Deserving of Neither

by on December 11, 2009

Angela Epstein is unbelievably pleased to have been able to “bag poll [sic] position” in getting a national identity card. While she is apparently aware that the cards are “hotly disputed”, she says “everyone is entitled to their view”.

Epstein (the Jewish surname not without some grim irony here) may think that ID cards are to be debated at the level of the colour of soft furnishings or who should win The X Factor, but amid all the blinkered admiration, this was for me almost the worst comment I’ve read about ID cards so far. How are liberty and freedom a matter of personal opinion? I’m not denying they can and should be debated, but there is a truth to be revealed in that debate beyond mere opinion. I think that truth is that if you collate a vast amount of personal information in one place (the National ID Card Database), that data will leak out, be abused, and generally come back to haunt those who thought it was such a good idea. And by that time it will be too late for all of us. Control needs control. The only reason for control is more control. When politicians start down the road of identity cards and use that to build up a surveillance database beyond anything that has ever existed before, the lessons of history may well be mere preludes to what could happen.

Epstein is clearly no idiot, and her article has a rather curious ring to it. These two things make me rather suspicious, and judging by some of the comments, I’m not alone.

Comments

I wouldn’t object to the idea of ID cards if they were simply proof of your identity. Being able to prove who you are is going to be increasingly important over time, and indeed having one document to do it would be convenient (I feel a blog post coming on about that).

The trouble is that ID cards will go far beyond an indication of who’s who. They will be used to store potentially everything about everyone as well. Not only that, but you may well not be able to tell who is using that information, when or why, even if you know what that information is.

That’s why I object on a practical level: the “database state” must not be allowed to happen because it will be abused. Allowing such abuse to happen is therefore why I also object in principle.

Yeah but they are already monitoring the fact I visit webtorque and who I send e-mails to … courtesy of the Data Retention Directive.

That’s like saying “My doctor has a record of the fact that I have syphilis, so the police, and anyone with any other authority, may as well know it too.” And that’s before we speculate about those without authority being able to access that information by nefarious means.

The only argument I have seen submitted in favour of ID cards is that they will fit in your fucking wallet. If people genuinely see that as outweighing the disadvantages, then things look extremely bleak for the future of civil liberties.

What really gets to me is the constant use of the entirely specious “law abiding citizen with nothing to hide” argument.

I’m a law abiding citizen (yes, you can quote me on that) and I have plenty to hide. For starters, my PINs and a veritable raft of passwords. These are things which could easily be obtained or deduced by anyone with access to the/a central database of facts about me.

A surreal aside (which seems to have been adopted by the ID card as well) is that I am expected to protect my secrets (PIN, passwords and so on) by using publicly available facts about me.

For example, anyone is party to my mother’s maiden name, should they wish to be. It’s a matter of official public record. Anyone could easily, should they wish, find out my first pet’s name (for the record it’s “Willow” – clearly not my choice). Armed with that easily sourced data anyone could find out my PIN, password or whatever – and now, it seems, they could also steal my official ID card identity.

The only option, it seems, if you wish to protect your identity is to deploy lies to protect your secrets. Which would, in a database state, no doubt get you into a whole load of trouble!

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