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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Crime & Identity

NO2ID - Stop ID cards and the database stateI don't usually go into much detail about offences I committed whilst in active addiction, for a number of reasons which are beyond the scope of this post but, with the UK Government's headlong rush toward ID Cards seemingly based in much part around the notion that such a scheme will reduce crime, it seems appropriate. I've been prosecuted for what I'm about to talk about anyway: paid my debt to society and no longer commit crime. You don't think a self-confessed law-breaker has anything relevant to say about this issue? Fine: bury your head in the sand; it's your taxes paying for the scheme.

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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25 Comments:

Anonymous some_maineiac said...

edjog, your tilt to philosophy is admirable, admirable, admirable...and you have made your readers aware of how easy it is to commit ID theft if you've got half a brain and are sufficiently motivated to do it...as a former boss of mine once said (and as i often repeat to anyone who asks me about it, not to mention that i've done some "harmless" hacking myself to have my vengeance on a dink who took my job)..."anyone who wants to break into a computer badly enough will find a way"...i myself contemplated ID theft to perpetrate my own minor crimes, but was not sufficiently motivated and hence took a gamble for the material i needed and won...

any institutionalized use of ID cards, can and will be subverted by the clever

22/1/06 13:45  
Anonymous some_maineiac said...

and by dink, i mean "fool or tard", i do not resort to racist pejoratives, for those who don't know me

22/1/06 13:49  
Blogger edjog said...

"any institutionalized use of ID cards, can and will be subverted by the clever"

Yeah. I do wonder sometimes why people find it so hard to understand that one of the main reasons criminals get away with so much is because so many people, including the police, are actually not very intelligent. Even when they are well motivated, their lack of imagination has them directing their efforts into tried and tested techniques which have already been anticipated by the criminals.

When i look back on some of the 24hr plain as a pikestaff piss-taking we were getting away with, it's hard not to laugh. Some of it was just because we knew that the police could not afford the manpower in that area for that purpose (you keep up with who's been arrested for what: patterns emerge), but a lot of it was without much thought to the risks, we were mentalists after all. But then they'd do the stupidest things!

One time a whole van full of police came round to a squat to arrest me and they hadn't even bothered to get a warrant to enter the place! I mean what were they thinking? That the lads would open the door and just let them in? Fall down and roll around on the floor in helpless mirth, for sure, but open the door? No chance.

PS - I'm glad you said that wasn't a racial slur, because while i'll not censor anyone, except trolls who just fill up the comments with repeated nonsense (even then it'd have to be genuine nonsense) i'll not have them unchallenged either. Just out of interest though, in a racist sense, who does dink actually refer to? Over here it's an acronym: Dual Income No Kids.

22/1/06 19:28  
Anonymous some_maineiac said...

"Fall down and roll around on the floor in helpless mirth"

another belly laugh and a very witty way of recycling the old "rolling on the floor" saw....

"dink" from urban dictionary also refers to Vietnamese people and probably to Orientals in general...although my country had their infamous war over there, and I was old enough to be drafted, I managed to miss it by (luck?, the workings of the Great Spirit?, the planet Neptune?) and never served...to paraphrase Muhammed Ali (which original can't be found at quotations page), "I ain't got nothing against them Viet Cong, none of them ever called me whitey"...many good men lost their lives in that quagmire and many of the ones who came back were fucked-in-the-head for a good long time if they managed not to kill themselves or somebody else...

i notice from your profile that "apocalypse Now" is one of your favorites and mine, too, probably got me past that "scary" avatar of yours...

22/1/06 22:09  
Blogger shane said...

Just got this in my email:

Some very creative folks have come up with a way to modify a disposible
camera to make an "RFID Zapper"
(https://events.ccc.de/congress/2005/wiki/RFID-Zapper(EN)) which will
permanently disable RFID chips. They write:

Why should I need such a thing?

We have to expect to be surrounded by RFID-Tags almost everywhere
within the near future, and they will serve many different purposes.
The
benefits and risks of this technology and it's use are already being
discussed. However, there will be atempts to use RFID-Tags to establish
constant surveiliance and to further threaten and compromise the
privacy
of customers (and citizens and even non-citizens, when gouvernments
start to use RFID-Tags like the german gouvernment already did).
To defend yourself against such measures, you might want a small,
simple
and relatively appealing gadget to permanently deactivate RFID-Tags
around you, e.g., to deactivate RFID-Tags in recently bought clothes or
books without damaging those.

Their complete plans aren't up yet but will be soon, apparently (I'll keep you posted on my In The Wake blog). For
more on RFIDs, see SpyChips.com and the RFID article from Wikipedia.

23/1/06 00:10  
Anonymous some_maineiac said...

edjog, my dear fellow you have a staunch ally in me now, and with the tips you've given on posting links, i've gone
here
and posted a link back to you and actually got the blogger to follow it, so there!

"May 7 people are usually of a devotional nature...They will give their last drop of blood to a cause they support, whether religious, spiritual, artistic or social"

(well, 3 out of 4 ain't bad!)

23/1/06 02:59  
Anonymous some_maineiac said...

speaking of the clever, Shane you are on my list now as well, and keep us informed about that RFID Zapper....

23/1/06 03:11  
Blogger edjog said...

Good one shane. They'll ban them soon. You could use the same thing to zap the chip of instore goods to facilitate easier shoplifting. Still, if it's hidden inside a camera: bit difficult to enforce, eh?

I'm not sure whether the same technique would work on the chip of a credit card/ID card, because it doen't require an internal power generator, it has contacts for the reader to supply the power, but then again, if you induced enough current in it's various parts, surely its data would be scrambled. Fortunately, we are surrounded by sources of powerful EM fields, so don't have to make our own: overhead power cables. If you taped a card to a ball and threw it up amongst them, that'd probably do it. There's always Tape Head De-maggers too, but i'm getting into sound tech nerdery... so i'll stop.

s_m: yeah so went there; wow she's under fire. It makes me grateful for what we have still got in the way of freedom over here.

23/1/06 06:52  
Blogger enigma4ever said...

Enigma4ever here from watergatesummer....thanks for stopping over and offering your thoughts , we in the States KNOW that things are bad...and I know that in UK, Tony and his crew have tried hard to serve up a bad lot of laws etc. ( the National ID card comes to mind)...and that yes, we as people must fight back...The Bubble Boy King and his Cronies are hated over here ....he and his lot have been breaking laws- nationa & international...and we feel bad about all that they have done- esp. obviously Iraq but at this point- so many other "Things"...Shame...Thanks for your thoughts about my safety...I appreciate that .... I will have a book coming out later this year- the Intro is on the side of my blog- on the blogroll :SILENT FALLOUT...have a read.I will comeback to your blog- there is a lot to absorb and read....That ranting enigma over on the side of the pond.....( I saw that read Crime and Punishment...I bet you read Orwell too...how about Ayn Rand: Anthem?)....Thanks again

23/1/06 06:58  
Blogger edjog said...

Hey enigma, yeah, TBH it's easy to forget that Bush & his Yapping Crew aren't the US per se. But even what passes for the 'left' there seems well right of centre in world political history.

I knew some Americans @uni: most of 'em were good people. You'd have to expect a bit of a transition period, where they'd be very tense and aggressive, when they 1st arrived or after summer break. Still, they were hardly representative: they were the ones who'd chosen to get their education overseas. Even the religious fruitcakes calmed down eventually, well, one of 'em wouldn't and dropped out to go home. It seems we're all sinners who mock the very idea of redemption, over here. Ho hum: if something's beyond mockery, it's too serious to be taken seriously, i say.

re: safety
Hey, it's all very well having well wishers online or readers of your work, but if you disappear from your community, you need members of it who can personally go to a court and demand to know where you are and why. I have little doubt that if Blair & Co wanted any of us in the UK silenced, they'd find a way, but people over here kick off the street rioting fairly easily, so they have to be careful. That doesn't seem to be the case in the US and with such a violent society and guns, it's just so much more plausible that something could happen to you 'accidentally'. Another person dies in suspicious circumstances: were the MIB involved? Who knows? Whoops, never mind, next news item: there was another murder we all know the perpetrator of, in my city too, it was that "Armed Black Man" again.

Orwell, yes. Ayn Rand: Anthem - no. What's it about?

23/1/06 08:57  
Blogger H5N1 said...

I have to say, the very first thing I thought when you gave the analogy of the broken video cassette, was that the copy protection tab was broken.

Otherwise, a good analogy.

23/1/06 18:23  
Blogger edjog said...

Yeah, but dude, like me, you're a nerd! I'm talking about people who bite one side of their lip in concentration when operating a cash register, or 2 finger typing up an arrest report!

23/1/06 19:03  
Blogger G said...

I have to agree that the very first thing i thought was that the tab was broken and you cannot by any stretch of the imagination call me a nerd!

on that note - do you know anything re bpi on images - having issues with my programme designer for Vagina Monologues.

btw don't think you're email is working

23/1/06 23:56  
Blogger edjog said...

OK, for sure, it seems obvious now that the tab might be the problem, but like i said, if it was at the time when you were first learning how to use a VCR, it would very likely slip your mind, or have never lodged yet, eh?

But even if you thought that, or it was later and you were more familiar with the technology, you wouldn't assume that it was a deliberate attempt to have you over, and even then, unless there were very obvious reasons to do so, you wouldn't say so if you suspected it was. Call it gullibility or call it respect; that is the way people are.

Do you mean d pi - dots per inch, g? I know some. Yeah, i can't get into my email @37.com (it's a cookie issue) get me through edjog_ATntlworldDOTcom (obviously using the customary symbols in place of TEXT).

24/1/06 08:03  
Blogger G said...

Yeah do mean dpi

I do know the NTL email address - tried to send two now but they have both come back saying undeliverable, perhaps hotmail have a problem but not entirely sure what to do about that.

24/1/06 18:24  
Blogger edjog said...

Misplaced my phone again! Sent you an email from another email address @ntl, if you still get no joy, tell me here.

25/1/06 00:53  
Blogger G said...

So replied to your email last night (about midnight) haven't got a message back saying undelivered as yet so fingers crossed

Basically need to know how to set the dpi on an image - having issues that some of our images for the programme for Vagina Monologues aren't up to standard. Need to set a dpi at 300 and a search within microsoft and on google has been fruitless. See what you can do re a detailed description but remember i'm on microsoft - might be an idea to arrange to meet up on line over messenger so I can get to grips with it properly.

seen waterloo - is in email so will wait to see if you get it

26/1/06 13:57  
Blogger edjog said...

My msn mess' fucked too actually. Dunno! I think it happened when i downloaded some Mac OS updates, haven't bothered to sort it yet. Hardly use it anyway. I'll check that inbox.

26/1/06 21:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a very, very simple and easy way to destroy any RFID chip, microchip, CHIP & PIN card, flash memory, etc. I'm going to wait a while before telling the world, though, as it seems it would be fairly easy to do en masse, which would lead to some very interesting situations.

These ID cards are going to be handy if you think someone is an undercover copper, too.
"Let's see your ID card"
"No"
"You must be a copper then, since every other bugger shows it every few feet"

or perhaps they will have fake ones? I know what I'll be asking to see at the door, to prove that warrant card isn't stolen, of course!

16/2/06 11:06  
Blogger edjog said...

Well, Anon, there's always nuclear war i suppose, but please tell me you're not hiding your identity because you are, in fact, Dubya!?! Keep us posted though...

Mate, they'll have fake one's coming out of their arses; but then again, so will we, ha! It's just a monumentally misguided approach to government and waste of money. I seriously think our public servants have forgotten a fundamental tenet of mass government: that we are governed by consent; there just aren't enough police or army to keep us under the jack-boot and besides, who fucking pays for them?

21/2/06 13:25  
Anonymous Dr Dan H. said...

On benefit fraud, I am afraid you are quite wrong when you say that ID cards would stop it happening. All an ID card does is enables you to identify a person with a passable degree of certainty; it doesn't stop them lying about their circumstances, and it doesn't stop them claiming to be out of work, then working for cash in hand.

Those are the main way the DSS is defrauded; plain, barefaced lying about working or circumstances, and ID cards do not help there.

What does help is human nature (snitch-lines are a mainstay of DSS anti-fraud) and investigation officers (needed to check on the snitch lines), together with simple computer checking of records.

Even so, it is still bloody difficult to catch benefit cheats, and another bit of useless plastic will merely annoy the law-abiding whilst hindering the criminal not a jot.

3/4/06 16:46  
Blogger edjog said...

Well, in fairness, Dr Dan H. i didn't say it would stop it, but make it more difficult. But actually, you are quite right. I was imagining a kind of neo-big bro style situation, which no-one will stand for anyway.

4/4/06 02:26  
Blogger Tony Stead said...

You certainly write some very valid points and have a wonderful craft with the pen. Thank you.

There are elements of fraud ranging from ID theft to immigration and border controls which you do not discuss. I have offered a shocking proposal on my blog. Would be interesting to hear your views.

20/11/08 02:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it work if i wrapped the RFID with layers of aluminium foil to block the signal transmission?

15/2/09 09:07  
Anonymous id card printing said...

I think ID card working as a security card, its most important for all human's life.
Congrats, nice to hear that you're making some really nice ground.

24/3/11 06:31  

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