Bits and Pieces

Monday, March 22, 2004

Identity Cards

There's a debate about national ID cards going on around here (kicked off by Nick Kristof at the NY Times (subscription required)).

I don't personally have a problem with ID cards. After all, I already carry a drivers license, several ATM and credit cards and my national insurance card. I have no doubt that, given necessary motivation, the government could track my movements quite easily. For that reason, I don't think a standardised ID card would have any effect on my personal liberty (incidentally, the concept of personal liberty has never elicited the kind of righteous anger in its defence on these shores as in the US).

Conversely, while ID cards wouldn't have a great impact on my liberty, I fail to see an advantage over the current system. With my current ID my employment and tax history can be tracked, my address can be found and my driving record can be looked up. Anyone who decides to search my person can even find all my bank details. In short, all of my personal details are up for grabs apart from, maybe, my blood type (and even I don't know that).

However, I am not the kind of person these cards would be designed to track. I am a young white man with a clean criminal record and no connection to the shady world of terrorism. And that is where the question of liberty arises. The group that would potentially lose the most liberty would more than likely be citizens of Middle Eastern descent. It seems that in today's paranoid society anyone who wears a beard is a potential terrorist. ID cards would probably come with a provision to allow police a broader 'stop and search' capability, and along with the reported institutional racism of the police force, this would just open the door for scandal and ask it to make itself comfortable.

So what do we really have to fear from ID cards? Some of the most vocal opponents are from demographics who would have nothing to fear - WASPs who pay their taxes, attend church on Sunday and have nothing worse than a parking ticket on their record.

So why the rabid opposition? Is it nothing more than a belief in their Constitutional right to privacy, or is it the fear that we are becoming a society more closely aligned with Orwell's dystopian vision of 1984 than the society the founding fathers attempted to frame. After all, we are already well on the way to Orwell's perpetual war. With your President of the opinion that there should be 'limits to freedom', and our Prime Minister following in his wake, can we trust that broad-scale identification would be used for the ostensibly benevolent purposes its advocates claim?
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