UK Liberty

How can you be against ID cards but not other cards?

Posted in database state, ID Cards by ukliberty on October 9, 2008

A letter in the Independent:

Presumably your paranoid readers opposed to ID Cards (letters, 6 October) don’t have a credit card, a store card, an organ-donor card, a passport, a bus pass or a railcard; never use the NHS or claim social-security benefits, and keep their money in a sock under the bed.

It’s along the same lines as the argument, “surely if you are against ID cards you must be against credit cards, store cards etc.”

(Disregarding for now the fact that some people oppose all of those systems and might only use them because they have to.)

Each of those systems differ in terms of function, the data that is stored, their associated risks, the law that applies to them, and whether or not it is your freedom to choose to sign up to them.

The data stored by those databases and the risks associated with this data are tiny relative to the ID card scheme.

The database behind the ID card scheme, the National Identity Register (NIR), is not only intended to store your name, address and photo – the sort of information you will find on your passport – but also the details of every transaction you make that involves the identity you’ve been assigned.  So, eventually, when you go for non-emergency health care this will be recorded on the NIR.  When you open a bank account and you are asked to prove your identity this will be recorded on the NIR.  When you apply for or claim benefits you will be asked to prove your identity and this will be recorded on the NIR. Any transaction involving the identity is intended to be recorded on the NIR.

And the identity number you’ve been assigned will be used as a key in lots of other databases in the public and private sectors, making it possible for someone with the appropriate access to build a very accurate picture of your life. This might not be a good thing.

Now, the following cards are optional:

  1. credit card
  2. store or loyalty card
  3. organ donor card (although it has been proposed that organ donation should be opt-out, not opt-in)
  4. bus pass
  5. railcard
  6. library card

The following seem de facto mandatory if you want a normal job and life:

  1. bank account
  2. NHS health care

The following is mandatory if you want to travel internationally and have no access to private transport:

  1. passport

The following will eventually not be optional:

  1. enrolment on the National Identity Register (NIR) to be assigned with an identity by the state (particularly when you obtain a passport)
  2. the recording on the NIR of every transaction involving that identity

The freedom to sign up to such databases is an important thing to consider.

There is usually some financial incentive: loyalty points at your supermarket that you can exchange for goods; cheaper use of public transport than if you paid by cash; books you can borrow for free (well, at point-of-‘sale’, anyway – you pay indirectly via taxation).  The Government will make life increasingly more difficult for those who aren’t voluntarily enrolled on the NIR – you will be compelled to be registered.

A passport is a bit different: you give your data in return for being allowed to travel across national borders. We used to have a lot more freedom of movement in that regard – passports weren’t required for most travel until the First World War, and there was no mass issuing of passports  for a long time (as an aside, apparently British tourists complained that the new passports and their photographs were dehumanising) –  nevertheless it remains your choice whether or not to have one. But eventually if you choose to get a passport you will be enrolled on the NIR at the same time.

It’s also important to note that some of the aforementioned cards can be anonymised: you can swap your library card with a friend, if you are concerned about the tracking of your reading habits; you can also swap your store card, although this might be counterproductive if your friend has a different purchase pattern; bus passes and railcards aren’t tracked unless they are something like Oyster, and Oyster cards can be purchased anonymously from newsagents and stations.

So it seems reasonable that one can be opposed to none, any or all of those schemes and yet be opposed to the ID card scheme for the following reasons: they store different data, there are different risks, there is different legal protection, and they are usually a matter of choice.

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