surveillance is less apparent. In this information age, digital ghosts shadow us, and records are held on databases by organisations with which we interact only fleetingly. Although conceptually similar to paper records held in dusty filing cabinets, the differences are crucial. Digital information can be stored indefinitely, cross-linked with ease. Errors accumulate and proliferate, but the data do not degrade. Access and sharing of information occurs at the press of the key or the click of a mouse. And the blighters are recording everything in sight!

Scottish pensioners are tracked every time they swipe their concessionary bus passes. Summaries of medical records have been uploaded to centralised databases, to be accessed by distant doctors and nurses across the land. School children are routinely fingerprinted in library and dinner queues. Local authorities insist that young Scots must carry smart cards, only offering an opt-out if parents ask.

Meanwhile, council officials can spy on our communications for the most trivial reasons, accessing mandatory records held by phone companies and internet service providers to monitor whom we talk to or exchange e-mails with (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act). The Registrar General for Scotland has new powers to compile lists of any personal information about anyone in Scotland (Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services Scotland Act), while the Scottish Government builds a population register ready for the Home Secretary to seize.

The surveillance is increasingly indiscriminate. No longer is intrusion confined to those causing reasonable suspicion. No longer are judges deciding when privacy can be violated: we are all suspects. Our data are recorded routinely for retrospective analysis should the authorities ever decide to take an interest. Any authorities, on any pretext.

The Home Office demands the right to know our personal details, where we bank, where we travel (Identity Cards Act, Borders and Immigration Act, numerous terror Acts). The national identity scheme lingers on like a zombie, decaying and rotten long after its natural demise was apparent to all. But there are worse monsters under the bed. Now the Ministry of Justice wants ministers to have the power to share our private medical records with researchers; the power to link police DNA records with our medical data; the power to seize or distribute any other personal information held by any body, regardless of any duties of confidentiality or the purpose for which that information was obtained (Coroners and Justice Bill). The Data Protection Act is to be emasculated, its already weak and ineffective provisions made entirely redundant.

Absent from all this is consent. Fully informed, uncoerced, revokable consent, actionable in courts of law. Without the freedom to say "no" we have no freedom; no privacy; no dignity.

Our consent is presumed. Surveillance is endemic. And control has been taken out of our hands. Belatedly, the sustained assault on precious liberties is being recognised. It is time to redress the balance.

Along with the right to tax us and pass legislation with which we are expected to comply, elected representatives have responsibilities to protect our individual rights. Despite sterling efforts by individual politicians, collectively they have failed to perform that duty. Petty party politics and tribalism have facilitated the enactment of bad laws on issues where there should be no ideological divide. Policies have been implemented with scant scrutiny or none at all by those who should have been holding the executive to account.

MPs have ceded control of the Commons to the executive, which runs amok in its legislative sweetie shop, spewing forth an endless stream of ill-conceived Bills, guillotining debate and vandalising the law indiscriminately. People from across the political spectrum, and particularly the disillusioned masses with no particular party affiliation, must start to tell our politicians where we wish to go as a society. We must articulate what values we hold dear, what principles must be defended, what intrusions we will not tolerate. There will not be perfect consensus.

Complex issues are at stake and genuine balances must be struck between conflicting interests. But the discussion must be led by the desires of the population, how we want to live our lives, not by the defence of existing plans hatched by civil servants in pursuit of short-sighted administrative efficiency, or ministers desperate to appease tabloid headline-writers.

This Saturday, the Scottish Convention on Modern Liberty will be hosted by NO2ID and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Strathclyde University. Invited experts will present facets of the topic Surveillance in Scottish Society to stimulate discussion with participants. Speakers are drawn from various fields, representing policy-makers, practitioners, academics and campaigners. Ministers have been invited.

The first of what we intend to be a series of participative events focusing on issues of important public policy in Scotland, the aim is to raise awareness of current and emerging threats to liberty and provoke constructive dialogue within Scottish civic society.

The Convention on Modern Liberty will take place across the UK, with simultaneous events in London, Belfast, Cardiff, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge and Manchester.

# Dr Geraint Bevan represents NO2ID Scotland.

Iain Macwhirter is away.

2009-02-19 The Herald
Is the government sure that ID cards are so popular?

If, as James Hall suggests, there is support for the introduction of compulsory national identity cards among airport workers, why is the Home Office not proceeding at full speed with introduction of cards for all workers at all airports (Letters, February 18)? It is less than a year since the Home Secretary insisted that would be the case, citing the usual excuses of national security and the war on terror.

Yet now, and until the next General Election, only a small number of workers at two airports will be involved in a small pilot study. Is the government really as confident about the scheme's popularity as the Registrar General would suggest? Or does the idea of striking pilots strike fear into Home Office hearts?

It is, no doubt, entirely a coincidence that one of the airports to be targeted is owned by Manchester local authorities, which have just been announced as the beneficiaries of 300 new tax-funded jobs to maintain the database of international travel details relating to journeys from and to the UK. If participation in the ID scheme requires many more local authorities to be bribed to such an extent, the final cost to taxpayers could be far higher than the £20bn suggested by the London School of Economics.

2009-02-09 The Herald
Privacy and liberty are under threat

The House of Lords Constitution Select Committee has issued a sober yet utterly damning indictment of the surveillance state ("Database state undermining' right to privacy", The Herald, February 6). The Lords regard privacy and legislative restraint as necessary conditions for the exercise of individual freedom and liberty.

Our privacy and liberty are under threat as never before. Westminster and Whitehall are intent on registering us all on an intrusive ID database to track us through life and record all our significant transactions with the public and private sectors. The infrastructure is being built, and legislation proposed, to monitor all our electronic communications, including details of phone calls, e-mails and web browsing. And the Coroners and Justice Bill, currently wending its way through Parliament, would abolish all meaningful restrictions on the promiscuous sharing of personal data by government. One of its aims is to allow ministers to order medical records to be shared with researchers, regardless of any lack of consent by the patients concerned.

Meanwhile, here in Scotland, pensioners and school children are being issued with smart cards tied to databases that record the details of their journeys; and many children are educated in an environment with pervasive CCTV and fingerprint scanners in the library and dinner queues.

Many of the intrusions into our privacy in recent years are not the result of deliberate attempts by politicians to spy on us, but rather an accumulation of incidental side effects arising from decisions made by bureaucrats hoping to administer the public more efficiently. Initiatives under the banners of Transformational Government or Modernisation have led to the grave loss of privacy that the Lords now lament.

For the trend to be halted or reversed, politicians must critically appraise the schemes proposed by ministers and their advisors, with privacy impacts at the forefront of their minds. As a society, we must decide which principles and values we wish to uphold, and which might be discarded in the name of efficiency.

2009-01-31 The Herald
Honour? Nobility?

Iain A D Mann writes persuasively on the subject of politicians' expenses (Letters, January 30).

However, I fear that, in the absence of a complete overhaul of the electoral system and significant constitutional reform, his phrase "a democratic British parliament" is destined to remain an oxymoron.

2009-01-22 The Herald
Customers need better treatment from the NHS

Douglas Sinclair responds to my previous letter

In his letter (January 20) Dr Geraint Bevan misunderstands my argument that the National Health Service is not good at providing customer care, as opposed to direct patient care. [...]

2009-01-20 The Herald
We have learned from the story of NHS 24 that if healthcare's not broke, then don't fix it

Douglas Sinclair, chairman of Consumer Focus Scotland, suggests that the relationship between health boards and local authorities should be reconfigured to make optimum use of scarce management talent ("Let's give porridge of public service a stir", The Herald, January 17).

Personally, I would prefer to see more doctors trained, fewer managers and the doctors put in charge of hospitals. However, I recognise that such a prescription is out of fashion with modern government thinking, which appears to reject the notion of trusting professionals to get on with their jobs.

However, I was struck by the statement that "the National Health Service is much more effective in treating us as patients than in recognising our needs as consumers".

Our needs as consumers are well met on the high street; our needs as patients, less so. Doctors and nurses have a more important job to do than help consumers engage in retail therapy. Long may the NHS continue to concentrate on treating us as patients, not consumers.

2009-01-13 The Herald Society
Don’t sleepwalk into Big Brother surveillance, schools warned

Quoted in an article about the introduction of biometric technology in Scottish schools.

Meanwhile, Geraint Bevan, of No2ID Scotland, the anti-ID card campaign, says there are issues which schools simply haven't thought through. He added that he didn't believe the introduction and upkeep of complex computer system would be outweighed by the cost of replacing library cards in the past. "These systems are a waste of money and there are big security issues. It is a fingerprint system, and it is not true to say that you cannot reverse engineer finger-prints from these algorithms."

"Schools and local authorities should consider what happens if the police want to access their records because a serious crime has been committed. Would they say no, and can they legally? If not, they should be raising that with parents right from the start."

He said of Strathclyde University's idea that surveillance should be on the curriculum to help pupils engage with the issue: "That is the best idea I have heard in years. It really does raise important issues that children are going to have to deal with in their future lives."

"They would then be in a much better position to give informed consent, rather than just say: this is a cool toy'. I'd be very interested to see how kids views changed as a result."

2009-01-12 STV News
National entitlement card causes row over school meals

Quoted in an article about paying for school meals using Young Scot cards in the Scottish Borders.

Dr Geraint Bevan of campaign group NO2ID said: "No Scot should be forced to carry an ID card."

"Children should be educated in a caring environment, not tracked like prisoners before they can even spell surveillance."

"Parents should be aware that these cards are being promoted in a range of ways, branded as Young Scot cards for discounts, concessionary travel and school meals. But accepting a card means lifetime enrolment on a database - a high price to pay."

2009-01-11 Sunday Herald
School bosses tell pupils: no meals without an ID card

Quoted in an article about paying for school meals using Young Scot cards in the Scottish Borders.

Dr Geraint Bevan of campaign group NO2ID said: "No Scot should be forced to carry an ID card."

"Children should be educated in a caring environment, not tracked like prisoners before they can even spell surveillance'."

"Parents should be aware that these cards are being promoted in a range of ways, branded as Young Scot cards for discounts, concessionary travel and school meals. But accepting a card means lifetime enrolment on a database - a high price to pay."

2009-01-07 The Herald
Cyclists cause very little damage to roads but already pay for them

If Tom Gill is still paying road tax, he should ask the Treasury for a refund. The road fund licence was abolished in 1936, to be replaced by vehicle excise duty - which is paid to central government as general taxation and not hypothecated for transport infrastructure.

Roads are maintained (or not) by local councils - funded by council tax paid by motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

2009-01-03 The Herald
Governments and big databases do not mix

Few people will be surprised to learn that 3.5 million tax records are wrong. What else would one expect from the government department that managed to lose an entire database of child benefit records, including the details of millions of bank accounts?

By government standards, an error rate approaching 10% is actually rather good. For comparison, one-third of DVLA's records are estimated to be inaccurate. By now, it should be clear to even the most technologically-illiterate ministers that big databases and government are a poor combination. Yet the Home Office remains enthralled with its perverse desire to create ever bigger databases to manage our identities and snoop on our communications.

With penalties of £1000 each time for people whose details are found to be wrong on the National Identity Register - penalties imposed by the Secretary of State, not the courts - 3.5 million erroneous records could raise £3.5bn for the Home Office from the pockets of innocent and traduced citizens. Perhaps this is what ministers mean when they blithely suggest that the ID scheme will pay for itself.

2008-12-20 The Herald
Vanity projects

Manage debt problems by getting further into debt - probably not a lesson that many of our parents tried to instil into us. Nevertheless, as Alf Young says, printing money by the barrowload is now the policy on both sides of the Atlantic.

So be it. It is certainly true that better deals can be obtained in times of economic hardship. Investing now in education would pay dividends for generations to come. Investing in research and development would ensure the presence of healthy industry in which tomorrow's children can thrive. Investing in rail infrastructure could mitigate climate change and help to ensure that there is a future for today's children. Paying billions of pounds to foreign companies to issue everyone with a piece of plastic and track us all on a database?

Every prospective government claims that it will whittle Whitehall waste. Few ever do. If Gordon Brown is serious about tackling the economic crisis, then he must take control and stop haemorrhaging our taxes on Whitehall's vanity projects such as the national identity scheme.

2008-12-15 The Herald
Consent to access medical records

Last week's revelation that a rogue doctor in Fife improperly accessed patient records, including those of seven BBC presenters, is a graphic illustration that personal information can never be considered secure when stored on a centralised database that many people can access. But lack of security is not the only concern.

One woman from Glasgow summed up the situation perfectly when she asked how someone in Fife could see NHS records for anyone in Scotland, even though, like her, they may have absolutely no connection at all with Fife?

Clearly, this lady has never given her consent for medics in Fife to have access to her records.

That they could do so is a result of the government choosing to assume consent on her behalf.

The implied consent model is used; it is possible to opt out of the emergency summary care record system, but only if one knows about it.

Implied consent is certainly an easy way for public-sector agencies to implement measures that improve their administrative efficiency, but it is highly disrespectful to the people whose wishes are dismissed at the whim of officials.

Medical records are deeply personal. They should not be shared without express consent. Consent should be fully informed and freely given, with no undue pressure applied; it should be clear to the data subject precisely what they are consenting to - there should be no extension of purpose at a later time; and it must be possible for consent to be revoked at a later date.

A lady in Glasgow did not know that medics in Fife could access her medical records. That is clear evidence that the NHS did not have her informed consent to share that information. There are occasions when data must be shared without consent, such as when the police investigate crimes or social services investigate child abuse, but those cases should be exceptions, not the norm.

The Scottish Government must take steps to ensure that personal data sharing is undertaken on the basis of fully informed consent. Implied consent is no consent.

2008-12-10 The Herald
Human rights and civil liberties are not bartering chips

When attempting to defend the UK government's appalling record on eroding civil liberties, ministers and pliant MPs commonly cite the Human Rights Act of 1998 as an example of supposed government beneficence.

In reality, the Human Rights Act did not extend civil liberties. Clement Attlee's Labour government signed the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950 and parliament ratified it the following year. [Individual petition to Strasbourg was made possible in 1966.] Thirty two years later, the Human Rights Act merely incorporated the ECHR into British law, making it easier to enforce the rights we legally have.

Nevertheless, the Human Rights Act has been used as a totem for certain sections of the media to whine about perceived weaknesses in the judicial system. Now it seems that Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice, has decided to get in on the act by describing it as a villains' charter. He wants to "re-balance" the act with new legislation to require everyone to obey the law and be loyal to the country (he doesn't say which).

Perhaps I missed a government decree, but I had always been under the impression that we are already required to obey the law. If not, for what are we paying politicians, police, judges and prison officers? And the notion of having the government deciding on our loyalties should strike terror into the heart of even the most trusting of voters.

Our fundamental human rights and civil liberties are not bartering chips to be balanced against the government's political aims or to provide cheap soundbites. They are the basic protections of citizens, and other residents, against abuse of power by the state.

Faced with a government prepared to tolerate arbitrary detention (Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, control orders, extended pre-charge detention), our remaining protections are more important than at any time in recent history.

There is a strong case for a new bill of rights. There is an even stronger case for one developed independently of government. The notion of a bill of rights balanced against responsibilities to the state should be anathema to a country in which the people are sovereign and the state exists to serve the people.

2008-12-05 The Herald
Privacy intrusions should be open to scrutiny

I regret that I cannot agree with your leader (December 4) that the demise of the Communications Data Bill is to be welcomed. If the bill were put before Parliament, we would have some idea of precisely what the Home Office is planning. More importantly, there would be the possibility of parliament placing limits on the government's powers, in the Lords at least, if not in the rubber-stamp Commons.

But while the draft bill remains unpublished, it has been reported that £1bn has been provided to GCHQ to build a pilot database to record details of all our electronic communications - phone calls, e-mails and web surfing. Home Office ministers and officials refuse to confirm or deny these reports. Nor will they answer Freedom of Information requests on this matter, citing national security concerns. It would be better if details of this gross intrusion into our lives were open to public scrutiny.

There were other disappointments in the Queen's speech. The Coroners and Justice Bill will set aside the Data Protection Act, Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, common-law confidentiality and the principle of ultra vires, to allow the government to share personal data as it sees fit. If implemented, this bill will epitomise the supremacy of the database state over individuals' right to privacy.

The Immigration and Citizenship Bill also contains extraordinary measures.

If implemented, it will permit authorities, including the police, to demand identity papers from anyone who has ever crossed British borders.

During the past few years, Home Office ministers have taken every opportunity to explain that Britons will not be required to carry ID cards, even if registration on the database is compulsory (NO2ID has never claimed otherwise). The rationale has been that the Home Office does not wish to allow the creation of ID martyrs. Yet its new bill will achieve just that. Either this is a sign of increasing desperation from a government that is starting to realise just how unpopular its ID scheme is, or else it is a further example of incompetent drafting from a department that remains not fit for purpose.

2008-12-02 Telegraph
Hidden ID costs

Sir - Meg Hillier, a Home Office minister (Letters, December 1), neglects to explain what benefits she believes identity cards might bring. Nor does she explain how those benefits might be attained. It is a failing that has afflicted all her predecessors.

The suggestion that 70 per cent of the cost of identity cards would be required for passport upgrades is false. British passports already comply with international regulations, which are anyway imposed largely by Britain and America.

The reality is that the Home Office is engaging in budget-laundering - concealing the astronomical costs of the identity scheme by hiding them behind fictitious requirements for passports.

Passport security does not require onerous reporting requirements and an intrusive database to track British citizens continually. The Home Office should recognise that its scheme is doomed, and stop wasting vast sums of public money on a project that must soon be scrapped.

2008-12-01 Edinburgh Evening News
Terrorists are not fazed by ID cards

ANDREW MURPHY writes that he will have no problem carrying an ID card if it will help in the fight against terrorism (Letters, November 26). To be blunt, it won't. Terrorists do not care about Mr Murphy's identity.

Nor do terrorists appear to have much concern for any effect of ID cards on their activities. Basque separatists and al-Qaida have both managed to maim and kill many people in Spain, despite Franco's legacy of universal identity cards in that country.

Likewise, the identity documents carried by the 9/11 hijackers did not enhance security one iota for the victims massacred.

But Mr Murphy goes on to suggest that the government has to show that it can look after data securely if the ID card is to be successful. I agree. Let us put ID cards on ice until such a time; long after hell has frozen over.

2008-11-28 The Herald
Danger for travellers

Early eye-witness reports from Mumbai suggest that British and American passport-holders were being targeted by the terrorists during yesterday's atrocities.

New-style British passports contain unshielded RFID chips that allow the nationality of the passport to be determined remotely. The UK government should reconsider this foolish design decision and either remove the chips from new passports or adopt the approach of the US government and include metallic shielding to prevent the chips from being interrogated while the passport is closed.

2008-11-24 The Herald
New ID cards could deter star performers

You may be aware that from tomorrow the UK Government begins issuing what it calls, with an obvious nasty spin, "ID cards for foreigners". You may not be aware what this means for Glasgow. First affected will be students and those marrying Britons. Gradually, residents from outside Europe will be fingerprinted and have to account for their movements. (Later, so would we all.) This is unlikely to put off refugees and the poor unskilled with nothing to lose. But successful foreigners such as Maurice Edu of Rangers, Shunsuke Nakamura of Celtic and the overseas students at our local universities have a lot of choice where they study or exercise their talents. Some will decide Britain has become too unfriendly.

When the US introduced more hostile visa conditions three or four years ago, the numbers applying to study there fell by 15% and Bill Gates complained that Microsoft could no longer hire some of the best software engineers.

If this scheme is continued it will lead to less fee income and lower international status for Glasgow's universities. Fewer of the world's star performers in every field will choose to make their homes here than do now.

We value the contribution that these gifted people currently make to our institutions and our society. We think our country should treat them as guests, not criminal suspects. "ID cards for foreigners" is not just a small-minded slogan; Glasgow will suffer culturally and economically.

2008-11-20 The Herald
BNP propaganda is not welcome

The posting of the BNP's membership list to the internet has set the blogosphere alight. Amid the howls of delight from anti-fascists, there is a sombre tone set by those whose personal information has been compromised. There are at least three lessons to be learned.

First, databases leak. Perfect security is impossible - particularly when humans are involved - and the more information that is shared unnecessarily, the greater the risk.

Secondly, "basic information", as Home Office ministers describe names and addresses, can become very sensitive information when given additional context by external data or events.

Thirdly, but most importantly, is the lesson that may be learned from perusing the leaked list. Among those whose data have been compromised are serving police officers and civil servants. One entry is annotated thus: "Discretion requested (employment concerns). Government employee. IT consultant."

When we entrust data to the government, we do not have control over who may access that information. Few people are foolish enough to believe that the government exercises better judgment than they themselves would.

There are people with access to government databases whose jobs prohibit them from membership of a political party, but who are nevertheless listed on that leaked list. This fact alone explains why the government cannot be trusted with the National Identity Register, no matter how fine and upstanding most civil servants may be.

2008-11-04 Cambridge Evening News
Cards optional

ALBERT Gazeley (Letters, October 28) would be less enamoured of the national identity scheme if he realised it has no provision to compel anyone to actually carry the cards.

In fact, the Identity Cards Act specifically prohibits such a measure from being introduced.

The petty car criminals, thieves, bullies and counterfeiters to whom Mr Gazeley refers would simply not carry their ID cards, thus eliminating any notional benefit to the police. In practice, the national identity scheme will reduce the protection that the police can offer citizens. Valuable resources will be diverted away from front- line service provision and into the pockets of IT consultants.

Meanwhile, putting so much personal data in a single database will prove to be an attractive and vulnerable target for fraudsters and criminal gangs.

2008-10-24 The Telegraph
Those favouring identity cards should realise that all databases contain errors

Sir – The Republic of ireland introduced biometric passports at a total cost of 6·1 million euros.

Mr Blunkett’s former department has never been renowned for thrift or competence, but it is preposterous to suppose that it would cost a thousand times more in Britain.

The reality is that the costs of identity cards are being laundered through the passport budget in a feeble attempt to reduce transparency and quell opposition to this insidious scheme.

2008-10-17 The Herald
The society feared by Orwell is getting close

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell describes a Britain in which capitalism has been ousted, where the government, ruled by a formerly socialist party, is in control of the economy; a Britain in which the government manipulates public opinion using spin; a Britain which is in a perpetual state of war against unconquerable enemies; a Britain in which the state insists that citizens must give up their civil liberties for the sake of freedom and security; and a Britain in which the population is subject to total surveillance.

Last Tuesday, I was privileged to be invited to attend a debate at St Andrews University to consider the issue of whether Nineteen Eighty-Four has arrived. The consensus of the house was that it has not, yet, principally because it is still possible to consider openly the question; and because it is still possible to engage in guilt-free sexual activity in the privacy of one's own home.

The following day, speaking at the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Home Secretary outlined plans that would encroach greatly on these freedoms; a plan to monitor all our electronic communication and retain the records on a government database.

If the Home Secretary has her way, no longer would we be free to consult online medical sites without the government retaining a permanent record of our health concerns. No longer would it be possible to participate in democracy electronically without the government knowing with whom we are engaging, and when. No longer would it be possible for citizens and whistle-blowers to converse electronically with journalists free of interference from the state. No longer would we be free to download pornography without state stalkers knowing our sexual interests. No longer could we send romantic messages to lovers free from the overbearing presence of continual state surveillance.

In 1785, Jeremy Bentham invented the panopticon; a prison in which convicts would be aware that all their actions could be watched, never knowing if they were under the gaze of the jailer. He described it as a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind. The panopticon provides a means of exerting control through inhibition. In the twentieth century, we have witnessed an entire society built along these lines. In the former German Democratic Republic, citizens could never assume that their phone calls were not being monitored by the Stasi; that the comings and goings of their visitors were not being meticulously recorded by their neighbours. In the Soviet bloc, populations were ruled by fear, enforced by surveillance. Throughout the Cold War, this kind of society was paraded as a menace threatening to overcome the west; our very civilisation under threat from an external power that sought to remove the essential liberties on which a healthy society is based.

To protect our society, to ensure that we could continue to enjoy the freedoms which we held so dear, our security services were given extraordinary powers to operate outside the law, free of the usual parliamentary and public scrutiny and accountability that is usually applied to government agencies. But, now, those agencies that were formed to protect us, have turned against us.

There is a cancer at the heart of Whitehall. It infects those workers in the Home Office who believe that the interests of the state require that we surrender our liberty and privacy. It is a cancer that must be excised by our MPs, with whom we entrust the parliamentary scalpel. When the Home Secretary presents her Communications Data Bill to parliament, it will not be enough for MPs merely to reject its provisions. It will not be sufficient for the Lords to strike out a clause here or there. The bill must be wrenched from government control. MPs must amend it, to prohibit positively the creation of a centralised communications database. The bill must be changed explicitly to require judicial warrants where citizens are to be placed under intrusive surveillance.

Burgeoning communication should be cherished. Our society is enhanced as it becomes easier to keep in touch with friends and family. Our civilisation is enhanced by the ability to communicate with exotic strangers across the sea. We are social creatures and should welcome the ability to speak freely, not surrender to the paranoid inhibitions of a stalker state.

2008-10-13 The Scotsman
Keeping our details safe

As the Ministry of Defence and EDS, one of the government's favoured IT contractors, lose yet another unencrypted computer disk, containing details of bank accounts, passports, driving licences, family doctors and other information about 100,000 servicemen and women and 800,000 applicants to join the armed forces, we should recall the assurance given by Home Office minister Meg Hillier in the letters page of the Edinburgh Evening News (12 May):

"The level of security for the national identity register will match some military databases." Quite.

2008-10-13 Edinburgh Evening News
Worry over levels of security at MoD

AS the Ministry of Defence and EDS, one of the government's favoured IT contractors, try desperately to find yet another unencrypted computer disk that has gone missing, one containing details of bank accounts, passports, driving licences, family doctors and other personal information about 100,000 service men and women and 800,000 applicants to join the armed forces, we should recall the assurance given by Home Office minister Meg Hillier in the letters page of the Evening News last May: "the level of security for the national identity register will match some military databases".


2008-10-11 The Herald
Ironic promise

As the Ministry of Defence and EDS, one of the government's favoured IT contractors, try desperately to find yet another unencrypted computer disk that has gone missing, one containing details of bank accounts, passports, driving licences, family doctors and other personal information about 100,000 service men and women and 800,000 applicants to join the armed forces, it is poignant to recall the assurance given by Home Office minister Meg Hillier to Parliament last July: "The National Identity Register will be highly protected - to the same level as some military databases."


2008-10-07 The Herald
Government must fund school meals

It seems few Scots disagree in principle with providing free school meals for children. The argument is about how to find the money - about £30m per annum - to pay for this worthy scheme. Last week, the Home Secretary proudly displayed new plastic residence permits to replace the visas that have traditionally been stuck in long-term visitors' passports. The Home Office estimates the incremental cost of this change to be in excess of £300m over 10 years.

The government collects sufficient taxes to pay for greatly improved service provision across the UK, if only it would stop wasting vast sums on IT consultants and ill-conceived Home Office schemes.

2008-09-26 The Herald
Launch of ID scheme is a cheap stunt

Notwithstanding Home Office spin, the first UK national ID cards are not yet being issued.

Although superficially similar, the plastic card brandished by the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, yesterday was an example of a residence permit, or biometric visa, issued in accordance with the UK Borders Act 2007, not an ID card issued as per the Identity Cards Act 2006.

Unlike ID cards, these resident permits are not linked to the National Identity Register, which does not yet exist and for which no invitations to tender have been issued.

Nor do these visas apply to a significant number of people - only a small number of foreign students and spouses from outwith the European Economic Area.

The card just launched is a replacement for the stamps or stickers which were previously placed in passports.

Disassociating the visa from the passport is likely to increase the circulation of counterfeit visas within the criminal fraternity, but will achieve little else.

The whole exercise could be dismissed as a cheap stunt to maintain the illusion that the ID scheme is progressing as planned. However, at a cost of more than £300m to issue visas to just a few tens of thousands of people, this charade is anything but cheap.

Opposition to the real ID cards is increasing among the first groups to be targeted - British students and airport workers.

But with the TUC's recent decision to support the British Airline Pilots Association and resist the ID scheme with all means at its disposal, the Home Office should know that it has an unwinnable fight on its hands.

2008-09-25 The Herald
Passport interviews sordid and intrusive

At the Labour conference in Manchester this week, Home Office minister Meg Hillier described how a ministerial working party has been considering issuing ID cards to children younger than 16. She cited the routine carrying of identity documents by 14-year-olds in Hungary as an example.

Following the inevitable backlash of opinion, such plans were swiftly denied by her department.

But while ministers try desperately to find a demographic that might be sufficiently gullible to consider ID cards beneficial, passport applicants in Scotland are already being subjected to intrusive interrogations - part of the Home Office's preparations for the national identity scheme.

Some questions are just bizarre, such as the requirement to know the age of the counter-signatory of the passport photo; as if most people would know that off-hand. More worryingly, the credit histories of passport applicants are obtained by the Identity and Passport service. Applicants are required to discuss loan applications that they have made and the details of their mobile phone contracts. Even more disturbingly, they are quizzed on the details of deeply personal events, such as parents' deaths. One recent victim of the whole process, distressed and offended by the ordeal, described how they "felt violated".

The government has no right to intrude on the private lives and grief of citizens. If the UK government insists on such blatant disregard for decency and sensitivity, the Scottish Government should act to prevent the Identity and Passport Service from accessing Scottish registers of family records. It should also enact strong privacy legislation to prevent the trade in personal data of Scottish residents by the companies that facilitate this sordid business.

2008-09-16 The Herald
Government bull

I don't know why Ron Ferguson was looking deep into the eyes of Cow 1984 (Comment, September 15) when he came up with plans to enhance the proposed National Identity Scheme by using radioactive ear studs and personalised buttock branding. But I do wish that he would refrain from giving our current Home Office any more bright ideas.

2008-09-13 The Scotsman
Protecting personal data

The Scottish Government must be commended for establishing an expert group to advise on the privacy implications arising from the use of information technology by public services (your report, 9 September).

Since the Data Protection Act was enacted ten years ago, advances in computing power have brought significant changes to the way personal information is stored and processed. While some of these changes have offered scope for improvements to service provision, there has been insufficient attention to the issues of consent and privacy in a changing technological landscape. In this regard, the Data Protection Act now appears very weak and does not serve the public well.

Given the formidable composition of this expert group, it is to be hoped that it will not focus only on ensuring compliance within the existing legal framework, but also advise on how data protection legislation can be strengthened in Scotland to increase protection and control of data for ordinary citizens.

2008-09-12 The Herald
Protecting our data

The Scottish Government must be commended for establishing an expert group to advise on the privacy implications arising from the use of information technology by public services.

Since the Data Protection Act was enacted 10 years ago, advances in computing power have led to significant changes to the way personal information is stored and processed.

While some of these changes have offered scope for improvements to service provision, there has been insufficient attention to the issues of consent and privacy in a changing technological landscape. In this regard, the Data Protection Act now appears very weak and does not serve the public well.

Given the formidable composition of this expert group, it is to be hoped that it will not only focus on ensuring compliance within the existing legal framework, but also advise on how data protection legislation can be strengthened in Scotland to give greater protection and control of data to ordinary citizens.

2008-09-01 The Scotsman
Loss of personal information

It is bemusing that Meg Hillier considers me "ill-informed" for highlighting the Home Office's recklessness in facilitating the loss of records from the police national computer. It is also puzzling that the minister should suggest an equivalence between the passport database, which stores minimal historic records, updated every ten years, and the national identity register, an intrusive real-time surveillance database which will be updated and accessed continually.

However, if Ms Hillier wishes to explain her reasoning, my offer to her still stands. NO2ID will arrange a public meeting in Edinburgh or Glasgow whenever the minister feels able to venture north of the Border to face an unvetted audience.

2008-08-25 The Herald
Identity crisis

To err is human, they say, but fortunately we learn from our mistakes.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the inhumanity of bureaucracies is that they don't learn.

After losing the personal and banking data of half the population, we were assured that HM Revenue and Customs was tightening up on security. Yet since then, there have been another 2000 data breaches in that department alone; 10 per day on average. Meanwhile, the Home Office, which is responsible for implementing the national ID scheme, has admitted that its sub-contractors, PA Consulting, which was responsible for designing the ID scheme, have managed to lose the personal details of 130,000 prisoners on a memory stick. Governments may be incapable of learning, but voters see clearly that our government cannot be trusted to protect personal data.

Scrapping the ID scheme would be a popular measure and would save billions of pounds at a time when people are feeling the pinch. While Gordon Brown languishes at the mercy of the polls, seeking a route to revival, he would do well to consider abandoning the ID scheme and the associated control-freak fetishes of the Home Office.

Wasting money on ineffective authoritarian measures is not the way to appeal to human voters.

2008-08-25 The Scotsman
Securing sensitive data

Giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in May, Meg Hillier, the minister for ID cards, likened the security precautions intended for the National Identity Register to those employed for the Police National Computer. One must wonder whether those precautions also include copying personal information from the database to sub-contractors and the subsequent loss of those records on unencrypted memory sticks.

PA Consulting, the agency at fault in this latest data fiasco (your report, 22 August), were the main architects of the National Identity Scheme. The millions of pounds paid to them by the Home Office in consultancy fees were apparently not well spent. It is abundantly clear that the government is incapable of protecting sensitive data. The pretence that the Home Office can be trusted with our personal identity records is no more than a sick joke. The National Identity Scheme should be terminated immediately.

2008-08-21 The Herald
Personal information and an identity register

It is a matter of great concern that Duncan Macniven, the Registrar General for Scotland, is drawing up plans to compile a Scottish identity register to replace the census.

Mr Macniven's belief that such a database can be compiled without becoming enmeshed in the controversy over the national identity scheme is not tenable. Assurances from Whitehall that the data would not be used for the identity scheme are worthless. The Identity Cards Act gives the Home Secretary the power to demand such data from public bodies and the recent subsumption of the General Register Office for England and Wales by the Identity and Passport Service is a clear demonstration of intent.

To build such a database from NHS records also shows a lack of respect for basic data protection principles. People providing personal information to register with a GP have a reasonable expectation that it will not then be used by other government agencies.

Notably absent from the list of interested parties mentioned by the Registrar General are the citizens whose personal data he wishes to capture. As described, the plans to date would form an unsavoury part of the database state to which so many Scots are deeply opposed. If Mr Macniven intends to embark on such a course, he would be well advised to start consulting the public before proceeding any further.

2008-07-31 The Herald
Government is not to be trusted with DNA

Perhaps the most important recommendation of the Citizens' Inquiry into the DNA database is that control should be taken out of the hands of the government, which should fund the database but not own it or have direct access. A belief was expressed that past actions and hidden agendas have shown that the government cannot be trusted.

Lack of trust in the government - this one and potential future ones - is a key reason why so many people oppose the creation of a national identity register. It is not something that the Home Office can fix with any amount of spin. Government must learn to have respect for citizens and our right to privacy of both genetic and biographic data.

The panel also suggests that the police should not take DNA samples for minor matters such as breach of the peace. The nine NO2ID campaigners arrested at the ID roadshow in Edinburgh last month after our peaceful protest would certainly agree. We are still wondering why the police felt the need to sample our DNA. Fortunately, because we are in Scotland, those samples will now be destroyed - the charges having been dropped by the procurator fiscal.

The citizens' panel also recommends unanimously that the police need to be educated about human rights. I must agree. The NO2ID protest was entirely peaceful, but I was astonished to hear one police officer tell me that we should have given the police prior notice of our intention to protest at the event. He went on to say that they would then have prevented us from entering the hotel. Another officer said that it was "wrong" of me to infiltrate the so-called consultation with a false identity.

The police need to learn that they are there to serve the public, including peaceful protesters, not to save Home Office ministers from embarrassment.

2008-07-21 The Herald
If MPs have a right to privacy, so should we

Moving the Freedom of Information (Parliament and National Assembly for Wales) order, Harriet Harman said that MPs' addresses must remain secret to protect against threats from fixated individuals or new dangers that are as yet unforeseen. She went on to say that once a member's address is in the public domain, it cannot retrospectively be made private again. Quite.

In contrast, Meg Hillier, minister for ID cards, frequently describes names and addresses as "just basic data", with the implication that no one should be concerned about the security risk of collecting such information. Indeed, she reaffirmed in the Herald last month that the National Identity Register will store all our addresses, before going on to glibly dismiss security concerns about the database.

It is a fundamental tenet of a representative democracy that law makers must be subject to the same rules that they impose upon everyone else. If the government demand all our home addresses, we should have access to the home addresses of members of the government. Conversely, in the absence of a court order to the contrary, if parliamentarians insist on protecting their own privacy, we must all have the right to do likewise.

MPs may be harassed by fixated individuals. So may ordinary men and women. Many people who have suffered from stalkers or domestic abuse, testified against violent criminals, or work in unpopular jobs, are put at unnecessary risk by the creation of a national database of our homes.

Ministers and MPs clearly recognise the need for their own privacy. It would be hypocritical not to now revise or repeal the Identity Cards Act to ensure that we may all enjoy the privacy and security that MPs desire for themselves.

A reply from Sandy Gemmill (2008-07-24): Concern on database

I support Geraint Bevan in his fight against the introduction of ID cards. However, I cannot agree with his assertion (Letters, July 21) that ID cards will impinge on our right to privacy. [...]

2008-07-01 The Herald
Nine arrested after protest at minister’s identity cards meeting

Among those arrested was Geraint Bevan, NO2ID Scotland co-ordinator, who had earlier accused the Home Office of refusing to listen to the public on the issue. He said that the ID database will result in "a massive erosion of privacy for individuals".

He claimed campaigners and "ordinary members of the public" were not allowed to attend the meeting and that it was not a genuine public consultation.

2008-07-01 Edinburgh Evening News
ID protesters to face court

The "No2ID Nine" – which includes three doctors and one PhD student – were charged with breach of the peace offences following an incident at a Home Office meeting on ID cards at the hotel on Monday.

2008-07-01 The Scotsman
Nine held in ID card demo

All those arrested were members of NO2ID, an anti-ID card campaign group, including Geraint Bevan, its Glasgow organiser.

2008-07-01 Daily Record
9 Arrests at Demo

NINE protesters were arrested at an anti-identity card demo in Edinburgh yesterday.

2008-07-01 Data Quality News
Protests and arrests over ID cards

NO2ID group coordinator for Scotland Geraint Bevan said the Home Office had refused to listen to the public on the issue. "The ID database will result in a massive erosion of privacy for individuals," he said. "Ministers have declined our invitations to attend genuine public meetings; they are clearly scared of hearing what the public might say."

2008-06-30 STV News
ID card protesters say Home Office is stifling public debate

The article includes video of the NO2ID protest in Edinburgh

Geraint Bevan from NO2ID Scotland said: "We've asked if they would come to a proper public forum to debate the issues and they've refused. Instead, they're having a very selective audience of people who will either profit from the introduction of ID cards or from people like the police, who they think they will get a more sympathetic hearing from. It's all a propaganda exercise, rather than a real public consultation."

2008-06-30 BBC News
Arrests made at ID cards meeting

Geraint Bevan, the group's co-ordinator in Scotland, accused the Home Office of refusing to listen to the public on the issue. He said: "The ID database will result in a massive erosion of privacy for individuals. Ministers have declined our invitations to attend genuine public meetings. They are clearly scared of hearing what the public might say."

2008-06-30 The Herald
ID scheme: the truths, half-truths and deceptions

THE organisation NO2ID will not be represented officially inside the Home Office's secretive ID consultation at the Barcelo Carlton Hotel in Edinburgh today. Despite repeated requests, officials have decided that my fellow campaigners and I are not "stakeholders" in the delivery of the glorious post-ID future. Shame.

To those people who have been invited to praise the ID scheme to high heaven and develop strategies for coercion, the Home Office has distributed information packs. These contain a mixture of truths, half-truths and outright deceptions.

Critics perpetuate myths, it is claimed, by suggesting that issuing each ID card will cost more than the pollster-approved sum of £30. The Home Office's own estimate for the cost of the scheme over 10 years (the renewal period for an ID card) is £4.4bn. Divided by 40 million UK adults, that equates to a cost per card of more than £100 - but to say so is scaremongering, apparently. Never mind that the London School of Economics estimates the costs to the taxpayer may be five times higher still. Perhaps ministers are hoping that we won't notice if the costs are taken from our taxes and increased bank charges (verification fees), instead of all being demanded as up-front payment when applying for passports.

The ID database will hold only core identity information, the Home Office pack says, and nothing that might be deemed sensitive. Never mind that victims fleeing domestic abuse, witnesses fleeing violent criminals or medical researchers working with animals might consider their addresses to be sensitive data. No mention is made of the audit trail that will record details of every visit to a clinic, every application for credit, every occasion on which government-mandated regulations require verification of identity.

No-one will go to prison for failure to register for an ID card, the Home Office says. This is true. Instead, civil penalties will be applied. Refuseniks will be denied access to non-emergency health care, credit or travel authorisation. Meanwhile, people who fail to adhere to the new reporting requirements will be driven to bankruptcy by civil penalties, with no chance of a day in court. Ministers have said in parliament that the government will not allow the creation of "ID martyrs". The government did learn something from the poll tax.

Attendees are told that there is no widespread opposition to the scheme. An old poll is cited (from long before HMRC lost the child benefit database) which found a majority of people were willing to trade civil liberties to prevent terrorism. No mention of later polls that show a large majority of the population opposed to the government collecting more personal data.

The information pack assures participants that ID cards will not be compulsory to carry. Entirely true. That will, of course, disappoint those few supporters of the scheme who hoped that police might find it easier to identify criminals or immigrants free at large on the streets. But ID cards haven't prevented immigration, crime or terrorism in other countries anyway.

The government assures readers that the ID database will be secure and that hackers won't be able to access the data. Four damning reports released last week about the loss of half the population's data on the child benefit database and the personal and banking details of over half a million recruits to the armed forces might lead fair-minded people to consider otherwise. The only way to keep personal information secure is to ensure that the government does not collect it in the first place.

A blanket assurance is given that ID cards will not breach human rights. No mention of the right to privacy. No mention of the intrusive nature of this large surveillance database. Unfortunately, Home Office minister Meg Hillier has declined an invitation to attend a more public meeting to debate these issues in front of a general audience while she is in Scotland. She has more important matters which must be attended to in London, although a private meeting was offered. Why might the minister not wish to meet the public? Why was this roadshow's visit to Scotland not advertised widely in advance? One might think that the Home Office has something to hide.

Our offer stands. NO2ID will arrange a public meeting in Glasgow or Edinburgh whenever the minister feels ready to venture north again.

2008-06-30 The Herald
ID card protest planned as minister visits capital

Quoted in an article about the ID roadshow's visit to Scotland

Campaigners of the NO2ID group, the UK-wide opponents of the government scheme, plan to protest during [Meg Hillier's] visit, describing her roadshow as "a sham".

Geraint Bevan, of the group's Glasgow branch, said they had repeatedly asked to be involved in the process only to be refused because they were not considered to be stakeholders in the delivery.

"They're trying not to address any of the substantial issues such as the dangers to privacy or people's human rights and the security of it. It's all about presentation and all about how they can get people to accept them."

2008-06-25 The Herald
ID scheme is a shambles, is poorly conceived and serves no useful purpose

In March, Sir James Crosby released his report into identity management. The report, commissioned by Gordon Brown, laid down 10 key principles (all of which the National Identity Scheme fails to adhere to) and concluded, essentially, that government should keep out of the entire identity business.

In early May, the Independent Scheme Assurance Panel reported major deficiencies in the ID scheme, which they found to lack a robust and transparent operational data governance regime and clear data architecture.

A few weeks later, the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report, A Surveillance Society?, which called on the government to give an explicit undertaking to adhere to a principle of data minimisation and to resist a tendency to collect more personal information and establish larger databases.

This month, it is the turn of the Biometric Assurance Group, a committee of independent experts led by the government's Chief Scientific Adviser.

The committee's annual report finds that privacy and consent have not been addressed adequately in the Home Office's plan for ID cards.

Four reports in as many months, all highly critical of key aspects of the ID scheme, all echoing criticisms that campaigners, independent security experts and the IT industry have been making since the programme's inception. But unlike previous unsolicited criticisms from industry, academics and concerned citizens, each of these reports has been commissioned by the government and published by panels led by government-appointed chairmen.

We all know that governments have a problem with the concept of consent; that they have trouble with the idea that no means no. But there must come a point when any government realises that no matter how many times it asks the question, the answer will remain the same. The ID scheme is a shambles. It was poorly conceived and serves no useful purpose. While these reports have been published, an "ID roadshow" has been quietly touring the country. Without publicity, the Home Office has invited selected participants to address the question of how the public can be coerced into accepting ID cards. The tour comes to an end in Scotland next Monday. As the roadshow terminates, it would be a fitting time to say goodbye and good riddance to the whole sorry project.

2008-06-21 Edinburgh Evening News
Not raising a glass to ID proposals

YOU report that another drinks industry group, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, is now demanding that taxpayers foot the bill for, and accept the imposition of, compulsory national identity cards (Stiff measure of alcohol laws may be too much to stomach, Evening News, June 18).

Perhaps this trade body has not noticed that the Home Office has spent the last five years trying to do exactly that; intending to force every citizen to register for a card that will cause every transaction to be recorded on a government database, at a cost of hundreds of pounds to each adult.

It is unfortunate that the SLTA appears to have such little regard for the privacy and wallets of their customers.

There is a better solution. Shopkeepers do not need to know the names, addresses or dates of birth of customers. It is sufficient to know only that someone is old enough to purchase alcohol.

For this limited purpose, simple proof-of-age cards are readily available, costing just a few pounds apiece.

There is no need for compulsion and there is no need for taxpayers to waste money that could be far better spent elsewhere.

2008-06-18 The Herald
ID scheme is a sophistic reversal of right to privacy

Speaking at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Gordon Brown claimed that the national identity scheme is not about increasing the power of the state, but is a recognition of an individual's "right to have your identity protected and secure". This passive formulation carries an implicit assumption that it is for the state to protect identities, not individuals.

The ID scheme demands personal details be provided to the state; imposition on every citizen of onerous reporting requirements, enforced by hefty fines for non-compliance; routine recording of transactions that we make with private and public-sector organisations; and the collection and collation of this personal information on vast databases. This does not amount to an enhancement of personal security and the measures certainly do not constitute an extension of individuals' rights. Indeed, the Prime Minister presents a sophistic reversal of the right to privacy, enshrined in both the European Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The fundamental right at the heart of the matter is the freedom for us to protect our own personal information, divulging or withholding it as we see fit; the freedom for us to protect our own electronic identities, as well as more intimate personal details. In essence, the freedom to control who knows what about us.

Attempting to justify this unwarranted intrusion by the state, the Prime Minister claimed repeatedly that we are now living in a new world. He gave the example of modern laptop computers using fingerprint scanners to aid encryption. It is ironic that he should have chosen to focus on a technology that will be undermined so entirely by the ID scheme. With the existence of a government database of everyone's fingerprints, what rational business would entrust the protection of confidential documents to non-secret keys? Only a fool would now trust the government to keep secret information secure.

The Prime Minister now speaks of liberty as "freedom from fear". Unfortunately, the government seems incapable of understanding that it cannot solve every problem for us; that there are sound reasons to fear the effects of state surveillance; and that sometimes it should just leave well alone.

2008-06-14 The Herald
By-election will allow debate on 42-day detention

"Anyone who tries to prevent one set of liberties being strangled by trampling over others just as precious is doing democracy no service at all" (Alf Young, The Herald, June 13). Wise words, indeed, but his anger is misdirected. The resignation of David Davis tramples on the liberty of no-one. Voters in Yorkshire are free to re-elect him, or not. Other MPs and peers are free to take heed of the result, or not. No freedom has been lost because of his actions.

The single-issue by-election in Haltemprice & Howden provides an ideal opportunity for in-depth debate about a matter of the utmost gravity. Of course, David Davis will be re-elected. With the Liberal Democrats standing aside and a deeply unpopular Prime Minister, there is little doubt about the eventual outcome. But the size of the victory will speak volumes.

On Wednesday evening, more than 300 MPs voted to grant the government power to detain people for up to six weeks; to disrupt lives and isolate people from friends and family without revealing what they are accused of or giving any hint of what fate may await them.

Most of those same MPs voted two years ago for the introduction of compulsory national registration, the creation of a vast surveillance database to monitor the population. They have been complicit in allowing the creation of a DNA database which now stores intimate samples from three-quarters of young black men and many innocent children. So, too, have they allowed officials from several hundred public sector organisations to snoop on innocent people where there is suspicion, justified or not, of minor offences being committed.

Mr Davis's discretionary by-election offers the opportunity for the rights and wrongs of the surveillance state to be argued before the electorate.

2008-06-13 The Herald
42 days detention has nothing to do with our security

Joined by the DUP in support of the government's proposals on extended pre-charge detention, Scottish Labour MPs might have learned something about extracting money from the Treasury for the benefit of devolved administrations. Even if so, it is an expensive lesson. Hopefully the shiver that passed along Labour benches in the Commons will find a spine to run up in the Lords.

2008-06-04 The Herald
ID card scheme is riddled with problems

Writing in The Herald last year, James Hall, chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service, said: "Project Stork is not about ID cards, has nothing to do with the national identity scheme or providing data from the National Identity Register." Unveiling Project Stork on Monday, the European Commission announced that it "will enable EU citizens to prove their identity and use national electronic identity systems (passwords, ID cards, PIN codes and others) throughout the EU, not just in their home country".

As with all aspects of the national identity scheme, it is never entirely clear whether those in charge at the Home Office mislead intentionally, or if they simply don't know what they are doing.

An independent report quietly released last month would suggest the latter. The government-appointed Independent Scheme Assurance Panel was set up in 2005 after the Home Affairs Select Committee raised concerns about the ID scheme. The panel comprises experts from the banking and IT sectors and has enjoyed privileged access to internal project documents concealed from the wider public.

It reports that the ID scheme lacks a robust and transparent operational data governance regime and clear data architecture; that despite spending more than £100m of public money, the scheme still has not received the cross-government sponsorship or take up it requires; that requirements for ICT systems, processes and operations have still to be adequately specified; that the rationale for key design decisions is unclear; that the scheme will never be free of errors; and that there is a risk its trusted administrators will make improper use of valuable aggregated data. The ID scheme is destined to be an expensive failure, implemented by a government that does not understand the need for clear requirements and specifications before procuring complex systems.

Watching the scheme collapse would be an interesting spectator sport, if officials were not wasting millions of pounds of our taxes every day and putting our personal data at risk of being compromised. The project was pushed by a twice-disgraced Home Secretary seeking to garner sympathetic headlines. In that, he failed. There is no support for the scheme among opposition parties, and many Labour Party members and former supporters are deeply uncomfortable with its implications. As a high-profile element of Labour's dismal Crewe and Nantwich by-election campaign, ID cards were clearly not an electoral asset for the party.

There will be much wrestling of consciences among MPs in the coming weeks, while they grapple with the importance of protecting civil liberties versus the usual demands for curtailment from the Home Office. Our representatives in Westminster should take control of the ID scheme, which is fast coming off the rails. They should tell the government to call a halt to this intrusive surveillance scheme immediately.

2008-05-26 Edinburgh Evening News
We can't trust them to keep data safe

Meg Hillier MP tells us that the National Identity Register will be as secure as some military databases (Letters, May 12). Considering that the personal and banking details of over half a million soldiers and applicants from the last ten years were lost when an MoD laptop was stolen in January, that will reassure no one.

Her comparison to the passport database is delusory. No existing database contains the same wealth of personal data as the National Identity Register. Nor does the existing passport system allow details to be accessed online, as is proposed for the ID database.

Regarding expense, Ms. Hillier is dissembling when she says that £1 billion has been cut from the cost of the scheme. In fact, those costs have been removed from Home Office accounts by placing the burden directly on to taxpayers: by requiring everyone to pay additional fees to enrol our fingerprints and iris scans through the private sector.

2008-05-26 The Herald
Eroding privacy does not provide security

It is disconcerting, the ease with which Doug Maughan switches between comments on noisy neighbours, menacing telephone callers, distributors of violent paeodophilic pornography and readers of subversive literature (Letters, May 23). I sincerely hope that he doesn't really see equivalence in the activities of such diverse groups of people, whose behaviours range from inconsiderate, to criminal, to political or simply curious.

Introducing noisy neighbours into the debate about the surveillance state is absurd. Loud music is not confined to the listener's home, so intrudes into neighbours' lives, thus causing harm. But we already have enforceable laws for dealing with noise pollution; and there is no need for databases or covert surveillance to deal with such errant behaviour.

Mr Maughan's contribution might have been more apt if the government were proposing to introduce microphones into all our homes, to record noise levels; but it is not. Yet.

Mr Maughan also tells us that the Singaporean police contacted a telephone company to trace a threatening caller. Police in Britain can already do that. Phone companies retain billing information for limited periods; records which can be accessed with a judicial warrant. The anecdote provides no justification for a central government database of UK telecom records.

Few people would argue against measures to prevent distribution of child pornography. Yet Operation Ore highlighted the danger of relying on automated logs. Thousands of people were charged with offences, often resulting in loss of their jobs and reputations within their communities. Dozens committed suicide. But it later transpired that many of those suspects were innocent victims of credit card fraud.

And then we come to subversive literature. I wholeheartedly disagree with Doug Maughan and the Home Office. The state does not have the right to say what adult citizens may read; to censor material of a political nature; or to conclude that someone is a potential terrorist on the basis of the material that they read.

When the state accuses people of attempting to use binary liquid explosives to blow up an airliner, it is reasonable for citizens to seek information to determine for themselves the plausibility of such a scenario. When the state invades a foreign country, good citizens should attempt to discover what lies behind government propaganda and seek out the other side of the story. Freedom of expression and freedom of thought are essential for human dignity and the well-being of society. The introduction of thought crimes into British law is utterly repugnant.

Of course it is necessary to balance the competing rights of individuals. That is what parliament and the courts have been doing for centuries. But eroding the privacy of every citizen does not enhance our security; and placing 60 million people under permanent surveillance to deal with isolated problems caused by a small minority is entirely disproportionate.

2008-05-25 Sunday Herald
Campaigners taste victory in `backdoor ID cards' battle

Quoted in an article about Scottish Entitlement Cards

Geraint Bevan of NO2ID said: "It is reassuring that the Scottish government is looking again at the implications of this programme. Until now, it has been allowed to evolve into a dangerous parallel of the UK national identity scheme. Design decisions have been made by bureaucrats, resulting in a system that can record even the details of bus journeys made by children and pensioners. Political oversight is needed to ensure that respect for citizens' privacy is built into the system at every level."

2008-05-23 The Herald
The secret is to maintain the right balance between competing freedoms

In an otherwise excellent column about the surveillance state, Anne Johnstone expresses her belief that radio frequency identification (RFID) chips will not initially be embedded in ID cards. In fact, they will.

According to Home Office documents, "there may be perception issues associated with contact-less technology that may need addressing".

For this reason, ministers and government officials rarely mention RFID explicitly. However, whenever they speak of ICAO-compliance, using ID cards as Machine Readable Travel Documents (MRTD) or interchangeability of ID cards and passports, they are implicitly referring to such chips.

This is yet another layer of insecurity being built into the system at the behest of ministers with an inadequate understanding of technology.

2008-05-22 The Herald
Our freedoms are being severely curtailed

In the former German Democratic Republic, the Stasi took an unhealthy interest in who was talking to whom. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, access to photocopiers, fax machines and computers was restricted by a totalitarian regime that sought to limit non-official channels of communication. Here, in the enlightened west, we could look on, basking in freedoms that seemed natural and eternal.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 weakened significantly the respect for privacy of communications to which we had become accustomed. The Act has led to hundreds of public sector organisations, as diverse as local councils and the Food Standards Agency, having powers to snoop on the private lives of citizens without any judicial oversight. The same legislation gives the state power to punish anyone who refuses to hand over encryption keys, or anyone who reveals that such a demand has been made.

In the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, Charles Clarke, then Home Secretary, pushed the Data Retention Directive through the EU Council of Ministers. Thus internet service providers are required to maintain logs of all our web activity. In a climate when people can be imprisoned for looking at or distributing material from the wrong websites, this has a chilling effect on our freedoms. Now we must bear that momentary hesitation before clicking on links, knowing that what we view in the privacy of our homes could be automatically added to profiles and used in court, should the security services ever decide we are less than model citizens.

The long-cherished freedom of expression is severely curtailed.

Unfortunately, matters may be set to get worse. The Home Office has let it be known that officials are considering building another surveillance database (surprise!).

In the draft Communications Bill, they want to claim powers for central government to retain records of all our telephone calls and e-mails. All in the name of national security, of course; a full permanent record of all our colleagues, friends, lovers and casual acquintances.

If these officials are acting on the orders of ministers, Parliament must call those ministers to account. The most important duty of MPs is to represent the interests of their constituents by scrutinising the government.

Any officials who believe that they serve the public by intruding so deeply into our lives are in the wrong job.

Britain is not well served by a database of all communications, by a national identity register, by a universal DNA database or any of the other surveillance databases proposed in recent years. A healthy liberal democracy requires that people be free to go about their business without the overbearing presence of a controlling state.

When a government is so fearful of its citizens that it must monitor them continually, it is a clear sign that the interests of the state no longer coincide with the interests of those whom it is supposed to serve.

2008-05-17 The Herald
Hypocrisy over politicians' desire for privacy

Reacting to the decision by the High Court that MPs' expenses must be published, the Prime Minister spoke of his concerns for the security issues associated with publishing MPs' addresses. To the sundry charges levelled at Gordon Brown in recent months, we must now add hypocrisy.

Many other people wish to keep their addresses private for security reasons. Among these are medical researchers working with animals, victims of child or domestic abuse, witnesses to crimes and police officers.

To protect their privacy, such people, along with many others, often choose not to have their names listed in the publicly available electoral roll and opt for ex-directory phone numbers.

Other privacy-enhancing measures can be taken. For example, medical researchers are often advised not to use their own addresses for contact with various government agencies after DVLA officials passed on names and addresses to animal rights extremists.

Yet despite apparently understanding the legitimate need for people to maintain their privacy, the Prime Minister insists on going ahead with building a national identity register, containing the names and addresses - and much else besides - of every resident. And it is the government's stated aim to make life as inconvenient as possible for those who do not comply with reporting requirements, in addition to the hefty fines.

Compilation of a national population register has been a long-standing obsession of the British government; one that historically has always been unpopular with the public. Gordon Brown would do well to dwell on what happened last time the government attempted it. Margaret Thatcher probably regrets her introduction of the poll tax.

2008-05-16 Edinburgh Evening News
ID card scheme is a huge waste of taxpayers' cash

IT is regrettable that the Scottish Grocers Federation (SGF) is again calling for the Government to introduce national ID cards (Shops' struggle to spot teen boozers an age-old problem, Evening News, May 13). It is not necessary to identify a person in order to determine whether they are of legal age to purchase alcohol. Names, addresses and sundry numbers related to citizenship are superfluous.

Nor is it even necessary for a shopkeeper to know a customer's exact date of birth -- information which can be used by identify fraudsters; it is sufficient to know only that they are over a certain age.

There are several proof-of-age cards readily available on the market, mostly at very modest cost. Any of these can be used to prove that someone is old enough to buy age-restricted products and it would be a simple matter for SGF members to collectively insist that customers produce one or several of these.

If they are unhappy with the current offerings, they could produce and sell their own.

Instead, they are demanding that the Government waste millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on an unnecessary national ID scheme -- money that could be spent on ensuring that our police are better resourced to deal with any abuse that shopkeepers do encounter.

2008-05-10 The Herald
Government has little respect for security

In an effort to curb spiralling costs, the Home Office last year abandoned plans to build the promised brand-new "clean" database for its National Identity Register, opting instead to use the Department of Work and Pensions' Customer Information System (CIS) as a foundation for its ID scheme.

Given that the Home Office has just committed to bringing the National Identity Register online by 2009, one might have expected that extra strong security protocols would have been introduced for the CIS when that decision was made.

The revelation that DWP officials have been sending out highly sensitive data in packages that include the passwords demonstrates yet again how little respect there is within government for effective security. In Whitehall, bureaucratic convenience trumps privacy concerns every time.

Ministers had claimed that new procedures would be implemented following HMRC's loss of the child benefit database. Although they repeatedly claim that their systems were secure, Ministers have failed to understand the fundamental problem that the civil service cannot be trusted to handle personal data responsibly.

To proceed with plans for the ID database is sheer folly.

2008-05-08 The Herald
More ID card cost increases

The six-monthly Dobson report, the Home Office's rolling 10-year estimate of the costs of the ID scheme, has just been published. Yet again, it is late. Yet again, it reveals delays and cost increases for plans to issue ID cards.

Most of the cost increases are hidden from the reported headline figures by the simple expedient of delaying them so that they avoid the 10-year period that the report considers. The ID scheme will incur substantial costs to the exchequer long after the current government has gone.

The Home Office has also buried substantial costs by transferring the burden directly to taxpayers. Citizens will have to pay for their own biometric enrolment through the private sector.

In light of recent revelations that passport interrogations have failed to catch a single fraudster, it is unsurprising that ministers are scaling back plans to interrogate everyone to whom an ID card is issued. But this interrogation process was supposed to be the central element guaranteeing the scheme's integrity. Fraudulent ID cards will be no harder to obtain than existing documents, such as passports.

Unfortunately, the ID database remains as intrusive as ever and the reporting requirements placed on citizens, with £1000 fines for failure to report a change of circumstances to the authorities, are no less burdensome than before.

Intrusive, unaffordable, late and useless. MPs should find it an easy decision to scrap the ID scheme before it goes any further.

2008-05-07 The Herald
MSPs have the right idea about DNA

Last year, MSPs decided not to extend the scope of the Scottish DNA database, instead supporting the existing policy that the DNA of innocent people should not routinely be added to it. Meanwhile, south of the border, DNA samples are being taken from all and sundry. Anyone arrested by the English police will have their DNA added to the database, even if they are not subsequently charged with any offence.

It has now emerged that over 660,000 DNA samples were added to the English and Welsh DNA database in 2006/7, at a cost exceeding £3m. And the benefit of this massive invasion of genetic privacy? A mere 800 extra crimes detected using DNA evidence. One crime for every 800 people added to the database.

Our politicians in Holyrood clearly made the right decision.

While the Home Office charges around trampling civil liberties at every opportunity, MSPs are proving themselves to be better at understanding the importance of respecting individuals' rights. Scottish MPs would do well to look at the work of the Scottish Parliament and take the lessons they learn to Westminster.

2008-05-04 The Herald
Missed out

Home Office Minister Meg Hillier is embarking on an ID roadshow as part of a government consultation on its delivery strategy for the national identity scheme.

The roadshow started in Cambridge. NO2ID has learned that it will be visiting Reading and London this week, followed by Birmingham, Newcastle and Wales. It appears that the new listening government is not much keen on hearing Scottish opinion on its ID proposals.

2008-05-02 The Herald
Why Gordon Brown should halt ID cards

Government departments cannot be trusted to keep citizens' personal data secure. It is not only in Italy that tax records are not as confidential as people might have expected.

Treasury minister Jane Kennedy has admitted that last year, 192 staff at HM Revenue & Customs were disciplined for inappropriate access to personal or sensitive data. This brings to 600 the number of staff facing disciplinary proceedings since 2005 when the agency was created; the same agency that managed to lose unencrypted copies of the entire child benefit database last November.

Despite six years and millions of pounds wasted on consultants, the government has still failed to make a convincing case for collecting even more personal data on a National Identity Register.

Home Office assurances that the data will be safe from prying eyes look increasing ludicrous as we learn more about the abysmal insecurity of existing databases.

The notion behind Transformational Government - that promiscuous data sharing is a good in its own right - is fundamentally flawed.

While the Prime Minister ponders the latest message from the electorate in England and Wales, he should halt the ID scheme and start considering how the government could better respect our privacy.

A reply from Robert and Alison Bell (2008-05-05): ID-cards are ‘theft’ of our civil liberties

We could not agree more with Geraint Bevan in his criticism of Gordon Brown's policy on ID cards (Letters, May 2). For the circumstances concerned, however - no less than the theft by government diktat of our most fundamental civil liberties - Mr Bevan's letter is too measured and reasonable.

[...] If we want to find out our own MPs' voting record on issues relating to ID cards we can do so by the simple expedient of googling "NO2ID", following a few simple links, and typing in our post code. Mr Bevan is not alone in his just concerns. Our fear is that, because of recent reverses, Gordon Brown will be misguidedly tempted to make these bills his line in the sand as a test of public confidence in his leadership.

2008-04-28 The Herald
Facial recognition is same as tossing a coin

After all the rhetoric about securing our borders, the Home Office has now announced its intent significantly to weaken passport control in the UK. Starting this summer, border guards will gradually be replaced at UK airports by machines performing automatic facial recognition, comparing digital photographs to the data stored on passport chips.

Four years ago, the Home Office ran biometric enrolment trials in Glasgow, Newcastle and Leicester. The trials revealed plainly the fallibility of state-of-the-art biometric authentication. The worst performing biometric technology was facial recognition, which failed 31% of the time for able-bodied participants and a farcical 52% of the time for disabled participants. Problems were also encountered with the elderly, and the system did not cope well with changes to appearances.

Meanwhile, cryptographic researchers working with NO2ID have demonstrated the ability to clone UK passport chips remotely, without even removing passports from the sealed packaging in which they are delivered to recipients. Now all that will stand between imposters with cloned passports and entry to Britain will be a flawed authentication system that performs no better than tossing a coin.

The government is clearly keen to save money. There are much better savings to be made than firing the border guards at airports.

2008-04-21 Cambridge Evening News, No point in IDs

Contrary to the impression conveyed by scaremongerers, Britain is not awash with paedophiles and terrorists. Yet even if Kath Keating lives in daily fear of monsters lurking under every bed, she is wrong to suggest that ID cards offer any solution.

One need only look to Thailand, a favourite destination of sex tourists, and Spain, which has long suffered from Basque Separatists' bombs. Both have compulsory ID cards.

Ms Keating goes on to suggest that medical confidentiality should be sacrificed so that information is available in emergencies. She would do well to consider the dangers that would arise from the inevitable errors in the central database.

2008-04-11 Edinburgh Evening News
Identity fraud cost doesn't add up

CLAIMS that identity fraud costs the UK £20 billion a year are baseless (Keeping your ID safe, News, April 9). Even the Home Office claims only £1.7 billion, and most of that is comprised of credit card and insurance fraud - crimes not generally considered as identity theft.

The reality is that identity theft is extremely rare in the UK. What DC Burns describes are simple bank frauds in which money or services are obtained by deception. Since the commencement of the Fraud Act 2006, police outwith Scotland will not even investigate such crimes unless reported by the real victims - the banks or credit card companies.

If commercial institutions choose to provide services to people on the basis of a pilfered utility bill and mother's maiden name in place of a trusted relationship, that is their choice. They and their shareholders are responsible for any losses that may result. It only affects the rest of us when credit reference agencies get involved and libel innocent people.

2008-04-10 The Herald
The minister, the internet and the phrase that 'disappeared' from Hansard

Readers of George Orwell's classic 1984 will be familiar with the concept of history being rewritten for the convenience of the government.

A particularly revealing revision has just been discovered in Hansard, the official record of proceedings at Westminster.

Giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in February, the minister for ID cards, Meg Hillier, described the proposed National Identity Register as "hack-proof, not connected to the internet". These words have now mysteriously vanished from the official record.

Regular users of Hansard will be aware that it is never entirely verbatim; the editors routinely tidy up the speeches of MPs to make them sound more articulate than they really are. Nevertheless, it is unusual for ministerial promises to be erased.

One can readily understand why civil servants might have cringed at the phrase "hack-proof" and requested its removal; no database can ever be described as such. However, erasure of "not connected to the internet" is a far more serious matter. When the Identity Cards Bill was being debated by parliament, ministers routinely gave conflicting information about whether this supposedly secure database would be connected to the internet. At times, it was claimed that citizens would be able to check and update their details online. On other occasions, it was claimed that the database would be physically isolated. After wasting two years and many millions of pounds of our taxes, without even a single plastic card being issued, it seems the Home Office is still unsure about this basic question.

If the National Identity Register is not connected to the internet, it will not be able to fulfil any of the dreams of ministers. If it is connected to the internet, it will not be secure.

Perhaps Meg Hillier could consult her advisers and let us know which of these unsatisfactory options has been selected, or when a decision will be made.

2008-03-22 The Herald
Keeping data private will keep it secure

The passport records of all three US presidential candidates have been accessed without authorisation. It is not yet known whether these breaches of privacy were politically motivated or the result of simple curiosity on the part of employees at the US State Department.

Apologising to Senator Barack Obama, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she would be disturbed if she learned that someone had looked into her passport file. Meanwhile, Democrat spokesmen have highlighted the potential security risks. I fear that, were such a thing to be discovered here, ministers would not be so sensitive to the issues involved.

Meg Hillier, Minister for ID cards, routinely dismisses concerns about the National Identity Register by pretending that it is comparable to the existing passport database and suggesting that no-one is worried about the data stored on that. The complacency of successive Home Office ministers is itself deeply disturbing.

Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights has just reported that data protection is not taken sufficiently seriously by government and highlighted in particular its lack of confidence about the security of data on a National Identity Register.

The only way to ensure data remains secure is to keep it private. That means not collecting and collating unnecessary personal data on vast government databases.

2008-03-10 The Herald
Will the PM listen to the Home Office or the experts?

The Scottish Government must be heartily commended for its decision to resist the imposition of compulsory national ID cards on Scottish airport workers and students. In doing so, it serves well the clearly and repeatedly expressed will of the Scottish Parliament. Compulsory ID cards and the associated database are not welcome here.

The Home Secretary's announcement on Thursday was important not because she announced a further two-year delay to the troubled ID scheme, nor because this was the first time the Home Office has admitted publicly its intention (leaked by NO2ID in January) to threaten the livelihoods of targeted groups of workers. Jacqui Smith's announcement was intended to pre-empt and partly bury the Crosby Report.

Sir James Crosby is a former chairman of HBOS and deputy chairman of the Financial Services Authority. In 2006, he was commissioned by the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to undertake an independent review of identity management. The report was due to be published early last year, but has remained hidden until now. It could not be more scathing of the Home Office scheme.

Having consulted a wide range of organisations from across the public and private sectors, including government departments, the police, banks and security experts, Sir James sets out 10 principles to which he believes any successful ID scheme must adhere. Among them are the maxims that any scheme must be independent of government, and that it must minimise the amount of personal data held. The report also highlights the inherent conflict between the needs of government and the needs of citizens or consumers.

There is no way of reconciling the Crosby Report with the government's current ID proposals. The Prime Minister must make a decision. Will he trust the panel of independent experts that he appointed, or the incompetent and duplicitous Home Office that still seeks to impose its unpopular and intrusive registration scheme on an unwilling public?

2008-03-07 The Herald
Who do they think you are?

Quoted in the Focus section

[Home Office statements] did not reassure Geraint Bevan, who speaks for NO2ID, a fast-growing group campaigning against the cards and the National Identity Register, in Scotland. "What we are talking about is a giant metadatabase from a government that has already lost the details of 25 million people. The little plastic card is just an excuse to grab people's information. And, let's face it, the government doesn't exactly have a good record with IT projects."

2008-03-06 STV
Five Thirty

Following the Home Secretary's announcement about changes to deployment of the ID scheme, the first item on STV's Five Thirty programme focused on ID cards, including an interview with me.

2008-02-29 Info4Security
All eyes on Terminal Five

Quoted in an article about security at Heathrow's Terminal 5

Geraint Bevan, a spokesman for the campaign group No2ID, said the system is open to abuse by staff and passengers who could forge fingerprint details to avoid immigration checks.

"At the least, it will cause complacency among check-in staff who may not pay as much attention to your boarding cards if they are busy checking fingerprints and photographs," he argued. "There are also rogue workers in any industry who could take advantage of this."

2008-02-28 The Herald
Internal passports reminiscent of the cold war

Giving evidence to the (House of Commons) Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Meg Hillier, Minister for ID cards, said we should see the cards as "passports in-country".

Such candour from a Home Office minister makes a refreshing change from the usual spin and deception. Perhaps in this apparent new spirit of openness and transparency, the government will be prepared to engage in a rational debate about where its transformational government agenda is taking our society.

Do we wish to live in a country where citizens are controlled by the state; a database state in which the intimate details of our lives are recorded by bureaucrats for administrative convenience?

Under Soviet rule, an internal passport (propiska), officially a record of a person's address, was required when applying for jobs, for a place in higher education or for obtaining medical treatment.

Without judicial oversight, officials were able to withdraw a propiska from anyone whose activities were deemed anti-Soviet. The similarities to the UK's proposed National Identity Scheme are, frankly, disturbing. The Prime Minister speaks eloquently of liberty and British values. Following a path that was widely condemned in the free world during the cold war is a strange way of promoting the values of which he professes himself to be so proud.

2008-02-19 The Herald
History teaches lesson of ID cards' intrusion

On February 21, 1952, Winston Churchill's Minister for Health, Harry Crookshank, announced to the House of Commons that ID cards would be scrapped. This Thursday, 56 years later, the government would do well to remember how unpopular those cards were.

Although introduced as an emergency measure in 1939, the cards were used increasingly to exert control over people's lives, particularly for enforcement of rationing. Two years after the war concluded, Aneurin Bevan, speaking from the Labour government benches, denounced the retention of ID cards.

He said: "I believe the requirement of an internal passport is more objectionable than an external passport, and that citizens ought to be allowed to move about freely without running the risk of being accosted by a policeman or anyone else, and asked to produce proof of identity."

However, Clement Attlee's government - beloved of bureaucracy - retained the cards, which began to encroach further into people's lives. By 1951, the British Housewives League had taken to burning their ID cards in protest. Matters came to a head when Constable Muckle stopped a 54-year-old motorist, Clarence Willcock, who refused to produce an ID card, stating defiantly that he was a Liberal. Willcock was arrested and convicted, but the case reached the High Court where Acting Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard, upholding the conviction, said: "Because the police have powers, it does not follow that they ought to exercise them on all occasions as a matter of routine. From what we have been told, it is obvious that the police now, as a matter of routine, demand the production of national registration identity cards whenever they stop or interrogate a motorist for whatever cause."

"The National Registration Act was passed for security purposes, and not for the purposes for which, apparently, it is now sought to be used. To use Acts of Parliament, passed for particular purposes during war, in times when the war is past, except that technically a state of war exists, tends to turn law-abiding subjects into lawbreakers, which is a most undesirable state of affairs."

Later that year, Labour was swept from power by a Conservative and National Liberal coalition, with the Conservatives promising to "set the people free". Today's Labour government has inherited an ill-conceived database-backed scheme that promises to intrude into our lives far more extensively.

Five years ago the Home Office claimed 80% support for the scheme. Now two-thirds of people in Scotland are already opposed. Everyone makes mistakes - governments too - but wisdom comes from recognising those mistakes and avoiding them in future. Prime Minister Gordon Brown should demonstrate his wisdom by taking charge and dropping the national identity card scheme before it goes any further.

2008-02-15 The Times
Learner numbers are a step towards ID cards

Sir, The Home Office-sponsored survey that claims public support for ID cards ("ID card scheme gathers public support as more databases set up", Feb 13) does not reflect current reality. The poll was conducted in October, before the loss of the child benefit database propelled data insecurity firmly into the public consciousness. More recent independent polls show that a majority of the public do not now support a national identity scheme.

Furthermore, it would be wrong to conclude that there was widespread support for the identity scheme late last year. The survey questions were highly leading, for example: "All respondents were shown a list of eight proposed benefits of the scheme and asked to indicate which they were aware of."

As ever, the Home Office is relying on propaganda to disguise the myriad flaws and deep unpopularity of its proposals for compulsory national registration.

2008-02-05 The Herald
MPs should work to restore the public's privacy

Jack Straw is almost correct when he says that it is completely unacceptable for an MP to be bugged while attending to constituency business. Generally, everyone should be free to speak to their member of Parliament or legal representatives without being monitored.

However, the bugging by Scotland Yard of an MP's visit to a prison is no more offensive than the powers for more than 650 bodies, including local authorities, the ambulance service and the Financial Services Authority, to tap the phones of each and every one of us; powers that enable them to go on fishing expeditions to combat crimes as serious as fly-tipping and benefit fraud.

The bugging is also less intrusive than the requirement for communication providers to maintain records of all our phone and internet traffic for two years, in case the government wishes to see who we have been talking to. And it is certainly less disturbing than the Home Office's plans to place us all under continual automatic surveillance using the national identity scheme.

Sympathy for Sadiq Khan MP must be tempered by the knowledge that, despite being a former chairman of Liberty, since entering Parliament he has consistently backed the government's privacy-eroding measures. His outrage at being bugged could be regarded as somewhat hypocritical.

It is a fundamental tenet of a representative democracy that law-makers should be subject to the same laws that they impose upon the rest of us. We all have a right to privacy and information security.

When they have got over their self-interested outrage, MPs should consider how they can start to restore the privacy of everyone, not just themselves.

2008-02-03 Sunday Herald
Routine fingerprinting at Heathrow provokes outrage

Quoted in an article about the introduction of fingerprinting of domestic passengers by BA at Heathrow.

Geraint Bevan, spokesman for No2ID Scotland, said the technology highlighted the vulnerability of people's privacy because it could be open to abuse by staff or passengers who could easily forge fingerprint details to avoid immigration checks.

He said: "At the least, it will cause complacency among check-in staff who may not pay as much attention to your boarding cards if they are busy checking fingerprints and photographs."

"There are also rogue workers in any industry who could take advantage of this information. Once you give information to anybody, you are at their mercy and must hope they act responsibly with it."

2008-01-22 The Herald
ID cards would benefit racketeers, not public

George Smith offers the entertaining suggestion that there is a conspiracy to undermine ID cards (Letters, January 21). It is certainly true that many civil servants privately express deep reservations about the national ID scheme. Many at the sharp end of government IT systems are supporters of NO2ID. However, there is a more mundane explanation for the recent spate of reported data losses; and it does not require any fanciful conspiracy theories.

Years of woeful scrutiny by parliament have resulted in a government that seeks primarily to serve itself. Bureaucratic convenience is first and foremost in the minds of ministers who are incapable of recognising the difference between the public interest and bureaucratic self-interest.

Data protection has never been taken seriously by Whitehall. The UK Government chose to exempt itself from the Data Protection Act rather than burden itself with the duty of care that is owed to citizens. As Christine Grahame, the SNP MSP, has just discovered, DVLA has been profiting handsomely from the sale of driver details: more than five million driver records have been sold to private companies since 2002.

At the heart of government policy is the Transformational Government agenda, the deliberate aim of which is vastly to increase data-sharing while stripping away the minimal protections that currently exist. It is an agenda that serves bureaucrats rather than the needs of citizens.

Ministers talk of protecting our identities, but like all protection rackets, the national ID scheme is designed to benefit the racketeers, not the public.

2008-01-16 The Herald
Scotland should concentrate on renewables

Neil Craig says there have been only two deaths from nuclear power in the past 20 years. Even though this time-span conveniently omits the deaths caused directly by the explosion at Chernobyl in 1986, many people have since contracted fatal and non-fatal cancers as a result of the radiation it released. The ultimate human toll of the disaster is the subject of much controversy, with estimates and predictions ranging from a few thousand fatalities to hundreds of thousands. Nevertheless, these victims must be included in any statistics for the period, despite numerical uncertainty.

2008-01-02 BBC Radio WM
Danny Kelly show

Danny Kelly interviewed me about my research.

2008-01-02 The Herald
Infringement of liberty is a price worth paying

Neil McNamara (Letters, December 22) is right to recall the "can't pay, won't pay" campaign against the poll tax when considering likely resistance to the national ID scheme.

There are several similarities between the poll tax and the ID scheme: both are taxes on existence; both intrude on domestic arrangements; both were fated to suffer from dramatic increases in hostility once people became aware of what was going on. But, most significantly, the poll tax and ID scheme both rely on the active cooperation of the whole population if they are to have any chance of working. The can't pay, won't pay campaign showed how vulnerable the government is when it requires our cooperation. But lessons have been learned. The Home Office is determined not to have newspapers reporting on grannies in court as ID martyrs.

To neutralise resistance, the identity cards Act is written in such a way that refusal to register will not be a criminal offence. Instead, the government is relying on denial of services, such as provision of passports, to force initial registration. Then civil penalties - fines issued by the Home Office without judicial oversight - will be used to enforce subsequent compliance with reporting requirements.

The Home Office intends to deny refuseniks a day in court, but its strategy may backfire. It has left the door open for people to resist without breaking the law. If enough people do resist, the scheme is doomed to certain failure.

To help matters along, NO2ID has just launched a new pledge; an undertaking to be made by anyone in the presence of a witness. Full details of the pledge are at NO2ID will continue campaigning for the repeal of the identity cards Act and an end to the database state.

2008-01-01 BBC World Service
The World Today

The World Today (news programme repeated throughout the night) included a brief interview about my research.

2007-12-31 BBC Radio 5 Live

Drive (4pm to 7pm) included a brief interview about my research.

2007-12-30 BBC Radio 5 Live
Weekend News

The Weekend News (8pm to 10pm) included a brief interview about my research.

2007-12-30 Sunday Telegraph
Engineers plan crash-proof computer car

An article by Richard Gray about my research.

Any motorist who has had another car pull out in front of him or her will know about the split-second decisions needed to avoid an accident.

But now a team of British engineers wants to take such choices out of drivers' hands. They are developing a "crash proof" car that takes control if it senses danger.

The engineers, working with DaimlerChrysler, have created a system that can sense when a car has pulled out at a junction or when traffic ahead has stopped suddenly.

The developers claim that the computer-controlled car will react faster than motorists and perform the manoeuvres needed in emergencies far better.

But some motorists will find the idea of a computer grabbing control difficult to accept, and even dangerous, while road safety groups fear that such systems may be unable to react adequately.

Geraint Bevan, who is working on the system at Glasgow University's Centre for Systems and Control, insists that a computer can control a car far better than the average motorist.

He said: "If you have someone like Michael Schumacher driving your car, he will probably be able to manoeuvre the car at its limit, but most drivers will either swerve too fast or too hard, meaning they lose control."

Major car manufacturers have been attempting to introduce crash avoidance in their vehicles for years, and systems such as anti-lock brakes are now standard on many vehicles.

The new collision avoidance controller, which is being developed as part of a Europe-wide project, combines braking with the ability to swerve to avoid an accident. Mr Bevan said that the system used collision avoidance technology similar to that found in aircraft.

Radar and cameras mounted on the front and sides of the vehicle detect obstacles while a global positioning system helps the on-board computer work out the layout of the road before taking evasive action.

The researchers now hope to test the system in a real Mercedes provided by DaimlerChrysler, the Mercedes parent company.

However, there are potential drawbacks. Mr Bevan said: "If you were in town, for example, it might be better to hit the car that has just pulled out in front of you, rather than swerve into the crowd of people standing at the side of the road."

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said: "It is important that motorists do not become overly reliant upon technology."

"It would be too easy for them to relax and believe technology can get them out of a situation, but things can go wrong."

2007-12-26 The Herald
Checks not so benign

Doug Maughan's pre-flight checks (Letters, December 21) are unlikely to uncover concealed explosives, but the checks harm no-one. Random searches of rail passengers by police are similarly unlikely to detect terrorist activity, but are not so benign.

Transport minister Tom Harris may enjoy the prospect of the police reading personal and confidential correspondence, or rifling through packed underwear in public, but this pointless intrusion is less welcomed by those of us who risk arbitrary detention by the Transport Inquisition while going about our lawful, everyday business.

The government's policy of instilling fear in the population does nothing to make us safer. The notion that we must give up our privacy or liberty to protect our way of life is absurd.

Police should stop trying to terrorise us and get back to proper community policing.

A reply from Doug Maughan (2008-01-02): Infringement of liberty is a price worth paying

[...] Geraint Bevan (Letters, December 26) argues that "the notion that we must give up our privacy or liberty to protect our way of life is absurd". It isn't. We accept minor infringements of our privacy or liberty in all sorts of areas to help prevent loss to ourselves and our fellow citizens. [...]

The infringement Mr Bevan was railing against was stop-and-search by the British Transport Police. [...]

It's enormously difficult to protect every public area terrorists might regard as a high-value target, but I can't agree with Mr Bevan's suggestion that the solution is to remove completely security measures. [...]

Mr Bevan thinks security searches are pointless and should be abandoned. If they were, we would have regular terrorist attacks, with hundreds or perhaps thousands killed each year. [...]

2007-12-19 The Herald
Chancellor should withdraw funding for ID cards

Alistair Darling's promise to increase penalties for wilful misuse of data is a wholly inappropriate response to recent data losses. If the police are unable now to apprehend fraudsters operating from beyond British jurisdiction, such legislation will be no deterrent to further criminal activity.

Instead of diversionary legislative theatrics, the correct response is to prevent sensitive data from being exposed in the first place. That requires that HM Government stop collecting and centralising so much personal information and that Whitehall curbs its promiscuous data-sharing habits.

In stark contrast to the incompetence now routinely on display in Westminster, the Scottish Government and Parliament are to be applauded for the resolution on data protection that was passed last Thursday.

The Liberal Democrat motion - amended by the Greens and supported by the SNP and independent MSPs - will greatly improve confidence in the handling of personal information in Scotland.

The cross-party consensus resolves to seek additional powers for the Assistant Information Commissioner for Scotland; calls for government data audits to be independent and accountable to Parliament; calls for a review of Citizens Accounts; and demands that all data-handling procedures be fully compliant with data-protection principles.

Significantly, the Scottish Parliament also resolved that the Scottish Government, local authorities and public bodies should deny the Home Office access to personal information for the UK ID database.

UK ministers must accept that any case for the national ID scheme and Transformational Government agenda has been undermined entirely by the blizzard of revelations in recent weeks.

While the Chancellor's mind is focused on data protection, he should take a firm lead. In his next statement to the Commons, Mr Darling should announce that all funding for the ID scheme will be withdrawn.

2007-12-08 The Herald
Too-long detention

SOME 42 days from now, Christmas will be a memory, New Year resolutions will have been broken and the evenings will be getting lighter.

I long ago learned of distant lands where the interests of the state and its rulers override human rights. Until recent years, I believed I was very fortunate to live in a country where such things would never happen. Forty-two days is an intolerable length of time to hold someone without charge (as is the current 28 days). We have had internment before in part of the UK; it did nothing to quell the troubles in Northern Ireland.

If I were detained for such a period, I am sure that I would emerge extremely angry. I cannot imagine that it would produce less of an effect on those who may already feel alienated from society.

When the Home Secretary introduces her Bill to extend pre-charge detention, MPs should instead amend the legislation and reduce the existing period to 14 days.

2007-12-07 The Herald
Data and privacy

A D Cunningham suggests that HM Revenue & Customs is not aware of encryption technology (Letters, December 5). The immediate risk of bank fraud would have been reduced if the lost CDs had been encrypted; that they were not was clearly reckless. But encryption is not the real problem.

Eight basic data protection principles, enshrined in the Data Protection Act and enforced by the under-resourced Information Commissioner's Office, place obligations on processors of personal data. Personal information must be fairly and lawfully processed; processed for limited purposes; adequate, relevant and not excessive; accurate and up to date; not kept for longer than necessary; processed in line with individuals' rights; secure; and not transmitted to other countries without adequate protection.

Even if the data on the CDs had been secured, the transfer of the data would still have failed most of the remaining tests.

The National Audit Office had no interest (legitimate or otherwise) in people's bank details. The people to whom the data related had a right to expect that the information would not be transferred outside HMRC or used for purposes other than payment of Child Benefit. Consequently, the data should not have been transferred by any medium - encrypted or not.

Fundamentally, the problem is that the civil service holds more personal information, and shares personal data more widely, than is necessary. Government has no respect for privacy. That must change.

2007-12-03 BBC Radio Scotland
The Investigation

I was one of the interviewees for "The Investigation" into our surveillance society, by David Calder.

2007-12-02 BBC Scotland
There is no longer any privacy

Quoted in an article about "The Investigation" broadcast the next day

According to Geraint Bevan of No2ID, 650 other organisations will be able to see it as well, from the Gaming Commission to local authorities.

"This data will be logged for a year," he said, "and every minor official could be able to have access to your phone records. There's no privacy anymore."

2007-11-29 The Herald
We are all put at risk by identity scheme

The suggestion by James Hall that Project Stork (Letters, November 29) has nothing to do with the national identity scheme is risible. The roadmap for the project was presented on June 13 at this year's European e-identity conference in Paris. Frank Leyman, manager for international relations at FEDICT (the Belgian public service responsible for e-government), described the project thus: "Implementation of an EU-wide interoperable system for recognition of electronic identification and authentication that will enable businesses, citizens and government employees to use their national electronic identities in any member state."

Mr Leyman's presentation placed identification at the heart of the project and explained how Belgian ID cards would link into the system. Although final project details were still to be formalised, the schedule showed the UK government taking responsibility for Work Package 4: identification, digital signatures, and association and provision of personal data. To suggest this is unrelated to the national identity scheme is beyond belief. Meanwhile, Mr Hall states that the national identity register will hold only "core identity information". His notion of what constitutes core data will not be shared by most readers.

Few people would consider details of visits to clinics or applications for credit to be core identity data. Yet these will be recorded on the ID database. The Identity Cards Act specifies approximately 50 categories of information to be registered.

Fraudsters will find the database immeasurably more useful than child benefit records: it will contain everything the discerning conman could need to practise identity fraud. The biometric data will prove priceless for criminals. Unlike passwords, fingerprints cannot be changed after hackers gain access.

The register will store full names and details of all places of residence - a matter of concern to people who are trying not to be found by those who would do them harm, such as men and women fleeing domestic abuse. The government has demonstrated time and again that it cannot be trusted to look after our personal data. A degree of transparency and honesty from ministers and officials seeking to seize more data still would not go amiss.

2007-11-26 The Independent
Biometric data is not secure

Sir: James Baring suggests that it would not matter if data leaked from an ID database because the biometric information would be of no use to criminals (letter, 24 November). He might be less confident about security if he realised that biometric data can be spoofed.

Fingerprints - obtained from a database or from glasses in a pub - can be used to create gelatine moulds that are capable of fooling biometric scanners. Contact lenses can be coloured or patterned to match recorded images.

DNA is irrelevant to the ID debate: the Government is not proposing to use DNA verification because the process takes too long to be practical for routine transactions.

Furthermore, any biometric data used for identification will eventually be converted into a set of numbers for comparison against stored values. If hackers are able to capture these numbers and inject them into other systems, they are capable of impersonating anyone.

Biometrics are not a panacea for information security. Those who believe otherwise have been misled by the hype.

2007-11-24 The Times
Datagate and the threat of a digital dystopia

Sir, David Blunkett (letter, Nov 23) is in denial that his beloved ID scheme has been dealt a fatal blow. His argument, essentially, is that it would not matter if even more data were lost from a national identity register because it would be useless to criminals without biometric authentication.

Leaving aside his incredible lack of respect for people's privacy, or the fallibility of biometric technology, his comments demonstrate a remarkable inability to think things through. To require biometric authentication for every transaction would put an end to online banking. It would put an end to telephone banking. It would put an end to all online purchases and dealings where both parties are not present, and we would all be returned to a world of visiting travel agents to book our holidays.

Mr Blunkett's dystopian world is not one that most people care to share.

2007-11-23 Evening Times
Our privacy was lost in the post

Following the news that the personal and banking details of all recipients of Child Benefit have been lost in the post, several members of NO2ID Glasgow - the campaign against ID cards - have contacted their banks to get new account numbers.

Everyone else in Glasgow whose bank and personal details may have been on this database should do the same.

There is no reason why any civil servant should have been able to copy to disk the entire database including children's names, addresses, dates of birth and parents' bank details. The government demonstrates repeatedly that it cannot be trusted with sensitive information and has little regard for our privacy.

Matters can only get worse if the ID scheme is ever implemented.

2007-11-22 The Scotsman
Data discs blunder reveals the folly of trusting government on ID card plan

The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, acknowledges that losing two computer discs containing personal details of half the nation is an extremely serious failure; a breach of established standard practice; the third in recent months. He blames junior civil servants for ignoring established procedures.

And yet the Chancellor made clear the government still intended to proceed with compulsory national registration and build a national identity register - a database far larger than any other it currently maintains. As well as bank account details, names, addresses and dates of birth, it would also record visits to clinics and other interactions between residents and the state.

Promiscuous sharing of personal data by government presents a real danger to citizens' privacy . The government should not be seeking to collect and collate as much information as possible about each of us. The national identity register must be abandoned.

2007-11-22 The Herald
Government has treated public with disregard

David Stevenson (Letters, November 21) is correct. The casual disregard with which HM Revenue & Customs has treated the personal details of 25 million people does, indeed, blow a hole in assertions that centralising information on government databases enhances security.

Half the population will now have to pay particularly close attention to their bank accounts (I would recommend that everyone affected insist on a new account number from their bank), while people who do not wish to be found by ex-partners will fear the possibility that their names and addresses may end up being published on the internet.

This hole has been blown many times before, of course, although usually on more limited scale. Only 15,000 Standard Life customers were affected when HMRC decided to pop a CD of their pension details in the post. And a mere 13,000 civil servants were affected when their data was stolen from a payroll database at the Department of Work and Pensions.

The 2000 people with their ISA details stolen last month are barely worth a mention now. Nobody seems even to notice when the Independent Police Complaints Commissioner worries about long-standing problems with unauthorised access to data on the Police National Computer, and the DVLA is still selling data from the driver database to private companies.

But the scale of this latest fiasco is beyond belief. The Chancellor has already tried to blame junior officials and attention will certainly turn to the methods by which data is transferred in future. But there are deeper questions.

Why should any civil servant - junior, senior or permanent secretary - be able to access and copy the bank details of half the population? And, given that they had access, how could any civil servant possibly think that it would be acceptable to transfer such information to anyone else, by any method?

Whether the data is transferred on unencrypted discs in the back of a commercial van (as in this case) or via quantum cryptographic cables with the end points under armed guard, such data should never have been transferred from the host system.

This must now, surely, be the end of the government's drive towards collection and centralisation of personal information. It is inconceivable that the national identity register could go ahead after this.

But the government already holds vast amounts of data about each of us - data which is not adequately protected.

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, has been warning for several years that personal data is not adequately protected. NO2ID is now calling for a full and independent audit, to establish precisely what information the government holds about each of us, how that information is used and how that data is shared between government departments.

The government has been promiscuous with our personal data for far too long. It is time for some protection.

2007-11-16 The Herald
Screen MPs, not bags

Proposing still greater surveillance of each of us as we go about our daily lives, the Prime Minister now wants our luggage to be searched at busy railway stations.

Could a supporter of this policy please explain what possible benefit it would bring?

There is no reason for a bomber to board a train at Glasgow Central Station or Edinburgh Waverley while it remains possible to board trains at smaller unmanned stations. Nor, indeed, is it even necessary for a bomber to board a train.

During the 1990s, several bombs exploded on British railway lines. Screening baggage at the busiest stations will do nothing to prevent such simple attacks.

A more successful strategy for preventing terrorism would be effective screening of those seeking election to government.

We could start by eliminating those who believe illegal wars and authoritarian security theatre are the route to a peaceful and happy society.

2007-11-08 The Herald
Freedom to speak out against the system

Lord Carloway appears to be confused about the role of defence lawyers in the legal system, complaining that law agents should not attack the courts or the law. Defending Mohammed Asif Siddique, it was Aamer Anwar's duty to represent his client, not to act as an ambassador for the court or Parliament.

Aamer Anwar has maintained that he was, indeed, espousing the thoughts of his client. Yet even if they were his own beliefs, the notion that lawyers are not at liberty to set forth their opinions should offend everyone who believes in freedom of speech.

Should we next expect to see Baroness Helena Kennedy QC tried for her continuing eloquent and lucid criticism of anti-terror laws?

2007-11-05 The Scotsman
Loss of identity

15,000 Standard Life customers are at risk of identity fraud after HM Revenue and Customs lost a CD in the post - a CD containing their names, addresses, national insurance and private pension details. The government refuses to say whether the data were encrypted, which one would assume means that they were not.

This casual disregard for the sensitivity of personal information demonstrates, yet again, that HM Government cannot be trusted to handle such data securely. If there is anyone who still believes that there is any merit to the government's proposals to create a National Identity Register - a vast database containing detailed personal information about each of us - this episode should cause them to think again.

2007-11-02 The Herald
Against ID cards

There was consensus in Glasgow City Chambers yesterday. Debating Councillor Stuart Clay's (Green) motion opposing ID cards, many councillors spoke eloquently of their opposition to the scheme. It is significant that here, in Labour's Glasgow heartland, not one councillor was prepared to defend the government's ID scheme.

Westminster should take note.

2007-11-01 The Herald
Vote for liberty and democracy

Today, Glasgow councillors will vote to confer the Freedom of the City on Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of Burma (Myanmar).

After this noble gesture against state repression, they will debate their stance on the UK national identity scheme. The parallels with Burma may surprise them.

In Burma, citizens are required to apply for ID cards - which are called national scrutinisation cards by the Ministry of Immigration and Population - when they reach the age of 10. They must then apply for renewal at the age of 18, normally at township immigration offices where they must wait for cards to be issued or renewed.

Applicants are required to fill out a form describing their family history and must also provide a number of documents, including birth certificate or proof of age from school, national scrutinisation cards from their parents, household record, blood-type certificate and residence recommendations from the township peace and development council.

The ID card must be produced by every person to obtain a wide range of services and the right to vote, to purchase tickets to travel internally, to stay in hostels or with friends and family outside one's ward of residence, to receive health and educational services and so on.

If the UK scheme goes ahead, every person over 16 will be required to attend one of 69 interrogation centres every 10 years to register or renew their application for an ID card. At the interrogation centre they will be required to answer questions from a dossier about their personal history, including their education and healthcare, after supplying supporting documentation to the Identity and Passport Service.

The cards will be required for access to a wide range of services. Ministers have singled out healthcare, education and the right to vote. Residents must continually notify the authorities of their whereabouts, updating their address each time they move, and it is clear that the cards will be used as internal passports by airlines.

Councillors have the opportunity to strike two notes for liberty and democracy today. Hopefully, they will set party politics aside and vote in the best interests of Glaswegians, the majority of whom are opposed to the ID scheme.

2007-10-31 The Herald
Minister got exactly what he deserved

Doug Maughan suggests that International Development Minister Shahid Malik's experience at Dulles airport may provide a reality check. If so, it is long overdue.

Mr Malik speaks fine words. Before becoming a minister, he suggested the approach of security services should be intelligence-led, not beard-led. On home affairs issues in the Commons, he has consistently referred to the need to balance liberty and security.

Yet when voting, Mr Malik has fully endorsed the government's security theatre agenda and attacks on liberty, voting for ID cards, the introduction of house arrest and extension of detention without charge or trial.

As the MP for a constituency that was home to one of the 7/7 bombers, he should be well aware that ID cards could not have prevented that attack; that they will do nothing to prevent terrorism.

As a former commissioner for racial equality, he must realise that the introduction of ID cards will harm race relations and alienate some of the most marginalised members of society.

Perhaps Mr Malik's detention at Dulles airport will lead him to reflect on the misery that can be caused by petty bureaucrats when they are granted too much power by the state.

Hopefully, he will conclude that the ongoing reversal of the relationship between citizen and state is undesirable.

Maybe then he will cast votes that match his rhetoric. If so, the US immigration service may have done us all a favour.

2007-10-05 BBC Radio Scotland
Good Morning Scotland

Prompted by a conference in Scotland about surveillance, a reporter from Good Morning Scotland interviewed Simon Davies (Privacy International) and me about the issue. The Scottish Assistant Information Commissioner, Kenneth MacDonald was then interviewed and described the need for more oversight to protect the rights of individuals. (9 mins)

2007-09-16 Scotland on Sunday
Firms invited to bid for tenders to supply controversial smart cards

Quoted briefly in an article about Scottish National Entitlement Cards

Geraint Bevan, the spokesman for NO2ID Scotland, said: "In the past they have promised opt-outs to cards and to data being shared."

2007-09-15 The Herald
World's End retrial

If convicted of a crime, should a person have the right to demand another trial? Should defendants be able to keep trying a new defence until they find one that works? Of course not. So why should the rules be any different for the prosecution?

It is a long-established principle that it is better to let the guilty go free than to convict the innocent. Angus Sinclair remains sentenced to life in prison whether innocent or guilty of the World's End murders. Despite widespread interest, as far as justice is concerned, any outcome of the trial would have been of little practical significance. No-one would have been any safer had a conviction resulted; no dangerous acquitted killer is roaming the streets because of a failed prosecution.

If any single case can ever be sufficient to overturn centuries of legal protection from the state for accused citizens, this is not the one.

Victims' families often demand justice, but justice is not to be had from emotional appeals. The mental anguish for those accused of a serious crime is intense. Trying someone again and again may eventually provide closure for the families, but to remove the finality of an acquittal for the innocent is an unbearably high price for society to pay.

2007-09-12 Cambridge Evening News
Database danger

TONY Roberts says everyone should be on the DNA database provided proper safeguards are in place. What safeguards would he consider proper? How would he enforce them?

The DNA database shows familial links. What safeguards would prevent people from discovering that their loved ones are not as closely related to them as they previously thought? Are all police officers certain about their parentage or the paternity of their children?

Informed consent is, or should be, a fundamental tenet for anyone participating in medical research.

What safeguards will ensure that future governments do not give researchers blanket authorisation to analyse samples for investigating disease? It will surely be hard for any government to resist such calls.

Insurance companies could profit handsomely from access to DNA data. We have already seen the DVLA is happy to sell drivers' details for commercial gain. Will we soon face the prospect of the Home Office selling our DNA samples for similar profit?

The only meaningful safeguard against inappropriate use of our DNA is to ensure the government does not collect it in the first place.

2007-09-11 The Herald Society
Being taken for a ride?

Society is the Herald's Tuesday supplement focusing on the public sector: local government, education, social work, voluntary organisations, &c. I was invited to write an opinion piece on behalf of NO2ID to explain our concerns about Scottish Entitlement Cards and Section 57 of the Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act 2006. The version here is the text of my pre-print. With a couple of very minor changes, it appeared in print on Tuesday 11th September.

In the months leading up to September 2001, after years of plotting, a small team made final preparations. Then, the attack. The Home Office's grand scheme, Blunkett's vision: Entitlement Cards.

Ever since war-time ID cards were abolished in 1952, elements of the civil service had been trying to reinstate national registration -- first introduced to Britain in 1915 to aid conscription. This time the intentions were disguised by talk of entitlement, but press and public refused to accept the ``Entitlement Card'' spin.

The Home Office introduced its Identity Cards Bill to Parliament. In fact, most of the bill was concerned with creating a vast surveillance database to record personal information about each of us; creating new offences; and providing new powers for the Secretary of State. The cards themselves barely got a mention; a mere pretext.

Civil liberties groups were horrified. A new campaign was formed -- NO2ID -- to stop ID cards and the database state. You have probably heard of us.

We are the ones warning that the Home Office wants to fingerprint you like a criminal and scan your irises;

--- that you will be called to an interrogation and compulsory registration when you apply for a passport or other ``designated document'';

--- that after registration you will be liable for a fine of up to £1,000 every time you fail to notify the authorities of a change of circumstance;

--- that everyone will be required to give details of all their residences, so the database will learn about everyone you ever live with;

--- that every time your identity is checked, it will be logged in the register -- recording which clinics you attend, with whom you bank, where and when you apply for credit;

--- that you will have no control over who can access your file, containing all these data that Ministers routinely describe as ``basic'' personal information.

It is all there in the Identity Cards Act, which MPs finally put on the statute book in 2006.

Victims of domestic abuse seeking refuge won't be able to hide their addresses from the register; nor crime victims; nor witnesses in criminal cases; nor those just seeking a bit of privacy.

Here in Scotland, polls indicate that two thirds of people are opposed to the national ID scheme. Would you sign up for one of Blunkett's Entitlement Cards -- an ID card linked to a vast intrusive database?

What would entice you not to resist, to give up your privacy without a fight? A free bus ride, perhaps?

To popular acclaim, the Scottish Executive introduced free nationwide bus travel for pensioners. All they had to do was return their old bus pass and sign up for a new Scottish Entitlement Card. Well, why not? What's the difference?

Once upon a time it was sufficient to show a pass to the driver while boarding a bus. It will soon be routine for pensioners and young Scots to swipe the Entitlement Card while the driver records the destination, as already happens in Shetland.

As a convenience measure, the Scottish Entitlement Card can also be used to access other services, such as libraries -- where they do, of course, have to record which books are taken out.

The cards can also be used to access leisure services -- where it is useful for a record to be kept of facility usage to help with resource allocation.

There will be a records of where you travel, what you read, what you do in your spare time. All these records will be tied together by the number on your Entitlement Card, the index to a ``Citizens Account''. An account is being created for every person in Scotland. There are undoubtedly good reasons for recording all of these data, but do we really want databases to know so much about us? It was never previously necessary for the government to track the movements of pensioners. Who will have access to these data? What will they do with the information?

The Registrar General has recently acquired some new powers -- from Section 57 of the Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act 2006. There was a public consultation on many aspects of this bill, but Section 57 was inserted after that had concluded; without further consultation.

The General Register Office asked for Section 57 after discussing Citizens Accounts with officials from the UK Identity and Passport Service -- the department responsible for implementing the UK National Identity Register; shortly after the Scottish Parliament voted to ensure that ID cards would not be required for access to devolved services. What powers does it give them?

The powers are simple. Section 57 sweeps away the long established rules of confidentiality and rule-of-law that protect privacy. It says that the Registrar General can record any information about you and share it with anyone, or words to that effect, all without Parliamentary oversight. It is a recipe for promiscuous use of your personal data by public bodies.

Citizens Accounts will form part of a de facto population register recording the details of our lives. A Scottish Identity Register.

There is a further danger. Notwithstanding Section 57, the Identity Cards Act gives the Secretary of State the power to appropriate data held by any public body to populate the National Identity Register. If there is a record of your journeys, reading preferences and leisure use, it can all find its way on to the National Identity Register.

NO2ID are not opposed to free bus travel or library cards, but these Citizens Accounts are being implemented without regard for basic data protection principles. The Scottish Government has a duty to protect our privacy. Until it does, I would not advise anyone to accept an Entitlement Card.

What price a free bus pass? To journey blindly towards a database state? Protect your privacy: say no to ID.

2007-09-11 The Herald
E-passport chips and microwaves

Patrick McNally writes that Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips in new e-passports are expected to have far shorter lifetimes than originally intended. This should surprise no-one. Such technological incompetence is par for the course where the Home Office is involved. However, it is likely that this particular display of ineptitude will be a blessing in disguise for many passport holders.

In its unseemly haste to dance to the tune of the US State Department, the Passport Agency failed to introduce adequate security measures. Weak encryption coupled with a lack of basic radio shielding means that these chips can be read surreptitiously by electronic eavesdroppers.

Researchers working with NO2ID have already demonstrated the ability to read a new passport - still in its unopened delivery packaging - and extract the data necessary to clone it.

You will never know if someone cloned your new passport while it was en route to you. Nor, while the unshielded chip continues to broadcast data, will you know if someone is reading it while it rests in your pocket. Perhaps the person sitting beside you on the bus to the airport has an RFID-scanning laptop computer in their bag.

While you are sunning yourself at the beach, criminals may be applying for credit in your name using the data it broadcasts. Ironically, your passport will become safer when this so-called security measure fails. Fortunately, it will remain a valid travel document even after the chip is inactive.

I should caution readers wishing to improve the security of their new passports that the document remains the property of HM Government and prolonged exposure to the inside of a microwave oven will cause visible signs of burning. The Home Office is kindly providing kiosks in passport offices so you can verify your chip still works.

2007-09-08 The Herald
Send ID-card supporters to the Isle of Self-Righteousness

Dave Biggart criticised my stance against ID cards and the DNA database. Of four replies published the next day, one was from me:

If Dave Biggart wishes to carry a card containing emergency medical information, NO2ID would certainly not deny him that right. However, if he has a serious medical problem, I would recommend investing instead in a medic alert bracelet (eg, SOS Talisman). There is far less chance of a bracelet being lost, stolen or damaged in an accident.

Unfortunately, Mr Biggart will be disappointed to discover that the government's £20bn card will not function as a driving licence. He will have to carry two cards if he wishes to prove both his identity and his entitlement to drive.

He will also be disappointed to learn that the national DNA database is of no use for medical research. The 10 points of junk DNA that are recorded in a genetic profile carry no information of use to doctors or researchers.

Although the profiles contain no useful genetic information, they do show familial relationships. This will undoubtedly be welcomed by people who find that they are not as closely related to their loved ones as they thought previously.

Revelations will also be welcomed by the small proportion of the population that have chromosomal abnormalities (eg, XXY instead of XX or XY). They and their spouses will surely be delighted to learn about their hitherto unknown sexual ambiguity.

Compulsory DNA sampling for all may well be a boon for genealogists and psychological counsellors. In the future, it is also likely to be profitable for insurance companies who will be better able to avoid taking on bad risks - surely of great benefit to the global economy.

Mr Biggart is obviously ill-informed about the details of DNA profiling, so it is unsurprising that he jumps to erroneous conclusions about the impact of extending sampling to the innocent. In 2004, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, the pioneer of the technique, warned that the increasing number of records on the database meant that matches were "no longer foolproof". As the database is polluted by irrelevant profiles, the chance of false matches increases, leading to a corresponding reduction in the usefulness of the tool to the police.

2007-09-08 The Scotsman
DNA database pollution

Lord Justice Sedley may be a senior judge, but he is clearly not an expert statistician, (your report 5 September).

DNA profiles recorded on the national DNA database do not uniquely identify an individual. Matching relies instead on a genetic fingerprint comprising ten points. As the number of people on the database increases, there is a corresponding increase in the number of people likely to match any particular profile and hence a reduction in the usefulness of the database for identifying suspects.

Polluting the DNA database with profiles from innocent people will be counter-productive for law enforcement purposes, leading to trial by database and so infringing the right of citizens to be presumed innocent.

2007-09-06 The Herald
Another threat to liberties that we must oppose

Lord Justice Sedley suggests compelling everyone to submit samples of their DNA to a national database. He proposes this measure, which he himself describes as "authoritarian", as a solution to the disproportionate number of records relating to ethnic minorities because of ethnic profiling. A better solution is to remove all samples unless they relate to someone charged with, or convicted of, an offence.

2007-08-26 Sunday Herald
'Back-door' ID cards under fire

Quoted briefly in Mark Howarth's article about the introduction of Scottish National Entitlement Cards and Section 57

NO2ID Scotland, which staged a protest against the cards at Holyrood last week, said the law must be scrapped. Spokesman Geraint Bevan said: "This cannot be what MSPs intended. Section 57 should be quickly repealed."

2007-08-24 The Herald
Nationalists are deluded by a Brigadoon view of life

Harry Reid (August 23) does not believe referendums are compatible with representative democracy. I beg to differ. The Scottish Parliament is a modern law-making body comprised of elected representatives. There are constraints on its powers, and the approval of a higher authority (Westminster or the people) is required if MSPs or the Scottish government wish to expand those powers.

This is entirely as it should be. Elected representatives legislate where they are empowered to do so, but it should not ultimately be for them to decide what powers they have.

Unfortunately, centuries before any of us was born, the Westminster Parliament came to believe that it was somehow sovereign; that its members could legislate on any matter and alter their powers at will. The sustained attack on civil liberties for political profit which we are experiencing is a direct result of politicians seizing powers to themselves without regard for a higher authority: citizens.

Fundamental reform of our tattered and noxious constitution is essential if we are ever to have a true democracy in this country. Whether that comes about through independence or reform of Westminster does not matter greatly to me, but either way, it should not be for politicians to decide their own powers.

Referendums are an essential part of a healthy representative democracy.

2007-08-21 The Herald
Protection of our children in database state

Iain Macwhirter mocks Wendy Alexander's decision to focus on "electronic stranger danger"; in fact, her decision should be applauded (August 20). For when Ms Alexander considers how to tackle this threat, she will surely conclude that there are simple measures that can protect the nation's children.

Simple measures such as ensuring that the addresses of children are not readily available to all and sundry; that their medical data are not exposed to people they have never met; that sensitive issues such as behavioural problems or previous abuse remain private; that basic information about their lives should not be revealed to just anyone with access to a computer. In short, that children's electronic privacy should be respected and they should be taught to protect it.

And when Ms Alexander considers which strangers might conceivably pose a threat to children, she will no doubt consider the hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers with access to government databases.

Today, NO2ID Scotland is launching a campaign for the repeal of Section 57 of the Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act, which provides the General Register Office with the power to record and share any personal information (including health data) about anyone: the power to create a Scottish Identity Register to support the Citizens Accounts that underpin the new Scottish ID cards.

The next leader of the Labour Party can help to protect our children, now and in the future, by joining our fight against the database state.

We would welcome her support.

2007-08-11 The Herald
Blame the government for airport stress

There may be a case for breaking BAA's airport monopoly. There may also be justification in the criticism that BAA has invested in shopping facilities instead of improving waiting areas. But it is very harsh to blame the airport authority for inducing stress in the journey from terminal to aircraft.

Most of the blame should instead be directed at the British government, with its penchant for security theatre and absurd restrictions. The government appears to have a policy of deliberately introducing ineffective but inconvenient measures for the sole purpose of convincing the public that something is being done.

If some sanity were to be reintroduced into the embarkation process, tired passengers would not have to fret about how to fit all that they need into one carry-on bag, nor fear confiscation of expensive bottles of spring water. Nor would they need to spend so long waiting around pointlessly, thus reducing the need for extensive and elaborate waiting facilities. In the hours before boarding a flight, I would rather spend my time at home than in an airport lounge, no matter how luxurious.

2007-08-09 The Herald
There's is still time to fight data sharing

The Information Commissioner is right to be concerned about the proliferation of data sharing. Unfortunately, the idea that the risks can be mitigated if only people are aware of their rights is misplaced. The biggest danger is the notion of "transformational government". This is the driving force behind the national identity scheme that will entail the creation of a vast National Identity Register, specifically designed to help spread data more widely.

New passport applicants are being summoned to attend the interrogation centre in Blythswood House where, as well as facing the prospect of having biometric data scanned and recorded, they are confronted with personal dossiers compiled from a host of databases. The main purpose of these interrogations is to tidy up existing databases to aid the creation of a national register.

It is not sufficient that we know our rights. As far as the government is concerned, we have none. The Data Protection Act does not prevent the government from sharing data whenever it believes that to be in the public interest. What government department ever believes any of its actions are not in the public interest? We must all take responsibility for protecting our personal data, but that requires that we learn to say no when asked for too much information unnecessarily. We should prepare to say no when summoned to participate in national identity registration. We can start by writing to our elected representatives and telling them that we intend to refuse to participate.

2007-07-27 The Herald
We have failed to learn lessons of Northern Ireland

So, biometric ID is to be Gordon Brown's third line of defence against terrorism. We had better pray the first two lines hold. Great fanfare is made of the point that foreign visitors will need biometric ID - but only if visiting the UK for more than six months. I'm not convinced potential terrorists will have difficulty finding the five-and-a-half-month loophole in that system.

It is a shame Mr Brown did not expand on how he believes biometric ID will aid security. ID cards didn't prevent the Madrid bombings; they would not have made any difference to the London bombings; and it is hard to see how they could have stopped the Glasgow Airport attack.

The last time the Home Office tested its electronic fingerprinting technology, the system failed 20% of the time. In a year, that would equate to approximately 1.5 million false identifications at Glasgow Airport alone. But that doesn't matter. No-one expects taking fingerprints to improve security anyway. If the visitor has not visited Britain previously, there will be no records to compare prints against.

2007-07-05 The Big Issue
Councillors say NO2ID

Quoted in an article about a NO2ID protest the previous Saturday.

No2ID's Scotland coordinator Geraint Bevan said the presence of the councillors demonstrated how opposition to ID cards cut across party lines. He added: "People from all political affiliations - and none - are united in opposition to this attack on our civil liberties."

2007-07-05 The Herald
Not the way to engineer an election result

There is a fundamental flaw in the idea. Dr Johnston suggests that the election result would not be finalised until "things have reached a steady state". There is no guarantee that the system will ever reach a steady state. In technical terms, the system may not be stable.

The most likely outcome of such a voting method would be endless oscillation as committed followers of competing parties try every possible combination of votes to ensure that the other lot don't win. Without some way of introducing "damping" into the system, it could easily oscillate forever. To allow people to change their vote requires that the system can identify which votes are cast by which voters. That precludes anonymous voting.

It is not necessary that voters know how their vote will affect the end result. A good electoral system should ensure that each elector can express their genuine preferences in the knowledge that their vote will count. The council elections came closest to achieving this goal.

2007-06-12 Worcester News
Diseases won't be checking ID cards

SIR - John Shearon (Letters, June 5) urges the Government to require ID cards for access to health services.

Has he considered the impact that this will have on public health?

When people with communicable diseases start avoiding health services for fear of having their immigration status checked, everyone will suffer.

Diseases won't be checking ID before infecting communities.

When teenagers fear going to family planning clinics for fear of having their visits recorded on the intrusive national identity register, sexual disease and unwanted pregnancies will become greater problems than now.

No doubt Mr Shearon will then be writing to complain about the number of single mothers contributing to housing shortages.

2007-05-31 The Herald
Trading freedom for the illusion of security

Ian Bell rightly identifies the dangers we face from the government's sustained attack on civil liberties and human rights (May 30). There is something utterly grotesque about the prevailing notion in government circles that the supposed security interests of the state should come before the rights of the people the state exists to serve; that the state is more important than society.

But it is worth remembering that these measures do not provide any additional security. The Home Office vaguely mentions terrorism in relation to ID cards every now and then, but experts consistently denounce the idea these would contribute to solving the problem.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Janet Williams of the Metropolitan Police has said: "ID cards are not the solution to terrorism or serious and organised crime. Look at the bombers in Madrid. Spain has ID cards but it still has bombers." Dame Stella Rimmington, former head of MI5, has branded the case for ID cards as a counter-terrorism measure as "bogus". Even Charles Clarke, when Home Secretary, conceded that ID cards would not have prevented the 7/7 London bombings.

Meanwhile, in this letters page we hear from Les Wilson, an airline pilot prevented from taking a bottle of Tabasco sauce on to a flight. In complete control of a fuel-and-passenger laden aircraft, what possible need would a pilot have for additional fluids if wishing to wreak havoc? Preventing pilots from carrying items on to the flight deck is pointless; inconvenience and officious meddling merely for the sake of being seen to do something.

Benjamin Franklin said: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." How much more scathing would he have been of those who would trade in their freedoms for a mere illusion of security?

2007-05-29 The Herald
Dystopian vision

The police have long had powers to stop and question anyone they suspect of involvement in a crime. So what can be the point of new police powers suggested by the government? Are they suggesting it is a good use of scarce resources for the police to spend time checking identities of people they "don't" suspect of any involvement in crime? Andy Burnham MP, when minister for ID cards, said: "It is part of being a good citizen, proving who you are, day in day out." Mr Blair and Dr Reid are clearly determined to bring this dystopian vision closer to reality.

2007-05-26 The Independent
Sleepwalking into a police state

Sir: Joan Ryan MP asserts that the Government wishes to protect our identities. As with any protection racket, the catch is what happens when one declines the offer: in this case refusal of access to services or hefty fines.

2007-05-25 The Herald
Whiff of hypocrisy

I was pleased to see that my MP, Ann McKechin, was not among those who voted for parliament to be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and I trust that she will vote against the Bill when it returns to the Commons. However, looking down the full list of MPs who did vote for exemption (, it is noticeable that Tom Harris and John Robertson were not the only ones on the government payroll. Among the 79 Labour MPs who supported the Bill were 30 ministers and parliamentary private secretaries.

And among those 30 ministers were Joan Ryan, current minister for ID cards; and Tony McNulty, the previous holder of that post. Apparently, these ministers, who are so intent on intruding into our personal lives with such little regard for personal privacy, wish to exempt from scrutiny their work which is paid for from the public purse.

The culture of secrecy runs deep at the Home Office. It is a pity that those who work there do not have more understanding of the need to respect other people's privacy.

2007-05-11 The Herald
A good day to bury bad news?

What makes a good day to bury bad news? A day when the Prime Minister announces his resignation, perhaps? The Home Office have just sneaked out the news that cost estimates for the ID scheme have risen by the best part of half a billion pounds in the past six months.

The figures were required by law to be released several weeks ago.

Unsurprisingly, the government decided to keep quiet until there was other major news to help hide the announcement.

The London School of Economics warned before the legislation was enacted that the government had severely underestimated the costs, but MPs chose not to listen. Now the costs are escalating even before any contracts have been awarded or any ID cards issued.

MPs have a duty to scrutinise public expenditure. They should take this opportunity to scrap the expensive, ill-considered and intrusive ID scheme.

2007-05-04 The Herald
Lessons of McKie case for the ID card scheme

The sacking of the sixth fingerprint specialist at the heart of the Shirley McKie case will perhaps be one of the final chapters of this long and wretched affair. This case has demonstrated beyond doubt that biometric identification is not infallible. Problems arise even when forensic specialists working in laboratory conditions, without significant time pressures, have access to recent full-rolled prints from a cooperative suspect. Surely no-one in Scotland can now believe anyone who claims that partial fingerprints, scanned and matched by computer in seconds against a database of ageing prints, could ever be a "gold standard" of identification.

Moreover, this case all too clearly shows the devastating effect that misidentification can have on an innocent person wrongly accused.

The Home Office is planning to take the fingerprints of every resident in Britain, including the many law-abiding citizens who have never been convicted of any crime. It proposes to allow the police to use these records to find matches against the, often unclear, prints obtained from crime scenes. If allowed to do this, there will be many more failures of identification, with the consequent risk of miscarriages of justice. Furthermore, most of those accused will probably not be serving police officers with the strength and determination to clear their names in court battles lasting for the best part of a decade.

Technologically-illiterate government ministers have been dazzled by consultants into believing that immature biometric technology could be a panacea. They should try to forget about the technology and their shiny new databases and consider what really happened in the Shirley McKie case. Then they must abandon their plans to force the population to submit to biometric data-rape. Now is an ideal time for Labour to abandon the ID scheme, potentially one of Blair's most enduring follies.

2007-04-30 The Scotsman
Insecure databases

In the same week that you reveal the detrimental impact that the Medical Training Application Service is having on the careers of junior doctors, the service saw fit to accidentally publish intimate details of applicants on the web: names, addresses, phone numbers, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, etc.

Yet another reminder about the insecurity of government databases.

2007-04-27 The Herald
Let's have a wide ranging debate on ID cards

Harry Reid is right to be concerned about the rapid growth of the surveillance state and the threat to our liberties from those who should be safeguarding them (The Herald, April 26). However, I cannot entirely agree with his statement that it is impossible to have a mature and reasonable argument about identity cards because we no longer trust those in authority. They may not be trustworthy, but that is not why we cannot debate the issue sensibly.

There can be no sensible debate about the ID scheme because the government refuses to enter such a debate. When NO2ID Scotland wrote last year to invite the Home Office to send a minister - or anyone else - to Glasgow for a public meeting in the run-up to these elections, it declined. When the BBC recently asked for a minister to go up against me on Scotland Live, the Home Office instead provided a civil servant on the strict condition that there be no discussion between us. Requests for information about the scheme are routinely denied; the government certainly shows no lack of initiative when evading the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.

The government offers no defence of its position. Whenever its assertions are proven to be baseless, it fails to explain itself, instead constantly shifting its ground, offering alternative motives and veiling the scheme in a shroud of secrecy. Instead of justifying its policy, it attacks critics.

Readers of The Herald will have seen for themselves how Joan Ryan MP, the current minister for ID cards, prefers to accuse campaigners of "scaremongering" - on the basis of things we haven't said - rather than to engage in any kind of constructive dialogue.

When the LSE published its report into the proposed ID scheme, detailing its cost estimates of £20bn and suggesting alternative ways of implementing ID cards that would be less intrusive and allow citizens to maintain some privacy and control, the government refused even to consider the contents of the document. Instead it singled out one of the dozens of the academics who compiled the report and subjected him to vilification by ministers in both Houses of Parliament.

A mature and sensible debate on ID cards is not possible when the ID protagonists refuse to engage. But NO2ID will continue to present compelling arguments backed by evidence and research rather than spin and evasion. I would hope that the government would be prepared to enter the debate on such terms also, but alas experience has shown that there is little prospect of that. No matter. As people learn more about the scheme, public opinion is shifting inexorably in our favour. All recent polls show a clear majority opposed, particularly here in Scotland.

The ID card scheme cannot operate without the cooperation of the population. Just as when the Conservatives introduced the poll tax, the government will soon discover that there is little co-operation to be had.

2007-04-24 The Scotsman
Another fine mess

The NHS IT project is massively over budget and years behind schedule. One of the chief architects of this scheme is currently responsible for another huge government IT project: the national ID scheme.

2007-04-05 The Herald
Risk to abuse victims of national ID registration

Ruth Wishart writes about recent measures at court 13 in Glasgow Sheriff Court that have helped to tackle domestic abuse cases (April 4). While such initiatives are to be welcomed, it is unfortunate that central government, and the Home Office in particular, is simultaneously trying to make it impossible for people fleeing domestic violence to ensure their own safety and that of their children.

The national ID scheme will involve the creation of a national identity register, a vast database that will record the names, addresses and many more personal details about every UK resident. This database will be accessible nationwide by a host of government departments and agencies. It is also intended that access will be provided to private companies so that they can verify individuals' details.

Anyone failing to keep their record up to date will face fines of up to £1000. They may also find that they are denied access to non-emergency health care; unable to enrol their children in school; unable to claim benefits; unable to obtain a passport or driving licence; and even unable to open a bank account or apply for credit.

For those who fear being found by an abusive ex-partner, this national identity register will present a grave risk. One need only consider the sale of information from DVLA's driver database, or the theft of information from the Department of Work and Pensions and even the police national computer, to realise the impossibility of securing such a large system. It is inconceivable that anyone recorded on it will be able to escape being found by someone who is sufficiently determined.

Unfortunately, people fleeing domestic abuse will very often be the people who can least afford to resist registration and shy away from interaction with the state. This ill-considered scheme is being driven from London, but local politicians can mitigate its effects. In the last Scottish parliament, politicians from across the spectrum supported a motion insisting that ID cards, and hence compulsory registration, should not be required for access to devolved services. However, some MSPs have indicated they will seek to reverse that decision in the next parliament.

On May 3, voters have an opportunity to ensure they elect MSPs and councillors who will protect us all from the worst facets of the ID scheme and make it feasible to resist without foregoing health care and children's education. Before going to the polls, readers should be sure that they know where candidates stand on compulsory national ID registration.

A reply from Joan Ryan MP (2007-04-06): ID scaremongering

Geraint Bevan's scaremongering comments about identity cards are simply wrong.The Identity Cards Act strictly prohibits details such as your medical records or salary details being stored on the National Identity Register. In fact, only basic personal information necessary for identification purposes can be held. In addition, only vetted civil servants will have access to the register and not private companies as Mr Bevan states. Private organisations will only be able to request confirmation of an individual's identity and then only with that individual's consent.

Domestic violence is a horrific and cowardly crime that this government is committed to tackling. Mr Bevan's statements are completely without merit and he would be advised to check his facts in the future.

Misinformed statements such as these can cause real distress for victims of this abuse.

A national identity scheme, underpinned by our unique biometric data, will provide a vital tool for law enforcement officials frustrating criminals who depend on multiple, false and stolen identities to operate. - Joan Ryan MP, Home Office Minister, 2 Marsham Street, London.

2007-04-02 The Herald
Cycling is much more than just a hobby

Patrick McNally asks "when was the last time you saw a family do the week's shopping at Tesco by bike?" With a large rucksack and a decent set of panniers, it is simple to carry a week's shopping home by bike.

Even the rucksack is not necessary if you decide not to do the whole week's shopping in one go. There is no law limiting you to one shopping trip per week.

Daily trips in a car might be excessively polluting; on a bike they keep you healthy.

2007-03-26 BBC Radio Scotland
Scotland Live

BBC Radio Scotland reported from the NO2ID "ID Day" protest outside Glasgow's future Interrogation Centre. The 20 minute Scotland Live report features interviews from Patrick Harvie MSP, passers-by, me and local campaigners, James Hall (CEO of IPS) and Prof. Patrick Dunleavy (LSE). Clip starts 24 minutes into the show.

2007-03-24 The Scotsman
ID spin over passports

Apparently, the Identity and Passport Service has discovered that it issued 10,000 fake passports just as it is preparing to announce intrusive new measures to inconvenience passport applicants (your report, 21 March). How convenient.

The truth is that this is more spin from the Home Office as it desperately attempts to justify its ID scheme. The intrusive interrogations that new passport applicants will have to undergo have nothing to do with preventing false documents being issued. Instead, it is the mechanism by which the government intends to force people on to the National Identity Register.

Compulsory interrogations will allow officials to clear up some of the inconsistencies in their existing databases, so that the computer systems can be combined into a single sinister surveillance system. The interrogations will also afford the authorities the opportunity to perform their data rape, compulsorily taking of fingerprints and iris scans from unwilling individuals.

2007-03-17 The Herald
A plan to fossilise the party system

THE argument that state funding of political parties is necessary for a healthy democracy is based on a false premise: "That parliamentary democracy cannot function properly without robust and healthy political parties."

Parties are spending ever more to elicit votes from people who are not impressed by any of them. Most people are not prepared to contribute to ludicrous campaign expenses only to be rewarded by the sight of "loyal backbenchers" following their leaders through the divisions regardless of the merits of the case put before them.

The electorate are being attracted to single-issue campaigns in ever-greater numbers as disillusionment grows with our elected "representatives". If political parties cannot attract enough supporters to fund their ambitions, then it is better that they wither and make room for political movements that do command wide support.

Instead of stealing our taxes to fund their own parties, MPs should consider ways to make parliament a real debating chamber, able to make decisions instead of acting as a rubber stamp for an executive that wields power through patronage.

2007-01-24 Yorks Press
Mistaken Identity

JOAN Ryan, minister for ID cards, would do well to read the Identity Cards Act herself - particularly Schedule 1 (It's on the cards, Readers' Letters, January 20).

Contrary to her assertion that the National Identity Register would contain only basic personal information such "name, nationality, age, address and gender", the NIR will also record data such as:
* biometric measurements (e.g. fingerprints, iris scans);
* an audit trail recording verifications of identity, such as access to non-emergency medical services or clinics, applications for credit, opening of bank accounts, etc.;
* every address at which a person has lived (here or abroad), with fines of £1,000 pounds for failure to notify the authorities of your future movements so that records can be updated;
* and national insurance, passport, driver numbers and a wealth of other information that will be of use to fraudsters wishing to impersonate a person for criminal purposes.

Joan Ryan is wrong to say that the database will help us to protect our personal information from abuse. The best way of protecting our identities is to ensure that our personal details are not all collected and collated in one vast, vulnerable Stasi-like database.

2006-11-08 Evening Times
War heroes died in vain if we get ID cards

THE prime minister's insistence that concerns about the impact of a surveillance and control ID database on civil liberties is out of step with public opinion is not borne out by the evidence.

National polls are consistently finding a majority of people opposed to compulsory national ID cards, while a recent poll of hundreds of shoppers in Glasgow found two thirds of people oppose the scheme.

Mr Blair may believe that a national ID database is an indication of "modernity", but that does not seem to carry much weight with our modern teenagers, who object to being fingerprinted and iris scanned like criminals, and having their visits to clinics recorded for all time on a database over which they have no control.

Nor do claims of modernity carry much weight with our elders who remember the abolition of war-time ID cards and the sacrifices made by so many of their generation to protect the freedoms our prime minister is eager to throw away.

When Mr Blair pauses in silence on Armistice Day, he would do well to consider just what it was that so many have fought and died for.

It was not so that we could hear cries of "papers, please!" on our city streets.

2006-11-08 The Scotsman
Flimsy ID-card argument

Following the information commissioner's stark warnings that Britain had become a surveillance society, and the release of a study by Privacy International which ranks Britain barely above China, Russia, Singapore and Malaysia for monitoring of the population by the state, the defence of a national ID database by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, this week was a pitiful plea to "modernity" (your report, 7 November).

However, that argument does not carry much weight with our teenagers, who object to being fingerprinted and iris-scanned like criminals, and having their visits to clinics recorded on a database over which they have no control. Nor does it carry much weight with older people who remember the abolition of wartime ID cards and the sacrifices made by so many of their generation to protect the freedoms Mr Blair is eager to throw away.

2006-11-08 The Herald
Our terminally ill democracy

BOB Thomson (November 4) laments that MPs' votes are rarely recorded in the press, hindering the electorate from making informed decisions at the ballot box. Readers wishing to see how their representatives vote on their behalf might be interested in a couple of websites, produced by volunteers who care about democracy, which provide detailed and easily digestible records of our politicians' activities. extracts data from Hansard to show MPs' speeches and votes at every division and includes a simple-to-use search interface. Meanwhile records votes and attempts to discern voting patterns within the data.

Readers who are incensed by what they discover might wish to avail themselves of which provides an easy way to contact councillors, MSPs, MPs and MEPs.

2006-10-05 The Herald
Tories must go further in stopping ID cards

Iain Macwhirter remarks that the Tories historically have been more concerned about the protection of freedom than Labour (October 4). He goes on to ask if they are sincere.

David Cameron and David Davis both for a long time have expressed their opposition to ID cards and it is certainly very welcome that their one policy announcement so far is to abolish ID cards. However, it should not be forgotten that Conservatives in both the Lords and the Commons, including the Shadow Home Secretary, voted in favour of the Identity Cards Act earlier this year when they could have blocked it.

It is to be hoped that the Tories are sincere in their commitment to scrap ID cards if they get into power, but they must go further. They must commit themselves to repealing the entire Act, including the nasty and intrusive National Identity Register, which is a far greater threat to privacy and liberty than the pointless pieces of plastic on which the index number to the database will be written.

Recent polling suggests that more than two-thirds of Glaswegians are opposed to ID cards, with many more having grave concerns about the government's inability to store our personal identity data securely. Opposition to this acutely authoritarian Act will bring an electoral advantage for any party or candidate that commits itself to repealing the entire sinister scheme.

2006-09-21 The Big Issue Scotland
'Too expensive and they aren't secure':
two out of three Glaswegians are against ID cards

Quoted in an article which published results from a Glasgow No2ID survey

Geraint Bevan, spokesman for No2ID Scotland, said: "We found that 67% of them were opposed to the cards. In the first question we asked how they felt about the fact that the ID cards will cost £93 and 58% said they were against the cost."

Bevan said the ID cards were over-complicated and has no doubt that more people will fall prey to identity theft after their introduction. "We will all be issued a national identity number, which will follow you your entire life. If someone were to steal your number then they could pretend to be you," he added.

"What was also interesting about our findings was that 90% of the young people we talked to were concerned about data security, and of the nine civil servants we surveyed all of them said they didn't trust the government's computer systems."

2006-08-18 The Herald
ID cards would be little help in stopping terror

Perhaps the security services succeeded in foiling a terrorist plot this week after months of patient surveillance, or maybe they have made a colossal mistake and we will see the detained suspects quietly released without charge. Whether or not a plot has been foiled, there has been no failure of security that would demand further curtailment of our freedom, despite the well-timed speech from Dr Reid the day before the arrests. There is certainly no justification for the Home Secretary to run off to Europe to demand an EU-wide biometric database containing the fingerprints of citizens from across the continent.

Recording and checking our fingerprints would offer no protection, even if the technology were to work reliably; suicide bombers tend not to be repeat offenders so the security services would not know which fingerprints to track. It is the intention, not the identity, of travellers that airport security officers must attempt to discern.

The government seems keen to seize any opportunity to start cataloguing the population, perhaps because it is starting to realise that its dreams of a national identity register are destined to lie in tatters, particularly now that every opposition party is committed to abolishing ID cards.

Before demanding that we give up our privacy and liberty, perhaps the government would care to explain precisely how it believes that its attempts to introduce yet another surveillance and control database might offer any additional protection, or how such intrusion would protect our traditional values which allow people to go about their lawful business without excessive interference from the state.

2006-08-08 The Scotsman
Sale of personal data

Your report (7 August) that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, intends to raise revenue by selling access to personal data stored on the National Identity Register confirms just how little regard the government has for our privacy.

It is becoming clearer that the government intends to become the vendor of choice for wholesale distribution of our private data. Yet as the details of our lives are shared ever more widely, the risk of identity theft increases for all of us. The only effective system of identity management is to keep personal data confidential and to allow individuals to disclose information as and when they see fit to do so.

Labour is wrong if it believes ID cards will help it as a central plank of its next manifesto. A recent ICM poll showed that support for the scheme is continuing to collapse, with 60 per cent of Scots now opposed.

The concept of the NIR is flawed in principle. As the Commons select committee on science and technology suggested last week, the government's attempted implementation is also flawed in practice. It should now be considering how best to repeal the Identity Cards Act rather than proposing to expand its use.

2006-07-13 The Scotsman
Shambolic NIR scheme

The government's identity scheme is in meltdown. Following the revelations contained in the e-mails of senior managers in the civil service which were leaked over the weekend, it has now emerged that the process of tendering contracts to establish the scheme has been put back indefinitely, following a review of the Home Office ordered by John Reid.

The Home Secretary is to be applauded for taking such decisive action. He may now wish to reflect on the news (11 July) that the Identity and Passport Service had to withdraw its new online application service after just three weeks, by when a backlog of 5,000 applications developed. This service was, bizarrely, used as an example of a successful deployment of IT by the Prime Minister in recent months.

The concept of the National Identity Register is folly and unworkable.

2006-07-10 The Herald
Wasting billions of pounds just to save face

Leaked e-mails reveal that the senior civil servants responsible for introducing ID cards are questioning whether the scheme is "remotely feasible". Concerns are expressed about the "lack of clear benefits" and the "[un]affordability of all the individual programmes." None of this can be a surprise for the government -- independent technologists, civil liberties campaigners and academics have been saying just this for years now. It is no wonder that the government is refusing to release the results of departmental feasibility and impact studies into the ID scheme.

However, the leaked correspondence also reveals that the Prime Minister has decided a "face-saving" solution should be implemented; a watered-down scheme that would offer absolutely no benefits to the public whatsoever but would allow ministers to pretend that the whole failing project is not the result of total incompetence and appalling judgment.

Prepared to waste billions of pounds of public funds and shatter our civil liberties and notions of personal privacy merely to present an illusion that it knows what it is doing, our government is demonstrably not fit for office. There are real problems facing the country for which that money could be genuinely useful -- keeping hospitals open; paying for teachers to invest in our children's future; putting more police on the streets to protect our communities; investing in renewable energy to combat climate change.

Our Labour MPs should be ashamed of themselves. Did they really enter politics to engage in mass deception of the public instead of tackling society's problems? Having failed to adequately scrutinise the government's ID proposals in the first instance, they are entirely complicit in this charade. Now that the truth is out for all to see, it is time for them to make amends. They must demand that all government-held information about the ID scheme be released for public scrutiny. Then they should repeal the Identity Cards Act.

2006-07-07 The Herald
Secrecy on ID cards

LAST month the Information Commissioner ordered the Department of Work and Pensions to release three reports relating to a feasibility study that it had conducted into the costs and risks associated with the introduction of ID cards. The government were given a deadline of July 5 to comply. On July 5 the DWP decided to appeal against that decision.

A New Labour refrain on the ID scheme was "Nothing to hide, nothing to fear". So what do the government have to hide now? For a government so keen to monitor and record every minor aspect of our private lives on an intrusive National Identity Register, they seem remarkably reticent to allow anyone to know anything about what public servants are doing on our behalf. The government know that the ID scheme will not bring any real benefits. They should make all such departmental reports available for scrutiny and allow MPs to pull the plug on the entire project.

2006-07-05 Daily Record
Right to worry

REG McKAY is right to be worried that Government agency computer systems make identity theft easier.

But things are set to get much worse. Soon ID thieves won't need to rummage in bins anymore.

The National Identity Register will contain everything they could ever wish to know - names, addresses, NI and passport numbers, bank accounts and credit applications - and they'll give internet access to it all!

The Home Office will start collecting the data from October when they introduce personal interviews for passport applicants.

Details of the Renew For Freedom campaign can be found at

2006-07-04 BBC Scotland
Newsnight Scotland

Lord Carlile hosted a seminar at Glasgow Trades Hall as part of a public consultation on the statutory definition of terrorism. Newsnight Scotland reported on the meeting and included a short clip of me speaking. The report starts at approximately 13:25.

2006-05-30 The Scotsman
Avoiding social control

The Leader of the House, Jack Straw, has said part of the difficulty the Home Office faces is it deals with "people who do not wish to be subject to social control: the purpose of the Home Office".

The Home Office had better get used to it. As soon as compulsory enrolment on the National Identity Register begins, it will find there are many people unwilling to submit to the kind of surveillance and control provided for in the Identity Cards Act.

Those wishing to protect their privacy would be well-advised to renew their passports now so they are not forced onto the NIR for ten years.

2006-05-23 The Scotsman
Scope for bungling

That thousands of people have been wrongly reported as criminals because of errors in Criminal Record Background checks is a striking illustration of the problems innocent people can face when government databases provide inaccurate information, and records from one person are mistakenly matched with those of another.

As state surveillence and monitoring grows, such errors will occur increasingly. The vast quantity of information to be stored on the National Identity Register, with thousands of access points across the country and updated every time an identity is verified, will provide enormous scope for bungling bureaucrats to inject confusion and chaos into our lives.

If the Identity and Passport Service succeeds in procuring a register before the government realises the folly of its current proposals, we can look forward to all sorts of mayhem: innocent people being confused with terrorists and prevented from flying when identified at airports; sick citizens being confused with illegal immigrants and denied access to healthcare; pensioners being confused with schoolchildren and denied access to benefits.

Recent revelations from the Home Office - failing to consider foreign convicts for deportation, employing illegal immigrants, losing thousands of passports, accidentally making it legal to possess false passports - demonstrate that the only thing at which this bureaucracy can succeed is taking incompetence and maladministration to new levels.

Under no circumstances should it be entrusted with a new database and identity scheme designed to intrude into every aspect of our lives.

2006-05-19 The Herald
Home Office should not waste money on ID cards

Yet again the government is asserting that ID cards somehow will resolve magically all issues related to illegal immigration. Yet again, they fail to say how. It is truly absurd to suggest that our borders would become more secure if we were all required to present a little plastic card when entering and leaving the UK; we already have a document perfectly suited to that task - the humble passport.

Of course, everyone knows that passports are not a magic solution to questions of immigration - nor can any document be. The release without consideration for deportation of more than 100 foreign prisoners from jails was not because of any question about the identity or whereabouts of those concerned; rather, it was the failure of the Home Office to follow its own procedures.

The Home Office is used to failure. Errors in the drafting of the Identity Cards Act mean that it is no longer a criminal offence to be in possession of false passports, while news that the Identity and Passport Service has allowed thousands of passports to go astray despite the introduction of a "secure" delivery service should lead people to consider the effect that a more sensitive ID card going astray might have on their lives.

At a time when astounding levels of incompetence and ineptitude are revealed at all levels within the Home Office, a department which recently failed to satisfy the auditors that its accounts were in order, we should not be allowing it to waste £20bn on the most intrusive and complex IT system ever attempted by a government.

Rather than wasting money on a National Identity Register, the Home Office should be abolished and replaced by smaller and more focused departments that could concentrate on doing their jobs properly instead of dreaming up ever more ridiculous schemes to increase their powers while failing properly to execute those that they already have.

2006-05-15 The Herald
Highlighting dangers of identity register

It is reported that organised criminals have been colluding with civil servants to steal personal details from Home Office databases. This a clear illustration of the impossibility of ensuring that any large government database can be kept completely secure and serves to highlight some of the dangers that the proposed National Identity Register (NIR) will have in store for UK residents, for such a database will be a boon to criminals.

Many people have plenty to fear from others learning their secrets: victims of domestic abuse fear violent ex-partners discovering to where they have fled; undercover police officers and journalists investigating organised crime fear having their identities revealed to serious criminals; investors in some pharmaceutical companies fear having their addresses made available to animal rights activists. The government cannot guarantee the security of personal data placed on the NIR. The only way to ensure that personal data remains private is not to collect and collate such information in the first place.

The NIR will expose many people to increased risk from violent criminals and all of us to a greater danger of being victims of identity fraud. New procedures will soon be put in place at the Identity and Passport Service that will require first-time applicants for passports, and later all applicants for passport renewal, to submit to detailed personal interviews. The data collected at these interviews are likely to form the basis for individuals' records on the NIR, and the Home Office is already planning to equip the processing centres with biometric scanners, ready to capture fingerprints and iris scans from applicants.

Readers would be well advised to renew their passports now to avoid placing their private information on a public database for the next 10 years. Perhaps by then the government will have realised the folly of its march towards a database state.

2006-05-15 The Herald
People urged to renew passports to stall ID>

Quoted in an article by Douglas Fraser announcing an action at the Glasgow Passport office

According to Geraint Bevan of the NO2ID campaign, they are "calling on people to renew their passports this month to avoid compulsory registration and buy 10 more years of freedom from invasion of privacy".

2006-05-04 The Scotsman
Missing passports

Your report (2 May) that DVLA and the Passport Agency (now the UK Identity and Passport Service) have contrived to lose thousands of passports over the last five years - and that the losses have continued, despite the introduction of a new "secure" delivery system - does little to reassure us that UKIPS will be able to securely provide ID cards to the entire adult population.

That Home Office agencies are unable to guarantee the security of our documents is a clear demonstration of the folly of entrusting proof of identity to a specific piece of paper or plastic.

Of course, stray ID cards will be the least of our worries once compulsory registration is imposed on the entire population. We will have even more to fear from our precious data going astray when it is loaded onto the vast central database to which thousands of people will have access.

After all, some of the Madrid train bombers used ID cards obtained fraudulently from the Spanish Mint.

Government-issued documents may provide an illusion of security to technocrats who can't conceive of the system failing, but we will all pay dearly if the government succeeds in its attempt to nationalise our identities. Once our data are released, it will be impossible to regain our privacy.

2006-04-11 The Herald
Other countries' lessons on identity cards

Doug Maughan suggests that the UK identity card scheme will be similar to those in other European countries (Letters, April 11). This is not the case. No other European country has anything which compares to the National Identity Register, a database that will track every transaction in which its citizens are involved.

There are lessons that can be learned from the use of ID cards in neighbouring states, other than the obvious ones that they do little to reduce crime, prevent terrorism or solve other complex social problems.

We might learn from the French that it is possible for biometrics to be stored on the card themselves, instead of in a central government database, thus allowing the citizen to control to whom information is divulged. Recent riots across France may also remind us how regular demands to identify oneself to the authorities can lead to friction between communities.

We might learn from the Germans that it is possible to issue ID cards without assigning a persistent unique identifier which tracks citizens throughout their life. Indeed, such a scheme would be unconstitutional in Germany where memories of the Holocaust and collection of information by the Stasi provide vivid reminders of how national registers and extensive surveillance can be used to divide and control the population.

What we cannot learn from neighbouring countries is how dangerous it would be to centralise quite so much information. We cannot look to any other democracies to see what happens when a single database records every occasion on which citizens open a bank account, or apply for credit, or visit a clinic.

It is possible to see what happens when central government authorisation is required to work or travel internally, but we must look further afield than our European neighbours. We can see examples of such policies in China where rural peasants are not permitted to move to the cities without authorisation and where use of the internet is tightly monitored. Or we could look to the old Apartheid regime in South Africa and ask ourselves what it was about the pass laws that caused Nelson Mandela and his compatriots to burn their identity documents.

The Identity Cards Act was recently passed by parliament, but opposition is continuing to grow. Like the poll tax, our government will not be able to impose this scheme on us without the active co-operation of a significant proportion of the population; and we are determined to resist.

Information about our campaign is available at

2006-04-01 The Scotsman
Support for ID cards does not add up

Quoted in an article by James Kirkup about the lack of support for ID cards in Scotland

Geraint Bevan, of NO2ID Scotland, said the sample size of the Home Office poll in Scotland showed ministers had not been honest about public opinion.

"That the Home Office only felt it necessary to ask 158 people for their views on ID cards shows just how little regard they have for Scottish opinion," he said.

"To claim any kind of mandate on the support of just over 100 Scots is ridiculous."

2006-03-31 The Herald
The campaign against ID cards must continue

THE agreement between Labour and the Conservatives to pass the Identity Cards Act on Wednesday cannot be considered a "compromise" by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is it accurate to suggest that the home secretary has backed down.

The meaningless "concession" which requires everyone applying for a passport to be placed on a National Identity Register, but allowing us to opt out of receiving the pointless plastic card until 2010, is merely further evidence that this legislation is not, and never has been, about ID cards.

Rather, this legislation has always been about the database; increasing surveillance and control to satisfy a bureaucratic fetish to know ever more about our lives in the misguided belief that we could be governed better if the government knew just that little bit more about each of us.

Diminishing personal privacy and increasing interference in our lives are not compatible with British traditions of liberty. This pernicious legislation may now be on the statute book, but resistance is not at an end. This Stasi-like database cannot be built without the co-operat ion of the entire population. NO2ID Scotland will continue campaigning to ensure that informed citizens are able to deny the Home Office their Orwellian fantasy.

The ID card minister Andy Burnham now believes that it is the duty of all good citizens to prove who they are day in and day out ("part of being a good citizen, proving who you are day in and day out" - Radio 4 Today programme, March 28). No matter what fascist measures this authoritarian government may introduce, I still don't believe that they will be able to make the trains run on time.

2006-03-25 The Independent
Diversionary tactics over ID cards

Sir: The stand-off between Commons and Lords over identity cards is not a constitutional crisis (report, 21 March). Such disagreements have occurred many times in the past and we have laws designed to handle cases where a consensus cannot be reached. Ministerial focus on the constitutional implications of peers' continuing resistance is an attempt to divert attention from the substantive issues.

The real constitutional crisis is the fundamental alteration of the relationship between citizens and the state by a government which received the support of only 22 per cent of the electorate and is not adequately held to account by Parliament. That this government should seek to introduce compulsory registration on a new database for surveillance and control of the population raises fundamental questions about the acceptable level of state intrusion into private lives.

If the Government are unhappy with current arrangements in Parliament, they should complete the reforms that ground to a halt as the Prime Minister became increasingly enamoured with the fundraising potential of a House of Patronage. Meanwhile, Home Office ministers should heed the concerns expressed from all quarter s of society. They should show some humility and accept that the entire concept of a National Identity Register is dangerous.

2006-03-09 Evening Times
ID scheme is flawed

THE reduction in abuse of stolen credit cards due to chip and Pin technology is to be welcomed.

However, the consequent increase in 'card not present' fraud - conducted by the telephone, internet or mail order - demonstrates that technology is better at displacing crime than eliminating it altogether.

The increase in 'card not present' fraud undermines the Government's assertion that biometric ID cards would somehow magically reduce "identity theft".

The reality, of course, is that criminals will just do as they have done with chip and Pin cards ... conduct fraudulent transactions in ways which provide no opportunity for the cards to be physically checked.

By centralising our private data in a massive database, a rich target would be provided for hackers and criminals while offering only an illusion of protection to citizens.

False security is worse than no security.

The Home Office should abandon its plans to build a National Identity Register.

2006-03-09 The Scotsman
Misleading over ID cards

You report (6 March) that the Home Office will be issuing the first biometric passports this week. Meanwhile, the Identity Cards Bill is still languishing in Parliament, where the House of Lords is fighting government's attempts to make all passport applicants apply for ID cards from 2008.

That biometric passports can be issued now, while none of the ID card infrastructure is in place, shows that ministers have been trying to mislead the public when they have indicated that most of the costs of ID cards would be incurred anyway because of new regulations on travel documents.

The enormous costs of compulsory national ID cards are not required for biometric passports to be issued; nor is the creation of a new army of bureaucrats to administer the scheme.

The government's proposed National Identity Register is unnecessary, needlessly expensive and would be a grave threat to the privacy of United Kingdom residents.

With declining popular support for compulsory ID cards, ministers should accept they have made a mistake and consign the scheme to history.

2006-03-08 Daily Record
Passport proof

SO biometric passports are to be issued while the Identity Cards Bill still languishes in Parliament.

This gives the lie to Government statements that the bulk of the costs of compulsory ID cards would be incurred anyway because of international regulations for new passports.

That these passports can be issued now, while none of the ID card infrastructure is in place, is a clear demonstration that it is not necessary to spend billions of pounds on a National Identity Register.

Ministers should listen to the Lords and the Scottish Parliament, who have expressed the will of the Scottish people that we have no desire to waste taxes on compulsory ID cards.

There are better things on which our money could be spent.

2006-02-16 The Herald
Lack of regard for the privacy of others

Councillor Green says that he already carries a card to provide emergency access to his medical information (February 15) - so why does he want taxpayers to buy him another? More important, why does he feel that this justifies compelling other people to buy such a card?

Does he believe that women who have had an abortion should be required to make this information available to any civil servant with access to the National Identity Register? Should transsexual or transgender people be required to reveal their status to every petty bureaucrat? Should victims of domestic abuse be required to reveal any change of name and address to the keepers of the central database, thus potentially making the information available to violent ex-partners?

Councillor Green may care little for his own personal privacy, but that does not give him the right to assume that no-one else has legitimate secrets.

Lack of regard for the privacy of others is one of the defining characteristics of many recent Home Office initiatives: automatic number-plate recognition will enable tracking of most car journeys; mandatory retention of ISP logs for two years will make all internet activity available to the government; and the ultra-intrusive National Identity Register - a database of which the Stasi would have been proud - will allow the linking of every scrap of data that government departments hold about each of us.

On Tuesday, MPs voted for a complete ban on smoking in English pubs and clubs. Having finally realised that they are able to vote against manifesto pledges, hopefully our Labour MPs will also decide to reject ID cards when the legislation next returns from the Lords.

2006-02-14 The Herald
Identity cards offer no medical advantage

RUTH Wishart clearly understands the concerns that lead civil liberties campaigners to reject ID card proposals and is quite right that the government has failed to make a positive case for the scheme (February 13). The reason that the Home Office has not attempted to promote ID cards in such a way is that the arguments set forth do not stand up to scrutiny.

The notion that ID cards would be useful in a motorway pile-up is sheer fantasy. Paramedics do not need instantly to know the blood group of accident victims -- type O can be given to anyone and it would be foolhardy in the extreme to rely on the accuracy of an overly-complex central database when lives are at risk; even the government has not claimed that it would be able to maintain 100% accuracy for the data stored on a National Identity Register.

Furthermore, even if the database were accurate, the very high failure rates of biometric technology would certainly scupper any such attempts to use fingerprints or iris scans for medical identification.

People with drug allergies already have the option of voluntarily wearing an SOS talisman, at a fraction of the cost of a National Identity Register and with far greater reliability. The enormous costs of the ID proposals would be better spent investing in hospitals to treat the victims or better public transport to reduce the number of such accidents that occur.

Nor will ID cards significantly protect citizens from identity fraud. The government figures of £1.7bn have been widely ridiculed: the payments association Apacs has noted that the Home Office has attributed costs of £508m to card fraud, yet only £39m of that can be considered "identity theft".

The vast majority of credit-card fraud is of the card-not-present type where cards are used to purchase goods online, by telephone or by mail order; ID cards can do nothing to prevent such crimes.

A further £395m of the headline figure is attributed to money-laundering, yet when challenged even the Home Office has admitted that the figure is purely illustrative.

The government has entirely failed to make a case for compulsory ID cards. It would have found its task significantly easier if it had decided what problems it actually wished to solve before designing the system and drafting the legislation.

2006-02-13 BBC Radio Scotland
Scotland at Ten

Panel discussion about ID cards in which I participated on the day that MPs voted on the Lords' amendments.

2006-02-08 The Herald
Identity cards and flawed forensic data

After a seven-year legal battle, Shirley McKie has received compensation for the damages incurred after being falsely accused of leaving her fingerprint at the scene of a serious crime. The accusations led to the loss of her job with Strathclyde Police and enormous legal bills. This case highlights the tremendous difficulty of proving one's innocence against accusations made on the basis of flawed forensic data.

This problem will be faced by an increasing number of citizens in the future. Not only are UK police forces busy compiling a DNA database of every person on whom they can lay their hands, but the government intend to record the fingerprints of every resident on a new National Identity Register.

Like criminals, every one of us will be required to provide a full set of fingerprints; but unlike the full (rolled) fingerprints of suspects taken by trained professionals within police stations, only partial prints - of all 10 digits - will be captured during the registration process for compulsory ID cards.

Matching messy and unclear fingerprints lifted at crime scenes is hard enough when forensic scientists have access to the full fingerprint in police records, as demonstrated by the accusation against Shirley McKie. The difficulties are greatly exacerbated if only partial prints are recorded on the database. Yet the government are proposing to make the partial fingerprints on the NIR available to the police to highlight potential suspects.

If the ID card scheme is permitted to go ahead, many more Scots will face false accusations as a result of applying for ID cards. Hopefully they will not all have to wait seven years to reclaim their lives.

2006-01-24 The Guardian
ID cards look set to be a costly failure

Andy Burnham is correct to say that there are very many public databases (Letters, January 23). He fails to mention that the Home Office has proven itself incapable of keeping any of them accurate; there are no grounds for believing that a national identity register can be maintained any better than the vehicle-licensing database, in which one in 40 records are incorrectly entered by staff. It is pure fantasy to suggest that the collation of sensitive personal details about each citizen can enhance our security in any way; such a database will provide very rich pickings to criminals.

Biometrics will not enable individuals to have any degree of control over their entries in the database. However, this immature and unproven technology will provide systematic weaknesses that can be exploited by criminals. The Home Office's own trials encountered verification failure rates of one in 20, one in five and one in three for iris, fingerprint and facial recognition respectively.

Burnham's assurance that KPMG is happy with the Home Office's costings would have more credibility if it had published the secret report in full.

2005-12-16 The Herald
A reminder of the dangers in store from ID cards

Your report (December 14) that up to 13,000 civil servants, including many in Glasgow, may have been victims of benefit fraud is a timely reminder of the dangers of storing large quantities of personal data on centralised databases. It is highly likely that this fraud is the result of an inside job; someone with access to a government database has obtained the names, dates of birth and national insurance numbers of these people.

Meanwhile, the government is proposing to store all this information, and far, far more, about every single one of us in a centralised National Identity Register which would be created if the Identity Cards Bill is enacted. The NIR would contain passport numbers, NHS numbers, driving licence numbers, previous addresses, signatures, biometric data (fingerprints, photographs and iris scans), previous names, nationalities, ID card numbers and a whole host of other data which the Home Office would like to record about each of us. The associated audit trail will record each occasion on which an identity is verified and will thus enable anyone with access to infer details of financial relationships and transactions.

The NIR and associated audit trail would be a goldmine for fraudsters and other criminals, providing all the information they could possibly desire to impersonate any of us.

No2ID is a non-partisan organisation campaigning against the introduction of the Identity Cards Bill which is in its committee stage in the Lords. Anyone who shares our concerns about the implications of the NIR and wishes to get involved in the campaign to protect our identities can sign our on-line petition at or contact me at

2005-10-22 New Scientist
Scrap the database

Geoff Lane suggests that a central database is necessary if ID cards and biometrics are to be useful (1 October, p 18). However, an alternative ID card scheme proposed by a team at the London School of Economics would not require a central database. In this scheme, biometric data would be stored on the card itself and the card would be validated by a trusted third party.

This scheme would offer many benefits over the system the UK government is proposing. Personal information would remain under the individual's control, thus reducing the security risks and potential breaches of privacy associated with a central database. Eliminating the database would also drastically reduce the complexity (and hence the cost and likelihood of failure) of the project.

The proposed National Identity Register, with its intrusive audit trail recording every occasion on which the card is used, would fundamentally change the relationship between citizen and state. Getting rid of the central register would minimise the loss of civil liberties entailed by the introduction of ID cards.

2005-10-19 The Scotsman
Untrustworthy ID cards

The fact that the Home Office minister, Tony McNulty, has admitted there are difficulties with biometric technology (your report, 18 October) will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the results of the biometric trials conducted for the Home Office - trials which encountered failure rates of one in 20, one in five and one in three for iris, fingerprint and facial verification.

His claim that the arguments have shifted from civil liberties to issues of cost and practicalities is pure wishful thinking on the part of the Home Office. Campaigners against the proposals have always been clear that despite the myriad flaws with the scheme from a pragmatic perspective, the greater danger comes from the National Identity Register; the creation of a database state and a surveillance society.

The creation of a central database would be a great infringement of our civil liberties. The use of a government database to restrict access to essential public services, such as health and education, would alter our society fundamentally; there can be no benefit in creating an underclass of people who must hide from the state and shy away from interacting with public bodies.

Also, while the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, may have capped the price of standalone ID cards at £30, that only includes the price for the piece of plastic and the paperwork. There are enormous costs associated with the infrastructure required.

That £30 will not cover the cost of installing biometric scanners in hospitals and GP surgeries; it will not pay for the large number of civil servants required to administer the scheme; and it will not cover the costs of the NIR, the most complex, ambitious IT project the government has ever attempted.

Independent experts at the London School of Economics have estimated that the scheme could cost up to £19.2 billion to implement. That represents hundreds of pounds for everyone in the country. If we do not pay the full cost when applying for the card, we will pay through our taxes.

2005-10-18 The Evening Times
Ditch ID fiasco

THE Home Secretary has announced a price cap of £30 for stand-alone ID cards.

If every British adult were to buy one of these cards, only £1.35billion revenue would be generated for the Government - far short of the £5.5bn the Home Office estimates that the scheme will cost to introduce and less than a tenth of the total cost if the LSE estimate of up to £19.2bn is correct.

How will the Home Office make up this shortfall? Surely the cost of passports cannot rise by hundreds of pounds to subsidise these £30 cards.

Are they intending to take this from our taxes, against the stated wishes of the Treasury?

The ID card scheme is the most complex and ambitious IT project ever attempted by the Government.

There is little justification for the scheme and every attempt by the Home Secretary to make it more palatable just reveals further flaws inherent in the proposals.

Today, MPs vote on the Identity Cards Bill in the Commons. They should avail themselves of the opportunity to ditch this impending fiasco once and for all.

2005-10-18 The Herald
Surveillance society must be stopped

THE home secretary may have capped the price of stand-alone ID cards at £30 but that only includes the price for the piece of plastic and the paperwork. There are enormous costs associated with the infrastructure that ID cards would require.

That £30 will not cover the cost of installing biometric scanners in hospitals and general practice surgeries. It will not pay for the large number of civil servants required to administer the scheme. It certainly will not cover the costs of the National Identity Register, the most complex and ambitious IT project that the government has ever attempted.

Independent experts at the London School of Economics have estimated that the entire scheme could cost up to £19.2bn to implement. That cost represents hundreds of pounds for every man, woman and child in the country. If we do not pay the full cost when applying for the card, we will pay through our taxes.

Now Tony McNulty has admitted that there are difficulties with biometric technology. This will come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the results of the biometric enrolment trials conducted on behalf of the Home Office; trials which encountered failure rates of one in 20, one in five and one in three for iris, fingerprint and facial verification.

He has also asserted that opposition to the government's proposals has moved on from civil liberties to issues of cost and practicality. Yet campaigners against the proposals - including NO2ID, Liberty and Privacy International - have always been clear that despite the myriad flaws with the scheme from a pragmatic perspective, the greater danger comes from the National Identity Register; the creation of a database state and a surveillance society.

The creation of a central database, which will track every occasion on which the ID cards would be used to prove identity, would be a great infringement of our civil liberties. The use of a central government database to restrict access to essential public services, such as health and education, would alter fundamentally our society; there can be no benefit in creating an underclass of people who must hide from the state and shy away from any interaction with public bodies. On Tuesday evening, our elected representatives in Westminster will have the opportunity to reject the Identity Cards Bill; the opportunity to protect some of the cherished freedoms and values that define our society and for which many have died. They should avail themselves of that opportunity.

2005-10-15 The Daily Record
Identity tax is unfair

HOME Secretary Charles Clarke may have capped the price of a standalone ID card at £30 for people without passports or driving licences, but most will end up paying far more.

The Scottish Executive have assured us ID cards will not be required to access public services but all Scots will still be required to register and pay for an ID card.

Under Government plans, anyone applying for a passport or driving licence from 2008 will also be required to apply for an ID card - at a far higher cost and under penalty of a £2500 fine for non-compliance.

Most people will not be able to afford these crazy costs.

This system to give even more money to the Government seems ridiculous and it's about time we got rid of this identity tax once and for all

2005-10-05 The Evening Times
Police abused terror law

THE Prime Minister has apologised for the shameful assault on Walter Wolfgang by stewards at the Labour Party conference, but will he also apologise for the actions of the police?

According to reports, Mr Wolfgang was temporarily detained by a police officer using powers granted under section 44 of the Terrorism Act. That act clearly states that authorisation for the powers should only be granted for the purpose of preventing acts of terrorism.

What act of terrorism did the police expect that an 82-year-old gentlemen ejected for heckling was engaged in? Is speaking out against government policy now a terrorist offence?

How can the authorities expect to command respect when they so readily abuse their powers to prevent peaceful political protest?

2005-09-29 The Scotsman
ID cards by coercion

Widespread use of social security numbers (SSNs) by public and private organisations in the United States has contributed significantly to higher levels of identity fraud. In response, the House committee on ways and means approved measures to restrict the sale, purchase and display of SSNs in the public and private sectors and to provide additional means of protecting SSN privacy.

Meanwhile, our government seems to be intent on repeating the mistakes the US Congress is now trying to rectify.

Instead of encouraging the private sector to make use of the National Identity Register, it should follow the American lead and introduce legislation to prevent private companies from making use of identification numbers assigned to citizens by the state.

2005-09-16 The Evening News
Biometrics technology is still far from ideal

REGARDING your article "Passport to the biometric era" (News, September 15), the six-month Biometric Enrolment Trial undertaken on behalf of the Home Office last year involved 10,000 people across the UK.

It was this trial which revealed the astonishingly high verification failure rates that biometric technology still exhibits: failure rates of one in 20 for iris scans, one in five for fingerprints and one in three for facial recognition.

Furthermore, these failure rates were considerably higher for disabled participants.

Biometric technology is still very immature and there is no reason to believe that it will become sufficiently robust and reliable in time for the government's intended roll-out of compulsory ID cards.

All current biometric scanners can be easily fooled by relatively unsophisticated methods. The consequences of relying on these measurements could cause lifelong inconvenience for people who have their biometric data hijacked by criminals. The Government should abandon its efforts to create an expensive and intrusive national biometric database.

2005-09-14 BBC Scotland
Reporting Scotland

NO2ID protest at the UKPS Biometric Roadshow in the Gyle Shopping Centre. (See 16:30-18:50). More information about the protest is available on the NO2ID forum.

2005-08-02 The Telegraph
We need increased border checks, not identity cards

Sir - Geoff Hoon's shallow attempt to link the departure of Hussain Osman from Britain with the issue of ID cards (News, August 1) is a demonstration of the Government's desperate deSire to find any justification for this expensive and intrusive scheme. Vague assertions of new benefits are made each time the Government's shifting arguments are demolished by critics.

Hussain Osman was able to board the Eurostar because nobody was checking passports at Waterloo station. What difference would it have made if he had an ID card as well as a passport to not be checked by the absent border security?

The £18 billion that the LSE estimates the ID card and National Identity Register could cost the nation will bring little real benefit. The money would be much better spent improving our health and education systems and putting more police on the streets.

2005-08-02 The Scotsman
ID card claim demolished

The shallow attempt by Geoff Hoon, the Leader of the House of Commons, to link the departure of Hussain Osman from the United Kingdom to the issue of identity cards is a clear demonstration of the government's desperate desire to find any justification for this expensive and intrusive scheme.

Vague assertions of new benefits for ID cards are made each time that ministers' shifting arguments are demolished by critics.

Hussein Osman was able to board the Eurostar train because nobody was checking passports at Waterloo station. What possible difference would it have made if he had carried an ID card as well as a passport to not be checked by the absent border security?

The £18 billion that the London School of Economics estimate that the ID card and national identity register could cost the nation will bring little real benefit. The money would be much better spent on improving our health and education systems and on putting more police on the streets.

2005-07-02 The Daily Record
Worthless plan

THE Home Secretary's offer to cap the price of ID cards for individuals is entirely worthless. This will just mean that we pay for the impending IT fiasco through taxation.

And what benefit will ID cards and the National Identity Register bring to ordinary citizens?

Spanish ID cards did not prevent the Madrid train bombings and have not stopped Basque separatists from committing terrorist acts in their long campaign for independence.

Nor will they make any significant impact on identity fraud.

The £19.2 billion the LSE estimates this scheme could cost would be much better spent improving our health and education systems.

2005-05-17 BBC Radio Scotland Twelve to Two programme

The first hour of the programme was a debate on ID cards in which I participated.

2003-10-25 New Scientist Software patents

Your article is not a fair reflection of the state of the proposed European legislation on the patenting of computer-implemented inventions (4 October, p 5).

The directive, in its amended state, reaffirms the European Patent Convention principle

that software, like mathematics, is not patentable. There may be slight glitches in some of the wording of the amended document, but this can be tidied up in committee prior to the second reading.

Many people would disagree with your description of the amended directive as "all but useless", not least the quarter of a million European citizens and software professionals who have signed the petition against the introduction of software patents in Europe.

Software is already protected adequately by copyright law. The extension of patents into the realm of software is unnecessary and would have many adverse consequences for consumers, industry and academia within Europe. The amended directive provides a much needed restraint on the European Patent Office's recent drift towards a US-style patent system.

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