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ID Cards Beta Tested in UK

London Guardian | September 15 2004

Comment: Note the jokey tone of the article. The most serious affront to freedom in Britain since the Nazis and it's all a big laugh. Let them get this through and next it's the implanted chip. You'll hear the same rationalizations. They're using the Delphi technique, set up beta tests, surveys and 'public forums' to make it appear as if the people are part of the decision making process, when in reality this enslavement has already been decided upon.

Big Brother dropped in on the genteel spa town of Harrogate yesterday, with a mixture of chaos and cosiness which would have deflated George Orwell.

For almost three hours the Home Office's biometric survey lorry - potentially crucial to a national identity card system - stood empty and forlorn in an Asda car park, surrounded by overturned supermarket trolleys to keep shoppers' cars away.

Two of its crew sheltered from the drizzle in a car while a third wrestled morosely with a hired generator, coils of wire and a satellite dish.

"It's a very complicated technical operation, bear with us," said HQ in London, where data from 10,000 volunteer card-testers is gradually being fed into David Blunkett's ID security system, complete with James Bond gizmos such as iris-scanning.

It was these which set Harrogate alight yesterday, once all the glitches had been sorted and the sun came out (allowing the lorry to demonstrate its mechanical awning, which worked first time).

A group of pensioners was first in line to have a go at the three "unique personal" identification tests - iris pattern, facial recognition and hi-tech, colour-screen fingerprinting - which may be part of national security's future.

"I saw that the lorry was coming here on the TV last night and I thought what a great idea," Theresia Rawley said, looking forward cheerfully to having her eyes photographed by a machine with a tinny, digitalised American woman's voice. "It's got to be better than having to take your blooming gas bills along when they want proof of identity at the bank or wherever. What's the fuss about identity cards? I was born in Germany, they've had them there all my lifetime and nobody gives it a thought."

Another volunteer - the government still needs 1,500 - had followed the lorry from its original, proposed site outside Harrogate register office, which was advertised in the local papers. In another homely hiccough, there was no room to park it there, but the woman had tracked it down to Asda in proper 007 style.

"I'm all for this sort of thing," she said. "If you're not doing anything wrong, who cares who's watching you. Look in Asda, they've got a notice saying that there's electronic tagging and CCTV to make sure we don't have to pay more because of shoplifting."

The survey welcomed everyone over 18 years of age yesterday, including the Guardian, despite an earlier attempt by a BBC reporter to catch it out by having two goes under different names. My fingerprints were compared by satellite in a matter of seconds with some 1,000,000 records, including a temporary library of biometric volunteers, which spotted the BBC fake.

The biometric tests, as well as the lorry roadshow, are the early stage in a possible move to ID cards and "clever" passports. Run by the UK Passport Office, the scheme aims to check the practicality of the tests, generator problems and all, public reaction and the most popular of the three identification systems.

The government promises all data collected will be destroyed at the end of the survey.

· Details of the trial and volunteering are on www.passport.gov.uk and www.identitycards.gov.uk.

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911:  The Road to Tyranny