Crime & Identity
The first and most important thing to consider is just what sort of crime are we talking about?
The most emotive would surely be Terrorism. As many have commented before however, a police officer knowing a person's identity would not stop that person from perpetrating a terrorist attack if s/he was unknown to the police beforehand. If they were known, suspected of being a danger to the public, they would be under surveillance/detention anyway.
There is a common link between all offences which involve the concealment of one's own, or adoption of another's, identity and that is bare-faced lying. To be fair, it's not as simple a matter as that makes it sound: it's an art which has to be honed and also requires a good deal of charm to carry off. Take for instance the training of actors/actresses, it is a skill-set to subsume your own personality and portray another convincingly in its stead; it takes tuition, repetition and dedication to learn. But be under no illusion, in either case: a skill-set is what it is; not a moral deficiency which automatically conveys the ability. Fortunately for those who would practice deception outside a legitimate acting profession, there are many societal norms which can be taken advantage of to make discovery less likely.
The most heavily relied upon is that, in normal circumstances, for one person to imply that another is lying is just plain rude. People have a natural tendency to want to be accepted, a disinclination to upset their fellows, hence rudeness is not only shied away from, but also expects an outraged reaction. It is a relatively simple matter therefore to imagine a little back-story to an assumed identity and, if one's artifice is questioned, to act as if one is wounded by the very idea that one may be disingenuous; which puts the onus of apology on the questioner, who may well then be particularly helpful in recompense.
Before I go into the second point though, consider this scenario:
It's a few years ago. You have recently purchased your first VCR. A work colleague, who has also got one recently, hearing of your acquisition, asks the favour that you record their favourite TV programme whilst they are away next week. For the purpose, they provide you with a video cassette. Now, you are not that technically minded, you don't have to be: whatever technology your job entails the use of has been designed so that, after a fairly simple demonstration of its operation, you can perform the tasks required. Let's assume that, unlike the vast bulk of humanity, you have actually read enough of the instructions to know how to operate the VCR. It's all very complicated though, so rather than try to set the timer, because after all, you don't want to be seen to be a dummy, turning up without the requested recording, you decide to just be there in person and manually press 'Record'.
But it doesn't work. You try again. Still no joy. You take the cassette out, shake it, realise that this tells you precisely nothing and put it back, once more pressing 'Record'. Maybe you need to press 'Play' and 'Record' at the same time, like old music tape cassette machines. Nothing doing. You know the machine works, because you've recorded a few things for yourself already. What are you thinking at this point?
a) The machine has actually broken down since the last time you used it?
b) The cassette is broken?
c) There is some aspect of the operation of the VCR which you do not understand?
d) The person was lying about the usability of the cassette for some nefarious purpose?
e) Any combination of the above.
Let's imagine that (d) was not such an outrageous proposition; perhaps that colleague is the 'office joker', or maybe might maliciously try to undermine your position at work. Would you try to phone them to tell them what you thought? No. Having considered that it was possible for something to be faulty, you might think to try a cassette of your own. But you don't want to record over what you have saved for your own viewing. You've got to make a decision now. The programme in question has been running a couple of minutes already.
Whatever you think you may have decided, I think you'll agree that if you wanted to appear helpful to that colleague, or in the eyes of your boss, you would have been more likely to have tried recording over your own cassette, taking a personal loss rather than seem rude or incompetent. At any stage however, not familiar with the full working of the technology, would you have thought to look at the back of the cassette to see if the tabs which prevent accidental recording over something saved were intact? Of course not.
How is this relevant to ID Cards? In this simple way: nobody who uses the card readers will know how the technology actually works. If a criminal wishes to carry another's ID Card and get away with it, all they have to do is look vaguely similar to the tiny photograph and damage the chip so that the biometric data cannot be read, without leaving any obvious marks of tampering. As long as they don't behave in any way suspiciously, it will be assumed that the card or machine is broken or that the operator has made a mistake. In the presence of other forms of ID, the criminal will be accepted as any other member of the public frustrated by temperamental technology would be. Off the top of my head, I'd suspect that connecting the thing into an electric circuit, including a bulb as a load to use up the energy, would be enough to scramble the contents without leaving any marks from a short circuit. There are likely many other ways, including magnetic flux and extreme temperature.
Remember: whatever can be engineered can be reverse-engineered. Perhaps you have the prejudice that criminals would not be intelligent enough to do such a thing? Disabuse yourself of it. I'll give you a few examples:
Within two months of the introduction of car stereos that required an identifying PIN number to be punched in before operation, it was widely known, amongst my criminal associates, that placing such a machine into a deep freezer for a couple of days would make the chip reset to its factory default, thus overcoming this barrier to its resale;
Within weeks of certain luxury cars arrival on Britain's streets, it was known that a hard kick to the bumper would trigger a collision safety device: unlocking all the doors with the central locking mechanism. Yes, the alarm would go off, but one could quickly jump in, pop the bonnet and use a small pick, of the type normally used for knocking holes in roofing slates, to skewer a hole through the alarm mechanism, shutting it off;
Once silent alarms which alerted the police to a potential break in via the phoneline became more common, it became standard practice to use a small hatchet to knock the metal covering from a telegraph pole and chop through the thick cable, thus disabling any such system, before breaking into particularly business premises;
When magnetic stripe cash machine cards were first introduced, one could use a Betamax video recorder to read the stripe and thus decode the PIN number;
Attempts to 'lock' mobile phone handsets can be overcome by connecting them to a small computer which resets the phone's chips to the factory settings.
Thirdly: information of this kind gets widely disseminated and quickly because, whilst the most hard-nosed capitalism is common in criminal circles, the very nature of criminality requires close bonds of trust amongst practitioners. Don't be fooled by the media portrayal and the old saw, "no honour amongst thieves", certainly when pushed to it by extreme circumstances, like anybody else, criminals will think only of their own welfare and betray their cohorts, but generally this is not true. My mates and I stuck together, probably because we had nobody else. The currency of this trust is the gift economy of information. Whatever one can trade for better standing, one does.
I used the knowledge of much of the above to gain goods and services by deception, fraudulently using other people's credit cards. I would simply imagine myself into somebody's shoes who had a perfect right to expect those goods and services, behaving accordingly. Even when I was very ill from the amount of heroin I was taking. It's not surprising. I'd get a good scrub-up, some freshly laundered clothes from a charity shop, and present myself as anybody else would. Drug addict criminals are dirty, shifty looking people aren't they? Whereas somebody who is clean and tidy but looks ill probably is ill, maybe with something terrible like AIDS or cancer, to be pitied and helped. Occasionally, something would go wrong. At such times, on the rare occasion that a vendor was suspicious, I would feign utter indignation, snatch the card back, and, with the appearance of high dudgeon, either present them with another card (if I had a person's wallet), or leave quickly. There were also times when it was possible to take a shop assistant into confidence and pay them to just go through with the transaction.
I also used this and other knowledge, of how the criminal justice system works, to conceal my identity from the police on more than one occasion. One time I was so off my head on drugs that in giving another person's details, I had not considered that that person's date of birth would have made me a fair bit older than I was and I looked young for my age anyway. So I was arrested. Despite an investigation, including reference to Special Branch, and the fact that I was a wanted fugitive, plus my being remanded in prison for a few days, I got away with it for long enough to be released. Eventually this perversion of the course of public justice was found out, but not for several months and it was only that I had pressing personal reasons to remain in the same city that I was actually arrested anyway. If I had ran, I suspect I could have remained at large for at least another year, as I had already been a fugitive for 11 months at that stage. This was achieved partly by interfering with how my fingerprints could be sampled, in the police station, not beforehand.
Now, I'll grant you that if a working ID Card was required for every financial transaction or encounter with the police to go smoothly, there would be difficulties for criminals. But it would not stop criminality. If one could not purchase things with money fraudulently, there would be other ways sought, such as suborning a shop assistant with the offer of drugs, sex or a variety of goods and services to turn a blind eye to direct theft (which is already a lot more common than many people might think). This is the fourth point however. Experience shows that any technology will have bugs, whether they be caused by some fault in design, manufacture or usage. Is anyone seriously expecting that the British public will accept being arrested and held in custody until such time as reliable witnesses can be sought, found and testify as to their identity, with the high probability that the problem was a technological bug? The idea is absolutely preposterous. Despite Bush & Blair's posturing over the matter, The War On Terror isn't actually a war. We're not about to be invaded by ravening hordes of Al Qaida stormtroopers over the channel.
The only crime which this will make next to impossible is benefit fraud. Are we really to believe that benefit fraud costs this country anything like the staggering amount the scheme's implementation would cost? That it's worth the risks of the system being open to abuse by overzealous or corrupt policing, deliberate suppression of dissent, or targeted corporate advertising to make benefit fraud very difficult? It seems a bit over the top.
I've talked about the simple methods of subverting technological usage for criminal purposes, my fifth point is that some criminals are highly intelligent and with considerable understanding of the way digital data systems and encryption work. As we know, it is already possible to clone bank and credit cards. You may believe that the complexity of the system would prevail over any such attempts, but consider this: the complexity we are talking about is deemed suitable by those working for a government sponsored development team now. Who knows what even the very near future may bring in the private sector? It is eminently possible to take an example of a system and reverse engineer it privately. That is exactly how the IBM compatible PC market boomed, which 4/5 of you are using to read this page. Compatible, not made or licensed by IBM. Some guys took the chip and ran inputs into it and recorded the outputs and from that deduced what must be happening inside and then wrote their own machine code to imitate it, thus not infringing copyright, and gaining the ability to mass produce the chips and sell them much cheaper than IBM were prepared to consider. Once the system was hacked, it would only need a bare-faced liar to use the results with absolute impunity.
But this would only be a few individuals, not the vast bulk of criminality. Possibly, although I don't doubt that the information would get about, probably even spawning an underground market for technology with which to do the deed, without the requisite understanding to actually hack the system: which brings me to my last point. If we start to rely on a seemingly all powerful tool instead of what might be called "good honest coppering", people will become dependent on it and lazy in other areas. One only has to look at statistics on obesity and fitness to realise that our dependence on various means of transport has led to walking/cycling etc. becoming a much less favoured practice. What if the large donations from oil-rich individuals throughout the Gulf States to Al Qaida, which we hear about, were used to pay somebody to hack the system and produce fake ID Cards? The system was not able to stop me, in the usually terminal stage of addiction, from running rings round it and I was very ill, physically and mentally, because it relied on technology which it deemed infallible. How on earth would it deal with a well motivated terrorist with the means at his/her disposal to immediately counteract suspicion?
It is the nature of humanity to be lazy. Many people are just not very bright. It is the nature of criminality to exploit the niches such laziness, ignorance or incompetence engender. Even if we accepted the Orwellian nightmare of the harshest application such a scheme might allow, it would not stop criminality.
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