The recent history of biometric ID card schemes in Europe begins with the European Commission. In 1999, as part of the eEurope five-year plan, the Commission initiated a project to specify a system for pan-European biometric identity management. The specification job was given to eESC, the eEurope Smart Card forum and in 2003 they delivered OSCIE, the open smart card infrastructure for Europe.
It's a bit daunting, there are 2,000 pages of OSCIE, but perhaps the best thing is to concentrate on the paper on electronic identity, a mere 66 pages. That is the tune that France is marching to. The tune of 27 unelected and unaccountable satraps in the Berlaymont who have given up the job of governing people, it's too difficult, and decided instead to govern electronic identities.
The advocates of biometric ID always say that the cards are intended to make your life easier. With a biometric ID card, it will be easier to get a passport or to open a bank account or to move jobs, they say. But we can already get a passport and open a bank account and move jobs without a biometric ID card.
What the advocates of biometric ID cards mean is that, once we have OSCIE, life without a card will be impossible. The card will be required for every transaction, every communication, every state benefit, including healthcare and education. No card, no life. Life's optional and so the card is optional. The logic is impeccable.
That's where the project is coming from. And where's it going?
As it happens, there is a country that has been issuing multi-biometric ID cards since the year 2000. 120 million of them have been issued by NADRA, the National Database and Registration Authority. With their multi-biometric ID cards, 120 million people can now enjoy the pleasures of ePassports, electronic access control and attendance records at work, electronic driving licences, eCommerce, eVoting and many more.
And which is this country?
The French parliament have fallen in with the European Commission plan to make France just that little bit more like Pakistan.
Why? What reason can the French government possibly give to explain this desire to become more like Pakistan?
They can hardly say that it's because they find governing people too difficult. Even if it's true. Nor can they get the population on-side by arguing that they are putty in the hands of the Commission, the Commission can mould them into any shape they please, France has to do what the Commission tells them to do. Even if it's true.
Instead, the French government deploys the identity theft gambit. In his 13 July 2011 speech, Serge Blisko (politely) pours scorn on this move:
A moment's thought reveals that you don't fingerprint 50 million people just to try to reduce the incidence of identity theft which affects maybe 10,000 people, i.e. 0.02% of the people. It's not proportional.
Ficher potentiellement 45 à 50 millions de personnes – cette estimation a été avalisée par tous les interlocuteurs auditionnés en commission – dans le seul objectif de lutter contre l’usurpation d’identité qui touche quelques dizaines de milliers de Français par an, peut-il être considéré comme proportionné?
Two moments' thought suggests that the incidence of identity theft is more likely to rise if you collect everyone's enrolments together in a national population register – if you create a single point of weakness, identity theft won't go down, it will go up.
And three moments' thought reveals that under the French scheme identity theft will become legally impossible anyway, not because cardholders won't be defrauded but because when they are, thanks to digital signatures, they'll be irrevocably liable for the loss themselves.
So identity theft can't be the reason. Not the real reason.
The acceptable reason for biometric ID cards according to the government is given in another part of M. Blisko's speech:
France has plastic card manufacturers and chip manufacturers and biometric technology suppliers who are "world champions" and who contribute mightily, it is said, towards the country's exports. If the French people themselves will only agree to become walking advertisements for these industries, then exports will be assisted. It is every patriotic Frenchman's duty, according to this way of thinking, to become a human billboard in the marketing campaign of a few illegally subsidised companies. (No point complaining to the Competition Commissionner, of course, about that "unlawful state aid". It is the Commission's bidding that France is doing.)
Il est vrai que la lutte contre l’usurpation d’identité est un enjeu industriel et commercial important pour la France puisque les entreprises dont nous avons auditionné les dirigeants sont championnes du monde dans ce domaine et qu’elles travaillent à 90 % à l’exportation.
Normally, advertisers pay for space. In this case, the tables are turned, and the mobile advertising space is paying the campaigners. The national biometric ID card scheme will cost billions of Euros. Those billions will not come out of thin air. They will be paid from the tax contributions of every French citizen and company.
It has a sort of Mephistophelean logic. It might work in some countries. But not France. Not in a nation with 246 different cheeses (© 1962 C. de Gaulle).