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Fri, 31 Mar 2006

On the unworkability of the National Identity Register

Over at ("Chronicling the demise of the New Labour Project") Tom has an interesting post in which he estimates the workload the NIR registration centres will have to handle, just 32 months from now.

So adding it all up, from NIR Day 1 for ten years you've got to keep processing people at the rate of 50 per hour at every centre, or one every 72 seconds, each of whom requires a scan of the whole central NIR to avoid multiple registrations, so the database has to be up and accessible every minute of the day to avoid delay.

In the early days it's a nailed on certainty that we'll get failures, resulting in potentially hundreds of people making pointless journeys ...

Assuming 99% reliability (which is pretty hysterically funny for a large distributed government program lashed together in 32 months, as it exceeds the MTBF of the client desktop PCs the staff will be accessing the register through) he figures the NIR will be processing 700,000 people a year and roughly 71,000 people are going to be making trips to the office in vain. "I'd suggest that anything much below 99.9% reliability is going to be seriously political in terms of people claiming loss of earnings, loss of holidays etc.," he remarks.

I think Tom is an optimist (in favour of the NIR being unrealistically efficient). The devil is in the details of what the NIR is trying to track. This isn't just a passport system, folks, they want to know where you live, they want to know where your dog goes to school. Unfortunately the Blairwatch comment system seems to have swallowed my reply, so here it is. (I can't be bothered re-writing it, as I've got an annoying cold and it's time to go get some dinner. Go read his figures first, then come back here ...

There is a reason we need to renew our passports every decade; the photograph ages. The same is going to be true of the biometrics on the ID card. There are also all those status changes to take into account. The average marriage lasts just 12 years, for example, and getting married or divorced is obviously an ID Register update. Right?

On top of the on-going 700,000 teens per year I think you need to add the following ongoing overhead updates:

  • Marriages: (90% of folks get married, so that's another 650,000 p/y)
  • Divorces: (40% of marriages end in divorce, so about 300,000 p/y)
  • Deaths: (100% of us die, cumulative death rate is roughly equal to birth rate, so 7,000,000 p/y leaving the register)
  • 10 year biometric updates: 7,000,000 per year. (Do you look the same at 39 as you did at 29? I think not ...)
  • Mutilations: people who lose eyeballs or fingers or otherwise experience changes to their body that would interfere with the biometrics are obviously going to need their records updating. (I'd say this is probably cumulative to somewhere between 5 and 10% of the population, so another 350,000-700,000.)
  • Change of Address: people who move are required to provide proof of change of address. Say we live in a given house for an average of roughly 10 years. Yippee! We've just doubled that 7M figure again!
  • Loss or damage to ID Card: that's going to be a report-to-processing-center job too, isn't it? In 25 years I've damaged one passport and lost another. But these ID cards are going to be riding around in wallets, an environment more like that in which credit cards are used. Personally, I'd be surprised if the half-life of an ID card was much over 2 years in practice, so that'd actually multiply the replacement processing rate by a factor of 5. But that's ridiculous so I'm going to leave it out of the calculation below.

In upshot, I reckon the mature system will have to handle more like 15M to 25M updates per year on an ongoing basis, rather than Tom's 7M updates at first and 700K after 10 years. If we include a card life more like a credit card than a passport, make that 50-100M updates per year.

And this is in addition to the initial registration rate during the first decade as they try to shovel us all into the database!

Bluntly, they're not going to be processing people at the rate of one per 72 seconds -- it's going to be an order of magnitude worse, minimum.

And that's before we look at other updates. Maybe 500,000 people come into contact with the criminal justice system every year -- their records are going to be updated. (If resistance to the ID Card reaches levels associated with the Poll Tax in Scotland in 1989-90, you can ramp that number to more than 10 million a year -- believe it or not, the Councils in Scotland are still trying to clear up the Poll Tax backlog.) As we integrate further with the EU, I'd be unsurprised to see immigration/emigration figures close to 500K per year, too.

Bluntly, the figures don't add up. They're not going to be able to process people properly without an order of magnitude expansion of the processing offices. Nor have we factored in the half-million or so folks a year taking days off work (with a vaunted 99% efficient system), or a whole load of other special cases.

Build a distributed high-security database that's got to add a complex record every second, add three-nines or better availability, will be checked probably an order of magnitude more frequently as well, and ensure that the data integrity is preserved? And do it in 32 months, using the usual New Labour contractors like Capita and EDS? Go pull the other one, Mr Clarke.

[Link] [Discuss ID Cards]

posted at: 21:26 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry

The UK National ID card

You may have noticed the House of Lords resistance to the ID Card bill collapse earlier this week. You may have shrugged and wondered what it means to you. If you live in the UK, here's what it means:

You Will:

ATTEND an appointment to be photographed, have your fingerprints taken and iris scanned, or be fined up to £2500. Additional fines of up to £2500 may be levied each time you fail to comply until you submit to these procedures.

PROMPTLY INFORM the police or Home Office if you lose your card or it becomes defective, or face a fine of up to £1000. If you find someone else's card and do not immediately hand it in, you may have committed a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for up to two years or a fine, or both.

PROMPTLY INFORM the National Identity Register of any change of address or face a fine of up to £1000 (you will supply evidence of your previous addresses, not just your current address).

PROMPTLY INFORM the National Identity Register of significant changes to your personal life or any errors they have made or face a fine of up to £1000. You may also be obliged to submit to being re-interviewed, re-photographed, re-fingerprinted and re-scanned, or face a fine.

PAY between £30 and £93 (Home Office estimates — every other body involved says it will be substantially more) to be registered, with further charges possible to change your details and to replace a lost or stolen card.

When ID cards were introduced in this country during World War II, they had three functions. By the time they were abolished in 1952 they had 39 administrative uses. So what won't we be able to do without an ID card, according to Government plans?

If you don't have an ID card ...

You will not (be able to):

Rent or sell a home

Stay in a hotel

Buy or sell a car

Buy a mobile phone

Open or close a bank account

Travel overseas

Obtain medical care

Attend an institute of education

Work or run a business

Be declared dead (or alive)

Be registered to vote

I have four words to sum this up: Tony Blair's Poll Tax.

And if you don't like this and want to do something about it, you should start by supporting the No2ID campaign and/or The Open Rights Group.

[Discuss ID Cards]

posted at: 17:36 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry


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