The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

10:39pm on Saturday, 1st January, 2005:

Identity Cards


Let's start with a rant.

Identity cards: I don't want one.

I am aghast that the Labour government wishes to introduce the damned things. I knew we'd get patronising paternalism from them, but this has gone even further than my worst expectations.

I'm even more aghast that the Conservative opposition is supporting the government. They're not even doing it for wrong-headed ideological reasons: they're doing it as an act of political opportunism that's gone horribly wrong.

For centuries, English Law has operated using an assumption of innocence. I'm innocent until proven guilty. If someone wants to accuse me of a crime, they have to prove I'm guilty of it; I don't have to prove I'm innocent of it. This is an axiom of the legal system here.

Yet identity cards change all that. A police officer asks to see my card and if I don't show it then I'm guilty of failing to prove my innocence of whatever it is the police officer is investigating. It gets worse, though: because I refuse to show my card, the police officer arrests me and I wind up being fined by the courts. Yet how do the courts know who I am if I don't show my card? And if they can find out without my having to show them my card, why do I need a card in the first place? They can just use whatever method they used in the event of my refusing to show them the card!

The cards we're being threatened with will have biometric information on them. They can't be forged, because the biometrics of the card have to match the biometrics of the card-holder. Just a moment, though: I carry my biometrics with me the whole time. Why do I need a card? If a police officer wants to know who I am, I can donate a hair or a bit of spit and they can look me up on their database. What's the card for? The card is so I can tell them who I am without their having to check my biometric data. That means they're not going to check the biometric data, in which case forgers can put whatever information they want in the biometric record. Smart thinking, identity card enthusiasts!

In countries where people have had identity cards for many years, getting your card is a coming of age ritual. At last! My identity card! Now I can pay money into my bank account, and buy a bus pass, and rent a DVD from Blockbuster! All these things, I couldn't do before but I can now, thanks to my identity card!

Whoopee. I can do all those things now, without an identity card; giving me an identity card will mean I can't do them without one. This extra level of bureaucracy is in my best interests because why? And what are businesses going to do with all this information they wring out of me? Provide me with better services? Yeah, right...

Maybe I'll use my card on an "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" basis. If the bank teller needs evidence backed by biometric data that I am who I say I am, I want likewise from them. Those cute little name badges with "Tracy" written on them are so easy to forge...

Something else that gags my craw is this stupid, "What have you got to hide?" attitude that many people have. The logic seems to be that identity cards are fine if you have nothing to hide, so if you don't want one then you must have something to hide. Too damned true I have something to hide! Nothing illegal, but plenty I don't want prying smug busibody brain-dead gossips like you finding out, thank you very much.

The government itself is brushing aside civil liberties objections with vague references to terrorist threats (that they somehow never thought of when we were being faced with very specific terrorist threats, eg. when the IRA blew up my wife's office) and platitudes guaranteeing that the data won't be misused. Well no, of course the data won't be misused — the government gets to define "misuse". If they decide that yellow stars and pink triangles are a valid use for the data, well, they are. As it is, the proposal pretty well stuffs transvestites.

Of course, the government responds that they would never do anything like that; we can trust them!

Bad news, the government: you won't be the government forever.

Is there anything anyone can do about this? Fortunately, yes, there is! Well, fortunately for me, that is; maybe not fortunately for you, because you didn't think of it first. I'll explain...

In Britain, every car in the country must, by law, display its registration number. The only exceptions are The Queen's cars. If you see a car without a registration number on it, you can deduce that either it is illegal or belongs to The Queen.

If every person in the country is forced to carry an identity card, by the same token it must be OK for one person not to carry a card. As this is my idea, I hereby give notice that I shall be that person. If you come across someone not carrying an identity card, you can deduce that either they're doing so illegally or they're me.

Or a tourist. Or a foreigner here on business. Or someone who left their card in their other jacket. Or someone under 16. Or someone out swimming. Or someone whose card has been stolen. Or a nudist. Or someone mentally ill. Or someone who lost their card. Or someone who accidentally put it in the washing machine. Or someone being operated on in hospital.

Sure as hell it won't be a criminal or a terrorist...

Referenced by Change of Address.

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).