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Secure against terrorist and organised crime groups

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th 2001 shocked the world and caused many nations around the world to question their security procedures.

One of the responses of the British government to the threat of terrorism is to introduce identity cards for British citizens. The American government's response is to collect biometric data from foreign nationals entering the United States. Both responses are due to the fact that terrorists are known to use false and multiple identities to help undertake and finance their activities.

But will the systems of the UK and US actually truly establish the identities of terrorists and disrupt their activities or will the systems actually make us as nations less secure.

In an interview with the BBC Home Secretary David Blunkett cited information from the security forces that 35 percent of terrorists had used fake IDs. But that means that the vast majority of terrorists haven't used false identities to facilitate their activities.

Why have the majority of terrorist not used fake identities?

Because in many cases the terrorists are unknown to the authorities for instance most Palestinian suicide bombers have no history of terrorism and are unknown to the Israeli security services. Palestinian terror groups have few resources and are aware that the Israeli security services are extremely good at their jobs so they use young idealistic people that have no links to terrorism who will have more chance of passing through the security checkpoints.

Other examples of terrorist unknown to the authorities are the lone bombers in America. How would a national ID card system of stopped Timothy McVeigh or the Unabomber? Knowing who someone is doesn't tell you what his or her motives are.

But even if we imagine the scenario where terrorists cannot carry out their activities without fake identities will the proposed system actually prevent them from obtaining ID cards in false names.

I believe that terrorist organisations will still have sufficient resources to obtain false identity documents. There are a number of methods of doing this.

• Bribery of officials who process ID card applications in order to receive a genuine document in a false name.
• Hacking the database to alter the data for an individual and requesting a replacement card for that person.
• Creation of a forged card that resembles a genuine card.

The huge scale of the project (around 40 million individuals) will mean that a large number of people will be needed to process the applications. We cannot ensure that every official will be honest and be above bribery or even worse that a terrorist organisation actually has one of its members become an ID card official.

Bribery is a case of simple arithmetic; compare the annual income of the civil servant that processes ID card applications with the amount of money that the multi-millionaire Osama Bin Laden could pay for a false identity for one of the members of Al Qaeda.

The assumed infallibility of the national identity card system will make us less secure if security guards begin to trust the card more than their own instincts. Airport security guards currently rely on their experience and instincts to catch terrorists and criminals but if they start to rely on the identity register to tell them who is and isn't a terrorist then they will miss people they may have previously caught.

I have used the example of terrorist above but all the arguments apply equally to criminal organisations. The only difference between a terrorist and a criminal is the motive the terrorist is pursuing a political agenda whereas as a criminal has a purely financial agenda.

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