The Government today responded to a petition requesting that the forthcoming National Identity Scheme be dismantled. It stated, along with a rather puzzling projected cost of £4.575 million for the next ten years (billion, surely?), that "Research over the past 18 months into public support for identity cards shows that 60% of people support the National Identity Service."
This figure puzzled me somewhat, because the NID scheme has been piloted in Manchester, and the response falls far short of the 60% calculated. The Manchester figures offer the first insights into the likely realworld takeup of ID cards and database registration. It goes without saying that the "cost of transaction" for actually submitting oneself to the database state is much greater than ticking a box saying you would, should such a scheme come to be.
The Register reported in January that 1,300 people had signed up for the scheme between November 30th and January 14th, a period of six weeks, covering a population area of 2.5 million. So how far can we take these figures?
The scheme has been connected to passport renewal (and more of that later). Passports are renewed once every ten years, so we would expect, over a year, for there to be a market for passports, and therefore ID cards, of one tenth of 2.5 million, or 250,000.
We know that over six weeks, 1,300 applied. If this figure were sustained across the year, we end up with an annual take-up of (1,300/6)*52 or 11,266. We would expect that if 60% of people were interested in the scheme, then the percentage of the 250,000 eligible would also be approximately 60%. But 11,266/250,000*100 gives us... 4.5%
Now, these figures are far from perfect. The scheme was launched in December, which I suspect is not the time most people renew their passports. You might like to think of this as Labour kicking the scheme into the long grass, but their decision to extend trials to Liverpool and/or London suggests otherwise. I suspect also, that the division of the total population of Manchester by ten is a rather crude way of going about establishing the market for the cards. The age range is 16+, for a start, so that will reduce the overall figure. However we are looking at a shortfall of 55.5%, which is quite a lot to account for.
There are other problems that tug our 4.5% in the other direction. Chief amongst them is this. The ID Card, although it can (companies allowing) be used as a travel document, is not first and foremost a travel document. It is what it is, which is an identity card. It has, admittedly, from its birth been attached to the passport. It's "just a little bit more" expenditure based on the biometric passports the Government begrudgingly voted in favour for has planted the legitimacy of its existence firmly in the realm of travelling. It's just that it has that pesky intrusive database stuck on the end; the one with a much greater scope than the NHS database, yet with a smaller projected budget and tighter timetable.
The ID card is further tied to the passport because that has been the main suggested route of acquiring a card; when registering or renewing your passport.
To be fair, although UKIPS has marketed the NIDS as a travel document, it's also pointed out that it is a cheaper and easier to lose proof of ID. In a classic bit of joined up thinking, the Government is choosing to tackle antisocial behaviour by suggesting that youths register with the ID scheme so they can go out and get wankered; neatly sidestepping the fact that ProveIt! cards are substantially cheaper, and more widely recognised. UKIPS go on to insist that the scheme will protect one against identity theft, by which they generally mean credit card and online fraud, as opposed to the other kind where bank accounts and credit cards are set up in someone's else's name. How it works is this; if you want to open a bank account, rather than being called on to provide a utility bill and some form of ID, you just need to sidle up with a National ID card and you're sorted. The criminal, however, cannot have such a National ID card, so instead he must either wing it with a cosmetic forgery (and how many banks have access to the NID registry yet?) or do it the old-fashioned way because the bank doesn't know whether or not the person is on the system anyway. Then there are all the other benefits that we can't go into here, mainly because it is for each Government department to come up with its own business model on how best to implement the technology. Or in other words, because no-one knows if they exist yet. I shall calm down.
My point is that the benefits the card are being sold on either are based on total take up of the card, or on fairly menial things such as having a smaller thing to carry around with you when you need to pick up a parcel, get pissed, or buy pornography. Let's take another look at the choice figures given by the Register. It states that total passport issuing for the same period as the ID trial accounts for .7% of the population. If we apply the same process as above to this figure we get just over 6% takeup of the population as a whole, or 60% of our expected 10% market. The reason it's not 10% is because of the passport's status as a travel document. One does not need a passport to live in the UK, merely to traverse its perimeter; therefore the number of people in the UK who own a passport is smaller than the number of people in the UK. I love maths. The market for ID cards, that offer supposed benefits beyond such border crossing, ought to be greater, and yet demand is much smaller.
It seems clear that Labour, having commited to reaching a threshold before enforcing the scheme on the rest of us, and creating a scheme that has insufficient benefits for initial take-up, have doomed a scheme they have championed through adversity for years. The truth of interest is not to be found in the carefully construed research that they have commissioned but in the lacklustre response Manchester has shown the undermarketed and ill-timed scheme. There is little more to be done now than to downscale the system to a control for foreign nationals and have done with it.
Following a FOIA request I've received the following data on total passport issues throughout 2009. From it I've calculated a rough monthly distribution of the total with, as predicted, a peak in the summer months.
Jan-09 390,136 ...7.64%
Feb-09 441,765 ...8.65%
Mar-09 552,964 ...10.83%
Apr-09 488,207 ...9.56%
May-09 472,107 ...9.25%
Jun-09 593,990 ...11.63%
Jul-09 569,396 ...11.15%
Aug-09 434,608 ...8.51%
Sep-09 402,346 ...7.88%
Oct-09 296,290 ...5.80%
Nov-09 253,346 ...4.96%
Dec-09 210,543 ...4.12%
If we assume this monthly distribution is normal, then we can estimate our January figure for ID card uptake as 867, making each percentile worth 867/7.64 or 113.48; and our total annual expected uptake of National ID Cards for the Greater Manchester area at 11,348. The initial estimate of 4.5% is pretty much on the button in light of this further information.