BBC Breakfast with Frost Sunday November 9th 2003
The transcript of the interview with Sir John Stevens, the head of the Metropolitan Police covers at least two controversial issues, the secret passive millimetre wave radar "see under your clothes" scanner and his call for compulsory biometric ID cards, now, for stop and search purposes, ahead of the Government's delayed timetable, and with no concern for the cost or practicality.
DAVID FROST: Well, as we mentioned, the Metropolitan Commissioner for Police, Sir John Stevens, known as Britain's top cop - a good phrase isn't it, really - is with us this morning, and welcome John.
JOHN STEVENS: Thank you.
DAVID FROST: Can I start with this weekend's news, front page of The Times yesterday, the news of this awesome new scanner in order to fight those people who are armed with either guns or other weapons. How does that work?
JOHN STEVENS: Well we have tried to make use of all the technology that's around and it will involve a quantum leap in terms of how we tackle this type of crime. It's bringing together some of the techniques we've been using in anti-terrorism, also linking in with some of the techniques used to search people at airports and we hope to be using that before Christmas or in the new year.
DAVID FROST: Before Christmas or in the new year. Was it, was it inspired by James Bond? Two, two James Bond movies ago there was a device like this.
JOHN STEVENS: No, David, it wasn't. It was, it's actually a gradual work up of some of the techniques we've been using specifically in the anti-terrorist world.
DAVID FROST: And what about the people who say well, you know, basically if a, if a peeping tom or someone gets hold of this machine they can strip any girl naked as she's walking down the street, as it were, with the machine. How do you guard against that sort of thing?
JOHN STEVENS: Well it doesn't actually work that way but we do, must make sure that there are safeguards in relation to how we use it.
Even it it is only used at airports, the current technology could well be illegal
to use to "see under the clothes" of children, as this constitututes making and distributing "child porn" images, without exception (stupid, perhaps, but that is the law).
Given that male and female genitalia are visible with these "see under your clothes" scanners, even the new offence of Voyeurism under the Sexual Offences Bill could easily apply.
How can this technology be classified as anything other than intrusive surveillance which should require specific , warranted permission under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and should not be used for mass surveillance.
Why didn't Frost ask him about the alleged secret trials of this sytem on the streets of London ? Does Sir John take personal responsability for this apparent example of intrusive mass surveillance ?
What are the health risks of this Millimetre Wave Radar ?
The use of technology actually has been advancing and when we come to ID cards, which is something I was ambivalent about five years ago but very much in favour now, the technology in relation to that will allow us to use identification cards in a way that we have never envisaged before.
DAVID FROST: Well that's exactly what I wanted to talk about second, so you're spot on there. And in fact, while we're on the how it works bit, I mean people think it's going to be more complicated obviously than a credit card, some people say well we've got passports why do we need this, but is it because of all the extra devices, the retinal spotting and so on? What is, what is the way to make an ID card, a compulsory ID card, work?
JOHN STEVENS: Well there are two reasons for it. We have been picking up people, terrorists and also organised crime individuals, who have got identification on them which is as good as the identification you or I carry - we've got a problem in relation to that.
The new biometric type of advances which have been made which allow us to use fingerprints, allows us to use eye identification, give us a certain amount of certainty in terms of identification. It is absolutely essential, in the modern world, the dangerous world we live in, that we have proper means of identification.
It is very possible to forge Biometric Identifiers, and it is certainly possible to obtain documents with genuine Biometric Identifiers which still do not truthfully identify the person.
DAVID FROST: And what about people who say well that's all right, sure just for illegal immigrants that's fine, or whatever, or people coming into the country and trying to disappear when they get here, but why do all the rest of us need it?
JOHN STEVENS: Well I think a certain amount of certainty about identification is needed because when police stop and search people, of course some difficulties can arise if there's some difficulty in actually identifying people. But if you've got a means of identifying people with reasonable certainty - which this is - then I think that's what we should be using.
Not even David Blunkett's Home Office consultation paper thought that having to carry the ID Card for the benefit of Police stop and searches was a good idea. The "sus" law abuses would inevitably return, given the admitted racial discrimination problems which are acknowledged in other parts of this interview.
DAVID FROST: And will it, will it have a significant effect in helping you in the war against terror?
JOHN STEVENS: We have absolutely no doubt it will. One of the main aspects of it which must take place is as the technology is used we keep ahead of the criminal, so you'd need a technical unit to make sure the criminals, when it is being used, don't get ahead of the game in relation to that as well. We can do that and should do it.
DAVID FROST: What's the realistic timetable, there may be draft legislation in the Queen's Speech and so on, that's obviously, we haven't seen that yet, but I mean how long will it take to introduce this to the whole population?
JOHN STEVENS: Well some time. But for us in the police -
DAVID FROST: Years, though, will it?
JOHN STEVENS: Well we hope not, what we'd like to see is it brought in quite quickly. I think you could incorporate it in driving licence identification and some of the identification we all carry as a matter of course. So the sooner it's brought in for us, being somewhat selfish in terms of the public safety, the sooner it's brought in the better.
Do the maths Sir John and Sir David - if you want to register the population of 60 million with Biometric Identifiers (which means no postal applications like for Passports or Driving Licences will be possible, you will have to queue up at a Government office) in one year you would need to create a system capable of handling 500 correct registrations per second for every second during the working year.
No Government IT system has ever approached this level of performance, so it could easily take 10 or more years simply to register the population for their first ID Card, by which time a good proportion of them would already have expired and have to be re-issued.
DAVID FROST: And it will cost about, cost each of us, leaving aside the old and those who are below a certain threshold, financial threshold, the rest of us will pay ?39 it's estimated.
JOHN STEVENS: Well I think the cost of it is still being organised. I mean one of the reasons I think why there's been a certain amount of reticence about bringing it in is the cost. But for me, as a police officer, and for us as the police service, we know the benefits it can bring.
If ID Cards are really such a vital and useful crime fighting or anti-terrorist tool, then they should be funded out of the anti-crime and anti-terrorism police budgets, and the public should not have to pay an ID Card Poll Tax.
Or could it be that the Police and Police Authorities might actually find far better and more effective uses for the billions of pounds that ID Cards would cost?