Iain Duncan Smith’s new database, quietly being built in India, is set to be the most expansive data-mining operation every carried out by any Government against it’s citizens.
The Universal Credit system will contain an unprecedented amount of information on all aspects of our lives, much of which will be controlled by private companies. In a chilling development it appears that the database will use ‘voice biometrics’ as part of it’s security protocols.
The new system, which is due to be launched in 2013, will dwarf the plans for a National Identity Register which was dropped by Labour after storms of protest. With the advent of smart phone and hand held readers this new system could easily become an effective, electronic National Identity Card.
Universal Credit is the Government’s policy to replace all benefits and tax credits with one unified benefit. The database set up to manage it will be built into the tax system and rely on the ‘real time reporting’ system for tax payments which is currently in development. It is therefore likely that everyone,with or without a job, will find themselves on the database.
Under Real Time Reporting, the Government will require self-employed tax-payers and PAYE employers to submit monthly figures on earnings. The Government will know where you are on a month to month basis, unlike the current system which only relies on annual returns. This will create a huge amount of additional work and bureaucracy for self employed people and small firms alike. Like many aspects of the plans, this is something the Government hasn’t been particularly forthcoming about.
Like the current tax database it will also contain details of whether you are married, your basic details such as name, address, date of birth and National Insurance number, along with details of your children. To accommodate the changes to child benefit, the database will also need details of whether you live with a partner even if you aren’t married. Presumably this data will need to be updated ‘in real time’. If you split up with your partner, be sure to tell the Government as soon as possible.
Should you ever claim a benefit such as Housing Benefit, sick pay or Employment Support Allowance, the database will be even more intrusive. At present Housing Benefit data is largely collected locally, and requires a huge amount of information, ostensibly to prevent fraud. Claimants are required to provide full financial details, bank statements, tenancy agreements, details of anyone who may live with them, even housemates, plus information about the type of property, how many rooms it contains etc. All this information will now be held by central Government, quite likely along with information claimed to be for ensuring ‘equal opportunity’ such as details of ethnicity, religion and sexuality.
Should you fall sick and need disability benefits then the database will also contain full details of your health condition. It will probably also have all the results of the planned regular health checks to be carried out by private companies like Atos and security companies like G4S. As Job Seekers Allowance is also to be built into the system,it is likely the database will include details of criminal records, job search activity, educational achievements and even your CV.
No Government before has ever attempted to collate such a huge amount of data on their citizens all in one place. It is not yet even known whether the system will have scope for further information retention as the project is shrouded in secrecy. Iain Duncan Smith has refused to say how the system will manage any child care payments or whether Council Tax is also to be built into the new software which IT insiders have nicknamed ‘The Beast’.
Universal Credit is set to be ‘digital by default’ meaning people will only be able to input information online. People without online access at home will be required to use insecure internet cafes and, if they can still find one, libraries, should they need to report in personal information changes to the Government.
It is the voice recognition system however which will be of most concern to civil liberties campaigners. Known as ‘voice biometrics’ this relies on the fact that everyone has a unique ‘voice print’ which can be used to identify them. Whilst it has never been tested on such a huge scale, the DWP are trialling voice recognition technology right now in the hope of building it into the new system. This has the potential to become an ID Card by default. Whilst coppers will not be able to demand to see your papers they will only need a sample of your voice to access your extensive government file. You have the right to remain silent.
By far the most chilling aspect of the plans however will be the ability of spooks everywhere to track and access your phone calls. The US Echelon satellite famously hoovers up all digital information flying through the air which includes telephone conversations. If they have access to your voice print, they will be able to immediately identify and record any telephone call you make from any phone in the world.
If big brother UK isn’t listening to you then the CIA may well be. Not to be outdone however are this countries leading eaves-droppers GCHQ. With well founded fears of fraud and hacking being voiced, it is GCHQ who are being brought in to try and prevent this.
Iain Duncan Smith said recently: “We are talking to everybody from the private sector right the way through to GCHQ about how and what is the best point at which you protect that information.”
So private companies and spooks alike are set to have access to your Government file.
When the ID Card row first blew up under Labour many campaigners warned it was the database planned to be behind the system which was of most concern. The Lib Dems were one of those voices that shouted loudest about infringement of civil liberties and privacy. Yet here they are supported a national identity database far in excess of anything that Tony Blair dared to dream up. Barely any consultation on the power that this will give the Government, or the implications for privacy, has been carried out. Iain Duncan Smith is launching it by stealth, pretending it’s only benefit claimants who will be subject to it. The Government is hoping no-one notices that by benefit claimants they mean everyone who claims, or has claimed, Tax Credits, Child Benefit, Housing Benefit, Statutory Sick Pay, Disability living Allowance or a state pension.
In fact as the DWP and HMRC databases are due to be merged it is likely that the Government plans for everyone to be on the new database. They are hardly likely to continue to run the old HMRC database when this one does the exact same thing. Again this is not something which has been adequately explained by a Government which promised Civil Liberties. It is of little wonder that Iain Duncan Smith has been so evasive about the details of the DWP’s flagship scheme.
Big Brother would blush at this vast state intrusion of privacy. He may not always be watching, but very soon he could be listening to every phone call you ever make.