posted on Sep, 1 2009 @ 04:13 PM
"ID Cards — A Government Mandated Facebook?"
Author: Azeem Ibrahim, Research Fellow, International Security Program
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
ID cards' main purpose is to make life easier for officials. When all the fake arguments are cast to one side, you're left with a mandatory,
government-led Facebook account.
Have you noticed how the government keeps changing the reason why we need identity cards?
In post-9/11 years, they would help us fight terrorism. That petered out; when he was no longer home secretary, Charles Clarke admitted that ID cards
would probably not have stopped the 7/7 attacks on London. As fear of terrorism was replaced by fear of identity theft, the justification shifted to
the idea that they would help make identity theft harder. Later, controlling immigration was touted. And more recently, the government has argued that
having personal details secured in one place would just be more convenient. Last April, Lord West of Spithead told the House of Lords that ID cards
"will provide a single, safe and secure way of protecting personal details and proving identity ... which, I think, will bring convenience."
The quantity of arguments for ID cards looks like an attempt to hide a lack of quality. The government has been hard-pressed to explain how ID cards
will make us safer. It is true that they will make it easier for, say, customs officials to ascertain that you are who you say you are. But that can
already be done for everyone who has a passport. It is true that biometric chips might make the process more accurate. But that argues for biometric
passports, as another recanting ex-home secretary, David Blunkett, has pointed out. If you want to make identification more accurate by introducing a
biometric chip, that does not entail spending £3 billion in a recession on an entirely new biometric ID card scheme.
Traditional opposition to ID cards, meanwhile, has focused on the threat they pose to our liberty. John Steyn captured the tone of these arguments
when he reminded us that Voltaire had written that 'the civil wars of Rome ended in slavery, and those of the English in liberty'. Your neighbour
who works at the local council could find out exactly how old you are or whether or not your Visa has been approved. Pop stars, footballers, or just
attractive newscasters would know that their addresses were available to over-eager fans working at the Department of Work and Pensions, the DVLA, or
many other government agencies.
Council workers have already started checking details of celebrities, friends, and girlfriends. Of the 34 who have done so, nine have been sacked. If
that ratio were extrapolated nationally, government workers can be confident that they can check on details with about a one-in-four chance of getting
sacked. The government has responded by assuring us that, in the words of Lord West, "the Identity Cards Act 2006 establishes a statutory duty for
the national identity register to be secure and reliable". This completely misses the point. It is no good the government specifying that snooping is
a crime; the council worker who checked the celebrity's record didn't do it thinking it was OK. Bringing in new legislation will not remove the
temptation or do much to alter the snooper's incentive structure.
And if you want to argue that these coffee-break snoopers are one-offs, you have to contend with government figures which admit that there were
100,000 offences under the Data Protection Act in the Department of Work and Pensions and Revenue and Customs alone in the four years between 2000 and
The databases are beginning to look like government-mandated Facebook — a register of personal information which government employees can check and
which you will eventually be obliged to join.
Its amazing how much amd how freely people give 90% of thier personal info on facebook without govornment involvement at all.