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Customer Review

3.0 out of 5 stars Much more to be said, 7 July 2013
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This review is from: Card declined: How Britain said no to ID cards, three times over (Paperback)
This is a straightforward historical account of the ID card in the UK, leading up to the demise of the Labour Party's scheme to introduce (ultimately compulsory) ID cards for everyone. The plan was defeated, not so much for the cards themselves, but because of the frightening database behind them which would have recorded where and when each card was used.

Mathison is a journalist with little apparent understanding of the technology needed to make a modern ID card system work, although he mentions the difficulties of using biometrics.

ID cards are very useful in many circumstances. To be effective they do not have to be high tech or expensive. In the USA driving licences are commonly used as ID, French departments issue ID cards, which about 80% of the French use. Germans have ID cards and a law which prevents their use being recorded. They are an easy way of identifying yourself. Mathison seems not to recognise this simple fact.

The British objection to ID cards is irrational, as they are snooped on (by CCTV and ANPR, for example) more than any other nation. The current government's objectives of limiting the handout of state benefits to those actually entitled to them may well require the introduction of some sort of card. In the USA most OAPs carry a Medicare card which shows their entitlement to state aided healthcare. In the UK the only people who have to carry a card are those with a visa, the card proving, perversely, that they are unlikely to be entitled to state handouts. When first introduced under Labour it was actually called an entitlement card. If they had stuck to that name the Labour scheme might be with us yet. But Mathison sticks rigidly to what did happen, not what could have, or might have happened. The British cannot soldier on forever with passports as the only means of official recognition. Too bad that Mathison did not deal with the "if not, what" aspect of his subject.

There is an impressive seeming list of references but the keen reader will look in vain for technical references or discussion of ID cards in other countries. Most of the references are to newspaper articles or official publications. More's the pity. If Mathison had consulted original sources on the computstional, technical and security issues surrounding ID cards his own report would have come across as more authoritative. As it is, we have a breathless (but accurate) account of what we all read in the papers.
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