"Possibly the most corruptible in the whole world" - fixing the heart of UK ID

The comments of the Commonwealth election observers on our electoral system should be juxtaposed with the Lib-Con agreement to scrap ID cards. The fiascos at undermanned polling stations led to a call from the Election Commissioner for progress on electronic voting, as though that would do more than compound the opportunities for ghost, multiple and coercive voting that have been opened up by recent changes to UK routines for registration and postal voting.

Given that the electoral register is the most common start point for identify and benefit fraud fraud and given the recent report from the National Fraud Authority that tax and benefit fraud are costing £16 billion p.a. – i.e. more than double the £6bn argued about during the election – the “investment case” for action is a “no brainer”. More-over, if voters lose faith in the honesty of the electoral system, the question as to whether it is “first past the post”, “single transferable vote” or some form of “proportional list system” become academic. The “political case” is also a no brainer: unless we are willing that women should be coerced into voting in accordance with the views of their husbands, fathers or brothers, whole communities made to vote in line with the views of their self appointed leaders, students should be able to rush from polling station to polling station (provided they are in different constituencies) and armies of ghost voters (who exist only on the register and in the benefit systems) steal elections and taxpayer funds. 

We need to restore one person, one election, one vote at the same time as reducing benefit and welfare fraud – because cleansing the electoral register is also central to war against fraud, given its legal position as a point of reference. In parallel there is a need to cleanse the other start points for fraud including the DVLA address files and the DWP NINO system.

Now that the obsession with ID cards is over, perhaps we can start taking effective action to ensure that other public sector files are fit for purpose – beginning by the simple expedient of using credit reference checks to fast track the 80% or so of entries that are unlikely to be fraudulent.

That will, however, leave the question of “how do we assert our identity” including with those we have never met. It also leaves the question of “how do we decide who we will trust”. That is a very different question to whether we know who they are. “I would trust you with my life” is very different to “I would trust you with my money” – or my children.

The scrapping of ID cards should be the start of a more thoughtful and constructive debate – including whether anyone should trust the systems of those who accept no liability for their errors or incompetance (most government departments and agencies) – or those who limit their liability to $500 dollars or less (most mainstream cloud-based services).


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Couldn't agree more with the need to fix the fundamental weakness of the electoral roll.

I would go further and say that the postal vote system also needs major review, as the prevalance of postal votes in some areas well exceeds the majorities of those elected and it is far from clear the system is secure.

I've blogged a few of my thoughts - including a response to the gripes of the electoral commission - here: http://www.nickpickles.co.uk/?p=472

It is indeed time for a more thoughtful and constructive debate, not least about what we mean when we talk about identity.

An intending voter needs to prove she is the same person as the one named in the electoral register, i.e. to establish an identity relationship. To claim the right to vote, the relationship must be established, even if she has meanwhile changed her name and, in one sense, her "identity" is different.

This is confusing stuff. In "Identity and its verification", published in the Computer Law & Security Review, Volume 26, Number 1, January 2010, 43 – 51, Stephen Mason and I explored these issues at some length in their legal context. http://www.stephenmason.eu/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/bohm-mason-identity.pdf or http://is.gd/c8Ks6

I hope this may be a useful contribution to the debate.