Yesterday, a speech was given by the (*Orwell weeps*) "Justice Minister", Michael Wills, rebutting (9 months late) the Rowntree report into the Database State. His speech prompted the Aaronovitch column about which I wrote here.
The one new announcement in his speech (not online, alas for us all) was this:
To that end, I am announcing today that the Ministry of Justice will host an event early in the New Year to consider how we approach the data sharing aspects of reforms to the electoral register. The electoral register is a vital document. It is the foundation stone of our democratic processes and vital to the integrity of our elections. It has also, since the 19th century, been a public document – although there are important restrictions on who may obtain a copy of the full register.
The register is held locally, by some 400 different Electoral Registration Officers. The unit of electoral registration has historically been the household. The Government passed legislation this summer to move to a system of individual registration – where each person will provide their name and address, and three personal identifiers – signature, date of birth, and national Insurance number – in order to be entered onto the register.
Let us consider that proposal.
Creating a national database of our signatures, NI numbers and dates of birth has obvious risks for our privacy and identity security. That's not always wrong; those risks might properly be balanced with benefits, so one asks – what is the problem the Minister wants to remedy?
The sole problem he identified in his speech is election fraud. This is a very small issue in this country, and is driven mostly by postal voting. The “solution” he suggests comes with many problems of its own but doesn’t really address the very problem he says he wants to solve.
We have managed to have elections in this country without surrendering this sort of information for hundreds of years.
He wants to create a mechanism out of all proportion with the problem he has identified, with multiple inherent risks unjustified by the tiny benefit his scheme promises.
By Alex Deane