Monday, April 26, 2004

The govt ID card: a licence to live

As reported in much of the media, the government has finally unveiled draft legislation and a consultation for its long trailed identity card scheme. The government envisages these cards becoming compulsory to own by 2013 and that the cards would be needed to obtain access to public services and benefits.

The draft legislation and consultation document are available here. I will do a detailed dissection of this later. For now, I wish to make a few points that form the basis of my opposition to this scheme.

The identity card proposed by the government, far from merely being a useful form of identity, will in effect be a licence to go about your daily life, revocable at any time by the government. Once in full swing, you will not be able to use state services without it, you will not be able to work legally without it, you'll find it difficult if not impossible to go about many day to day activities without it.

Whether the police have the power to demand it or not will be a side issue compared to the need to use it to account for yourself to anyone in officialdom who demands it, simply in order to get on with your life.

Activities such as opening bank accounts, obtaining mortgages, getting credit cards or even just carrying out large financial transactions will all require it. And the government and the officials running the system could wipe your identity (effectively making you a non-person), or brand you as a criminal or terrorist, in a manner that would affect every aspect of your life, at the press of a few buttons.

Accepting these identity cards will thus mean giving the government a level of power over you akin to that of a master over his slave, and the proposed charges for these cards will effectively be a poll tax -- a tax on mere existence.

The relationship between the citizen and the state will be fundamentally altered. Instead of the former being the servant of the latter (admittedly, we fall far short of this ideal as it stands), the state will assert its authority over the citizen via these cards and their associated databases.

The cards will facilitate the state extending its control over citizens into their everyday activities in a way not yet seen, though hinted at with the existing controversies over data protection and surveillance of online communications.

It will also be a lot more convenient and easy for the state to note who is doing what, where and when because it can all be easily tied to a central identity database linking individuals' activities across time and space.

The govt wants us to have this card for the much same reason the farmer wants to brand his sheep.

Make no mistake -- these cards will be a tool of social control used by the state. Combined with modern information technology, it will enable a new level of individuated discrimination by the state and a level of state surveillance of individual actions unseen before. The govt wants us to have this card for the much same reason the farmer wants to brand his sheep.

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