Thursday, 31 July 2008

Tough Liam Byrne

Liam Byrne has not issued a press release without using the word 'Tough' since april.

The Register has just posted a nice little bit of discourse analysis-lite (well, it's content analysis really) which just amounts to pointing out that he seems to use the word quite a lot.

It seems that the word is necessary in relation to immigration policy of any sort. The interesting point, which the article doesn't make, is that there a plenty of other frames we could use to look at the issue of immigration. We could look at it through a globalisation frame and see that here are people from the interconnected, interdependent world, trying to make the best for themselves here. Or here are some of the world's most vulnerable people, who are driven to the significant action of having to leave their homes. That might prompt compassion, or optimism.

Nope. Let's be tough instead.

The Identity Card argument from the government (when it holds still) seems strongly attached to the issue of immigration. No if this is evidence of the government thinking there is a real problem with immigration, or if it is just pandering to the tabloids, I can't say. What I can say is that the government's discourse around the issue is stacked full of immigration and asylum seekers.

The nasty bit is the way that they're used in the same sentence as child abusers, fraudsters and terrorists. This serves the linguistic function of casting these people in the same light, making them symbolically equivalent.

edit - with a tiny bit from the book...

If the introduction of ID cards appears to be a way for governments to ‘get tough’
on crime and terrorism, this may make it harder to move away from such a policy
even if presented with good evidence to suggest that it is ineffective. In an attempt
to preserve face, and not be seen to back down ‘in the face of terrorists’ politicians
must persevere with a programme and find ways to justify it. Harnessing a project
to a rhetorically powerful issue (in the current climate) can therefore backfire. (Wills, 2008, p.175)

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

book published today

Playing the Identity Card: Surveillance, Security and Identification in Global Perspective
edited by David Lyon and Colin Bennett, and published by Routledge today.

There's some good stuff in this book, written by some cracking folk. Scott Thompson's chapter on wartime UK identity cards is an example of good, historical scholarship, and is part of the important caveat we need to place on claims to novelty in the face of shiney new technologies.

The collection of case studies and analysis in this book demonstrates the importance of identity technologies to contemporary governance schemes. Identity card schemes represent a drive to technologically fix identities. Given that identities are multiple and used for differing purposes, and with differing characteristics, this authoritative, attributed, external identity, whose make-up is a product of unargued-for, undebated governmental priorities, combined with the optimum inputs of technological systems, this is likely to cause social problems.

I haven't got my copy yet. I'm worried it might have been sent to my old address. Actually, I'm assuming I'm getting a copy!

Part 1: Setting the Scene

1. Playing the ID card: Understanding the significance of identity Card Systems David Lyon and Colin Bennett

2. Governing by Identity Louise Amoore

Part 2: Colonial Legacies

3. The elusive panopticon: The HANIS project and the politics of standards in South Africa Keith Breckenridge

4. China’s second generation national Identity Card: Merging culture, industry, and technology for authentication, classification, and surveillance Cheryl L. Brown

5. Hong Kong’s ‘smart’ ID card: Designed to be out of control Graham Greenleaf

6. A tale of the colonial age, or the banner of new tyranny? National identification Card systems in Japan Midori Ogasawara

7. India’s new ID card: Fuzzy logics, double meanings and ethnic ambiguities Taha Mehmood

8. Population ID card systems in the Middle East: The case of the UAE Zeinab Karake Shalhoub

Part 3: Encountering Democratic Opposition

9. Separating the Sheep from the Goats: The United Kingdom’s National Registration Program and social sorting in the pre-electronic era Scott Thompson

10. The United Kingdom identity Card scheme: Shifting motivations, static technologies David Wills

11. The politics of Australia’s "Access Card" Dean Wilson

12. The INES biometric card and the politics of national identity assignment in France Laurent Laniel and Pierre Piazza

13. The US Real ID Act and the securitization of identity Kelly Gates

14. Toward a national ID card for Canada? External drivers and internal complexities Andrew Clement, Krista Boa, Simon Davis and Gus Hosein

Part 4: Transnational Regimes

15. ICAO and the biometric RFID passport: History and analysis Jeffrey Stanton

16. Another piece of Europe in your pocket: The European Health Insurance Card Willem Maas

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

3000 blank passports stolen


Interesting interview on radio 4 this morning about this. Commentator from a security company specialising in Identity theft banged on about the 'balloon effect' where criminals target other areas in response to increased security.

But this interview was phrased in terms of identity theft. Which is odd, considering that these are blank documents with no identity information on them. They're not yet associated with people. What they do have is the possibility of exploiting the institutional relationship between identity and structured institutions of the state. If you're committing identity 'theft' (a problematic term), then you don't need blank identity documents.

Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if this theft is used to add to the vulnerability of the current mechanisms of identity in arguments for apparently more secure identity cards. Which could never be stolen en mass or otherwise subverted, could they?

edit: register article on this here and Guardian article here

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Thesis 'wordle'

no right to study terrorism materials

Researchers have no 'right' to study terrorist materials
Times Higher Education

"In a statement issued to the university last week, Sir Colin Campbell says: "There is no 'right' to access and research terrorist materials. Those who do so run the risk of being investigated and prosecuted on terrorism charges. Equally, there is no 'prohibition' on accessing terrorist materials for the purpose of research. Those who do so are likely to be able to offer a defence to charges (although they may be held in custody for some time while the matter is investigated). This is the law and applies to all universities.""

"Oliver Blunt QC, of the Anti-Terrorism team at Furnival Chambers in London, said that academics do have a "right" to "access" terrorist materials, whether for research or otherwise, as long as they do not "possess" them.

He said: "Once the researcher knowingly downloads or saves the materials that he is accessing, then he is in 'possession' of terrorist materials.

"There is no 'right' to 'possess' terrorist materials and, while a genuine researcher would be able to establish a defence, the evidential burden is on the researcher to do so.""

What the hell does the distinction between 'access' and 'possess' mean in terms of digital files? If I click on a link to a pdf, it downloads. I can't read it unless it is on my system. Once there it'll leave a trace. The distinction collapses.

So, as somebody doing research into terrorism, should I have a lawyer on retainer, should I get legal advice about preparing a proper case about what I'm doing and what is necessary to my work? They didn't teach me that in the research methods classes.

Monday, 14 July 2008

criminal records checks for millions - vulnerability and precaution

The Register, Analysis - Criminal Record Checks could hit over 14 million people

An interesting article, which in summary suggests that very high numbers of people could have criminal record checks conducted on them due to a combination of back-covering, precaution and decentralisation. There is guidance on where checks are appropriate, but these are expansive, but also vague, leading to many employers to conduct checks in case they have to, and as an edge of competion in the market that does not. There is a definite theme of governmentality about it, where decisions are made at lower levels that add up to a high degree of surveillance activity, because of an aversion to risk - or being held responsible for the occurance of a negative event (and what is more negative than risk to childen - examples - James Bulger to Madeline McCann)

Some material from my thesis is relevant to this:

Described by Brubaker and Cooper as a ‘common sense’ use of identity[1], consistency of identity over time, space, and social sphere is required by surveillance discourse in order for identity to carry risk information and act as a ‘risk-signifier’. This permanence of identity arises from the reliance upon biographic identities and the ease of storage and retrieval of digital information. It problematises any legitimate attempt to change identity, for example, changing sex, fleeing persecution, escaping from previous experiences such as a criminal record or bad debts. Even state attempts to create new identities (for example witness protection schemes or undercover policing) will experience this difficulty due to the proliferation of identity data in the private sector.

This raises questions as to when information included as part of an identity should be discarded by data processors. At what point does information become irrelevant for risk analysis and decision making? Does a criminal conviction in an individual’s youth signal that they deserve employment less than somebody without?

A decreasing level of institutional ‘forgiveness’ can be anticipated as institutional memories expand. In previous eras, an individual could escape from a past mistake by moving to a new city, or waiting for a period of time. With searchable databases, individuals are linked to less salubrious elements of their identities for longer time spans. This has implications for anybody considering public life, as they are liable to have any negatively perceived recorded events from their life revealed. If identity is discursively understood as consistent over time, then what happens when (counter to this construction) identity changes in some way? For example, if a recording error is made, data is lost or corrupted, or malicious hackers change biographical details.

The combination of more and more people being subject to criminal background checks combined with a presumption of database accuracy, and a decreasing level of institutional 'forgetfullness' could be potentially problematic.

I'd be interested in knowing what the outputs of CRB checks are - is it full details, or a 'safe/unsafe' determination by the bureau? the CRB website wasn't extremely helpful

[1] Brubaker & Cooper, 2000, p.10

terrorists in world of warcraft

An old article in the wired threat level blog - U.S spies want to find terrorists in world of warcraft.
It's from February this year, but has interesting implications for predictive technologies.

Of course, the major difference between a digital world such as WoW and the real world is that things can be known with more more certainty in the game - because it's running on code that can be interrogated - if there is a a 'code' to the real world, then we're really not close to understanding it. Data about the virtual world is accurate, because it is the same data that IS the the virtual world. Apart from corrupted or misfiled data, it can't be wrong - if the game says that your avatar is in one part of the digital world, that's where it is.

Which is at least one thing to bear in mind when translating any 'lessons' from this to meatspace predictions, or actually - to non-game virtual environments, as they're going to be much messier than the restricted behaviour in ludic environment - games are defined by their rules.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

where was this picture taken?

This is fascinating.

Two researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have figured out an algorithm that can detect where a picture has been taken, with an accuracy that's 30 times better than that of chance or random guesses. And their geolocation method may not be what you'd expect.

You'd think the best way to tell where a photo was shot would be to check for important buildings, landmarks in nature, or any signposts. Not so. Alexei A. Efros, assistant professor of computer science, and James Hays, a CS graduate student, developed their program to analyze the composition of photographs by creating and scanning histograms of image properties. Their algorithm examines the full profile of color and texture in each image, and also looks at various line features and geometric patterns. Then, it groups images of unknown location with images that have known details, and the geographical matching begins.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Identification 'paranoia'

I was talking to the check out assistant in the supermarket this evening, after being asked to provide ID to buy some Pimm's. She said their store policy now was to ask anybody who looked under 25 for ID, and sometimes anybody who looked under 30! This was suprising given the 'challenge 21' signs plastered about the place.

So, the legal age to purchase alcohol is 18. The outward facing policy is to ask for ID anybody who looks under 21, and actual policy adds between 4 and 9 years to this.

According to the assistant, this was because they (and I'm not sure if this is the company or the checkout staff) were doing this because they got in trouble if they were caught selling alcohol to under age people (fairly obviously). She said it was making her paranoid about it. According to her, the police were (or were thought to be) sending in people to test the store. This does happen, but I'd assumed that it was done with under-18's. According to the person I spoke with, this also happens with people who are over-18, but look under-18.

how's that judged or assessed?

Anyway, nice way to make workers paranoid. If I was being paranoid, I'd tie this to the post below. If you're between 18 and 25(or 30!) there's another pressure to tie into assorted forms of identification - documentary rather than organic or negotiated. Discretion is removed from people in workplaces by giving these massive 'margins of error' because companies are not confident enough in the abilities of their employees to make judgement calls, whilst making them paranoid about failing in those judgement calls.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The Identity and Passport Service have launched to allow 16-25 year olds to 'have their say' on the identity card scheme.

currently, their say includes

"This site is government propanda [sic]"

I'll watch the video and comment on that later. I'll probably keep an (discourse analysis) eye on this.

(edit) I just had a thought, when I wrote the book chapter on UK ID cards for David Lyon and Colin Bennett, I was 25 - voice of youth?

Identity and passport services failing to be a money spinner

"Government plans to position the Identity & Passport Service as the UK's de facto identity services broker seem not to have entirely caught the imagination of the private sector, figures in IPS' annual report and accounts suggest. Although IPS recruited 44 new customers for its Passport Validation Service (PVS), income from this for the year ending March 2008 was only £357,000."

the register article

Interesting article. The problem appears to be that the government's attempts to position itself as the source of verification of individual identity are not being looked favourably upon by the private sector.

The move seems counter to recent government's desire to privatise everything and outsource services (including such 'legitimate monopoly on the use of force' activities as policing and defence). Until it becomes apparent that the government intends it's identity checking services to be dependent upon data acquired from the commercial sector. As part of it's plans for the identity card scheme the government intends to compare application data to data held by the credit reference agencies, to check that you're a real person.

Obviously this means that a 'real person' has a relationship (or several) with financial services, and has developed a credit rating of some sort. Most of us do, but in isolated cases this could cause problems. This is one of the kickers about the identity card scheme and the register behind it - it's designed to work for people with 'normal' lives - and that's normal in a fairly statistical rather than normative sense. The people it will impact are those who fall outside this profile.

So. The government positions itself as the provider of secured identities, in the face of multiple threats and forces that make identity unstable and problematic. Yet at the same time, the real picture is so much more complex than this, as 'identity' would be made up from a series of institutional relationships, each with their own logics and metrics, and reasons for being put together.

This is the problem with re-using databases, and a good justification for data protection principles against re-use of data for reasons other than it was originally collected for. The questions asked when creating a database become hidden, and the provisional data, with all it's potential for inaccuracies, flaws, double records, missing elements, etc, becomes understood as 'fact'. Then used for other purposes, importing all those errors whilst at the same time hiding them, and discursively describing the system as more accurate, safe and secure.