The Last Census – How Future Planning Will Use Digital Identities to Track Population

The recent news that the statistics regulator has scolded the ONS for overestimating its student population (compared to GP rolls etc.) is interesting. There has been disquiet for some time about the new ONS student model which isnt fit for purpose. For example Oxford and Cambridge complained it underestimated their student populations.

I don’t think it will male a huge difference to future planning in Coventry, which after all is the fastest growing place in the UK according to small business growth and is next to Birmingham which has a major shortfall in Housing Need. The worst thing it could do is a Leeds and redesignate Green Belt only to see its housing numbers go up (its a top 20 Urban LA now) having to go through the dedesignation pain twice. Qudos to Andy Street though who had the wheft to pick up the ball and run with it.

One factor that was thrown up was their model did not account for students that dropped out. However Nimbys should not get their hopes up, the global population is a control and remains the same. One student from Worcester dropping out for example is one more population for Worcester.

What this highlights is the extent that live registers of population are taking over from once a decade censuses as the main means of auditing population levels. The Pandemic has brought this forward. It has seen two developments. Firstly a huge national database based on gp rolls which suggests, surprise surprise, that the population of some major University Cities like Cambridge is roo low. Secondly the rise and rise of the NHS App, now likely to be used as vaccination certification for travel.

Internationally the alternative to censuses in some countries such as Denmark are population registers, in the past great registers held at Town Halls of where you live. This years census was nearly cancelled in favour of such registers and the ONS have stated this census may be the last conventional one. Truth be told though work on regstration at the time was not advanced, but now it is.

Registers are no longer paper documents. They are digital. All rely in what is called a ‘digital id’ which the government consulted on in February as an alternative to a conventional Card National ID. This the underlying reason why the government is pursuing legislation in the Queens speech requiring identity to vote. Let me explain.

Digital Identity’s are not new. The Blair government gave every UK person a unique digital ID across all government databases. All a physical National ID is is a card with encrypted biometric information saying I am this person. Such cards are no longer needed, apps can be used, and a number of countries like Australia are going down the cardless National ID scheme. Of course if you have the NHS app you already have such and your NHS numbers is now your main digital ID. However this requires a photo id and checking against your face, so currently it requires a surrogate national ID card. Compulsory ID to vote is likely to require free ID, such as in Northern Ireland, has they have admitted. So dont be surprised in future when you register at a GP, or claim universal credit your photos being taken, such as from your own smartphone, and fingerprint ID taken, as the NHS app uses.

David Davis needs to get up to date. Physical ID cards are yesterdays technology. We are past the age of ‘show us your papers’. Your ID is being tracked all day every day by dozens of government services using digital IDs.

For planners this has great potential for tracking population, travel movements etc. etc. In terms of privacy however there is great concern. What if a future government got its hands on this data. It could use the kind of microtargeting Vote Leave used on a grand scale. What about GDPR you say? Well remember for this very reason Cummings wanted to abolish GDPR and wanted the private sector to handle test and trace so they could raid HNS databases. Campaigner should recognize the tide in favor of digital identities is unstoppable, and also essential for pandemic control. Rather campaigners should ensure that legislation has privacy controls including making it a criminal offence to sell on data or use it for political campaigning purposes.

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