Coming to an ID Card Near You: Your DNA

One of the many disgraceful aspects about the disgraceful ID card programme is the reluctance of the UK government to make key documents available.

For such a momentous change in the relationship of government to governed, it is critically important that a full debate about all the issues be conducted; but without key details of the scheme, that is made more difficult — which is presumably why the UK government has resisted the publication of the so-called “Gateway reviews” so long.

Finally, though, we have gained the right to see these somewhat outdated documents. Despite their age, and the unnecessary redactions, some useful new information has come to light, which more than justifies the long battle to gain access.

There are two astonishing sections in the reviews, both from the second document, written in January 2004. The first is as follows:

The Identity Cards programme’s potential for success is not in doubt. As the SRO and Programme Director recognise, however, there is much work to be done before a robust business case can be established for a solution that meets the business need, is affordable and achievable, with appropriate options explored, and likely to achieve value for money, as required at Gate 1.

We list below some key areas where in our view the planned activities are critical, with recommendations where appropriate.

“The Identity Cards programme’s potential for success is not in doubt”: that is an extraordinary statement against the background of countless analyses, reports and comments by experts in the field pointing out all the flaws inherent in the proposed ID card scheme. The fact that the existence of those is not even *mentioned* is testimony to the complete indifference to those views. The government and its advisors have clearly made their minds up, and anyone else’s opinions are just irrelevant.

But, for me, the single most shocking revelation is the following:

There is general agreement that there should be a second biometric as well as the photograph (or digital photograph). On the assumption that DNA would be too expensive, however, should it be fingerprints or irises (or both)?

What this clearly states is that it was only considerations of *cost* that prevented the use of our DNA as a “second biometric”, not any concerns about the huge social and moral implications of such a move. Here’s what I wrote on the subject five years ago:

Last September, the police called for the UK national database of DNA samples to be extended to include everyone. Given the determination of the UK government to introduce identity cards, despite widespread opposition and the well-known flaws in the whole approach, it can only be a matter of time before it links the two compulsory schemes together. The advantages – for the authorities – would be enormous.

Including a silicon chip storing your entire genome would add little to the overall cost once sequencing becomes cheap, but would ensure that an identity card would be tamper-proof and impossible to forge, since its identification number – the sequence of As, Cs, Gs and Ts that make up your genome – would be unique to you (apart from any twin) and always checkable against your DNA.

Moreover, there would be no need for the proposed draconian legislation to make carrying such cards obligatory: it would be a physical impossibility to do otherwise, since your digital code/identification number is present in practically every cell of your body.

This includes those you shed as skin and hair, whatever you touch and wherever you go – the perfect trail for government surveillance based on a Google-like capacity to index and cross-reference the DNA present in a given location at a given time.

As I mentioned back then, it is only a matter of time before reading our genome becomes as cheap as taking a blood test: as the US National Human Genome Research Institute put it recently: “sequencing costs have decreased faster than Moore’s Law”.

This means that the objection voiced in the 2004 ID card review about cost will fall away: it will be quite feasible economically for every person’s DNA to be sequenced and included as another biometric check.

Given the plans to monitor all emails and Web views, together with the fact that there are already four million people on the UK DNA database – nearly a million of whom have never been convicted of a crime – can there be any doubt that the UK government will, at some point, try to add DNA to the other biometrics on the card? Purely for our own good, you understand….

Glyn Moody