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ID Cards

July 23rd, 2005

I haven’t followed debate about ID cards very closely, so readers may be able to point to discussion of an issue that I regard as central. There’s a big difference between a card that must be produced on demand by police and other authorities, on pain of arrest, and one that is simply required on particular occasions (for example, boarding an airplane).

The first kind of card would be a big intrusion on our day-to-day liberties, but it might well be useful in fighting terrorism, dealing with illegal immigration and so forth. It would be the kind of thing that they used to have in dictatorships, where the loss of your “papers” was potentially catastrophic, though presumably in the Australian context, it would merely entail a night in the cells until you managed to verify your identity.

The second kind of card would not, as far as I can see, make any practical difference to anyone. The occasions on which it would be used are those that already require photo ID like a drivers license or passport. Of course, you’re not compelled to have these documents, but the same would seem to be true with the card. As long as you don’t want to catch any planes, or undertake similar activities, you can throw the card away and forget about it.

So, does anyone know which of these is proposed, or why my uninformed reasoning on the subject might be invalid.

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  1. joe2
    July 23rd, 2005 at 20:00 | #1

    You were wise not to follow this debate,J.Q.

    It was always a diversion as little winston moved towards dubbya ranch and Lords. Also, to save the western world, as we know it. Whats the latest score?

  2. July 23rd, 2005 at 20:14 | #2

    I think that we should be suspicious of anything that makes either harrassment of individuals by authorities or misuse of data by the state more possible. Having said that, joe2 is right – there’s nothing on the table as I understand it. Vanstone did say any ID card would need to contain biometric data which is a worry.

    There was a long and passionate debate on this at LP and one observation I’d make was this issue does not break on predictable ideological/partisan lines.

  3. Harry Clarke
    July 23rd, 2005 at 22:51 | #3

    The call for ID cards of any sort is a reflex response to the London bombings. The core issue there however is the immigration system not the identification of aliens.

    In the past critics of unrestrained support for multiculturalism in Australia have argued that the immigration system as it stands implicitly treats Australian culture and the notion of being Australian as something of zero value. Australia then is an empty slate on which migrants alone provide a cultural input. There is no requirement that migrants accept core Australian values or have any appreciation of Australian culture or history. It is in fact a kind of portfolio diversification theorem — the more diversity the better regardless of any lack of coincidence of core values or even of the advantages that having shared values provides.

    Currently these issues are being addressed in a shrill way. Do we want to commit ‘national suicide’ as an article in this morning’s Australian puts it? Does Australlia want migrants who despise us and even might seek to kill us, who regard our democratic system as evil, who see our women as whores and our preexisting religions as worthless?

    I don’t and once the shrillness drops out of the debate I will unapologetically return to my long-standing argument for increasing the selectivity of immigration intakes to Australia on the basis of shared cultural and political values even before economic arguments are put on the table.

  4. eFonwit
    July 23rd, 2005 at 23:21 | #4

    Awe-yea right Harry, and “those who are against the white Australia policy are against Australia.”

  5. rollo
    July 24th, 2005 at 07:50 | #5

    Replying backward up the line:

    “increasing the selectivity of immigration intakes… on the basis of shared cultural and political values…”

    Makes perfect sense. Until you’re forced to look at what happens to the excluded. And even then an attitude of “too bad, losers” will work. Until you’re forced to look at the underpinnings of your legal system, which is what the debate is about, n’est c’est pas? And there at the heart of your legal system is an assumption of shared fate, commonality, gender-neutral fraternity.
    If you owe nothing, nothing is owed you. Once you begin to retract the perimeter of commonality you won’t be able to stop. Selfishness leads to one obvious, lonely point. And then, on the way, what you’ll have will be shrinking dukedoms and pandemic cultism – feudal hierarchies in a nutshell. The human world will fold back in on itself.
    We either make the change toward something new or we regress and disappear, and something takes our place. We bloom or we wither. We’re busy being born, or we’re busy dying.
    -
    The problem with ID cards or omnipresent surveillance cams or internet monitoring or any of the other feasible intrusions into our nominally private lives isn’t the means themselves – cameras after all are no more intrinsically bothersome than birds in the trees – obviously it’s the users of the gathered information. At the other end of the data-stream is what? Who? Who processes all the patterned comings and goings those cards will reveal? Who correlates the interest nodes each day? Who watches who? And why?
    And there’s nothing in place to ensure that the controls of that increasingly powerful Panopticon aren’t resting happily in the hands of an amoral demiurge, an inhumanly great selfish putz. His values are limited by his being, what he is, what he brings to that moment, and there will always be dependent creatures who revere that power. They make something together, something that thinks of itself as benign, as most of the social rejects currently behind the cameras think of themselves.
    That’s who’s going to process the national I.D. cards. Cowardly little sucks, hiding like the wizard of Oz behind the digital curtain. They own the world now, most of it anyway. Enough of it. They’re bending human evolution toward themselves, making themselves central to what it is to be human.
    Safety is the paramount goal and justification of cowards.
    In the US children stay inside virtually all the time now. They’re divorced from the landscape. They won’t miss it if it dies, won’t recognize the changes as they happen.
    And the car commercials all show pristine views of the natural world or gleaming sanitized urban streets. The scramble for security at any cost is part of, not opposed to whatever murky forces have led to that.
    So the question of ubiquitous surveillance cameras and national I.D. cards and suspension of rights and all of it misses the point. What’s happening is a coalescence of energy, the centralizing of power; and it’s there, at the heart of that, that the real questions need to be directed, and aren’t.
    What is it? What’s there? Who benefits in the long run from these “security” measures? The best of humanity? I think not.
    The worst more like. Something craven and duplicitous behind both cause and solution.

  6. Hal9000
    July 24th, 2005 at 08:41 | #6

    The dangers in a national ID card system of the ‘produce it when you have to catch a plane’ variety, JQ, are these:

    First, the system that supports the card would for the first time combine databases that have up until now carefully been kept discrete, for good privacy reasons. At present, the ATO can’t tell the Electoral Commission about an individual’s tax status and the Electoral Commission can’t tell the ATO about your marital status etc. The whole ID card concept, as it was under Hawke, is One Big Database. Apart from privacy, there are sound reasons to do with fraud, identity theft (and indeed security) etc to be suspicious of setting up a single system with tentacles winding through every public and private bureaucracy in the land, and presumably connexions allowing access to our great and powerful friends.

    Second, there are practical issues such as – at what age would a card be issued, made compulsory or whatever? Would there be a penalty for loss or destruction? What would the cost of obtaining a duplicate be, and how difficult would it be and how long would it take to obtain? What would you do in the meantime – in your ‘low impact’ example, JQ, if you needed urgently to fly, say, to see a family member taken gravely ill in Perth and your card had been lost? How often would it have to be renewed? Would there be any bar to businesses or government agencies making production of a card compulsory in order to access services you might not be able to live without? When the card is swiped, is information about the context also transmitted – a la FlyBuys – keeping tab of your movements, transactions, activities etc? Will victims of error or fraudulent or malicious tampering with data be compensated, and how will they be able to establish the facts of the matter and correct records?

    Third, there is the ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument. Say we start with airline tickets being the only venue where your Oz-e-card has to be produced, and just your name and photo emblazoned thereon. Oh, dear, there has been an explosion on the London tube – we’ll just bring in trains and buses. Oh, and taxis. And, like the US PATRIOT Act, we’ll need to know who is reading what, so we’ll add in public libraries. And photographs can be so confusing, so let’s add in fingerprints. Palm prints too. Retinal scans. DNA samples. Tax file numbers. ABNs. Centrelink client number. Criminal history (including ticket fines, charges not proceeded with, juvenile offences and acquittals, just in case). Medicare details. Credit rating. Union membership. But don’t worry, if you haven’t done anything wrong, there is nothing to fear. Trouble is, as Bill Clinton found out with Kenneth Starr, if you keep digging you’ll find everyone has something to hide. It’s just a matter of finding out what it is.

    Last, this whole issue has been deliberately pumped up as a distraction. Peter Beattie first raised it to draw attention away from ongoing political bushfires throughout his increasingly beseiged government, and in particular the murky role played by Queensland agencies in the arrest and improper incarceration of suspected non-citizens as revealed by the Palmer Report. John Howard jumped on the bandwagon for much the same reasons. It’s an interesting psychological footnote to the whole business that as events spin out of these leaders’ control, they propose a program to bring us all under their control.

    The national ID card concept, however badged and however mild it might be dressed up in its initial iteration, is a BAD IDEA.

  7. observa
    July 24th, 2005 at 08:43 | #7

    “We either make the change toward something new or we regress and disappear,”
    I think it was a Chinese philosopher who talked about enjoying the journey rather than the goal and that is probably where neoconsevatives digress rather fundamentally from liberal progressives. Of course it would be remiss of any neoconservative not to point out that secular, liberal progressivism disappears right up its fundamental orifice if you begin to fill such nation states to any large degree with mediaeval Islamic Arabs. Welcome to the current challenge to liberal progressives everywhere.

    If you are going to decide who is allowed to join the national club, other than the offspring of current members, then of course you need a pretty foolproof means of identifying the members, without being too painful about it. The main benefits of being a member of the club are- The right to work, Centrelink and Medicare benefits. Perhaps a national ID card should only be produced when accessing these member benefits. Presumably you would require stiff penalties for those who attempt to flout the law on membership rights. The odd self-funded, non-member among us(overstaying tourist) would hardly be a problem.

  8. Ros
    July 24th, 2005 at 10:05 | #8

    Don’t know if you are familiar with the current plans for identity cards in France. Pilot being run at the airports of Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle, Paris Orly, Marseille, and Lyon in France, the Brussels airport in Belgium, and the port in Marseille, France. It involves French Consulates in 3 different countries for smart card-based Schengen visa issuance, with plans to eventually extend it to other countries. To cover all Schengen treaty countries.

    “The ministry aims to provide the whole population by 2007 with an ID card with a contactless chip containing not only the civil status of the citizen but also two biometric identifiers: photograph and fingerprints. These data would be filed in centralised databases. The card will be mandatory and would also include the address of the holder……One of the main arguments of the French government is that mandatory biometric
    ID card are required by ICAO international standards and specially by the EU
    Council of ministers decision of 13 December 2004……One of the fears of the 6 organisations that denounce the mandatory biometric ID card project is that the use of biometrics becomes commonplace for daily activities.

    The French minister of the Interior Dominique de Villepin has announced plans to force every Frenchman to buy a new electronic ID card with a chip containing photograph and fingerprints. On 11 April the French government outlined its plan to introduce biometrics on passports by 2006 and on ID cards by 2007.

    In an interview with the newspaper France-Soir a day later, De Villepin said ID cards should be made compulsory again in France, after the obligation was deleted in 1955…..The biometric information and other identifying information will be stored in a separate encrypted block on the chip, allowing access only to authorised officials. The chip will also contain some digitised authentication, to be able to file electronic tax declarations…….

    In Germany a paper ID card is compulsory, to be replaced by an electronic card containing fingerprints in the future. In Belgium an electronic ID card will be compulsory by the end of 2006, but there are no plans yet to introduce biometrics. In Italy, Estonia and Finland electronic ID cards are voluntary. Italians may choose to provide their fingerprints, while the Finnish card only contains only the holders name. In the
    Netherlands, which recently introduced compulsory identification, both passports and ID cards will contain a face scan before the deadline of August 2006, stored on a contact-less chip. Fingerprints will be added later.�

    http://www.edri.org/edrigram/number3.11/biometrics

    http://www.edri.org/edrigram/number3.8/ID

    As with the UK I think that it will become necessary to have cards to access public services. in France.

    Info on pilot card
    http://www.secureidnews.com/news/2005/05/24/gemplus-selected-for-electronic-visa-pilot-in-france/

    Myself with a mother with dementia and a range of other ills am very sad if such cards will not contain medical information. Or at least allow access to a centralised data bank of medical information. If nothing else it would save me from having to know all about a range of drugs, constantly asking for written reports from doctors and dealing every time with the nightmare of the Privacy Act.

  9. derrida derider
    July 24th, 2005 at 15:10 | #9

    I can see it all now – we’ll all carry our little ID card, which is only to be produced, of course, if you want to travel by plane and after a lawful request. That’ll make it easy to ban undesirables from using planes, or at least to track their movements.

    Oh, and we’ll no doubt soon want to use it to cut down on Centrelink fraud and money laundering – the banks will co-operate here. Of course you’ll have to produce it if you want to get a prepaid mobile phone – can’t have drug dealers, not to mention car bombers, using those. You won’t need a Medicare card anymore either – using an ID card will mean we won’t have to extend Medicare to illegal immigrants.

    In a decade or two, we’ll realise that we don’t need driver’s licences – we can just link the state motor licensing databases to it. Traffic coppers already can ask to see your driving licence so it’s surely no different from the present state of affairs. Of course it’d be absurd that traffic coppers can ask for it but other coppers, not to mention anti-terrorist counterintelligence, can’t – better give it to them too.

    Still, suspected terrorists will still be able to move about the country. So we can make the smartcard an etag for tollways, etc – people will accept it because of the convenience, and it’ll make life a lot easier for ASIO. After all, if people don’t want to they don’t have to use the roads.

    Speaking of convenience, we can link credit and EFTPOS cards to it too – purely voluntarily, of course. Though come to think of it after a while merchants will not want to accept credit cards that aren’t link to this foolproof ID, so it will in effect be compulsory anyway.

    Aftr all this, wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we just got a smartcard chip inserted at birth – we do it for our pets, and surely we value humans more than animals?

    Folks, it’s hard to believe these days but its less than a hundred years ago that a passport was optional for almost all overseas travel, and its purpose was to assist the traveller, not the authorities. Creeping regimentation is the real road to serfdom, and is far, far more dangerous than a few young lunatics with bombs who will probably be as forgotten as the Weathermen or the C19 anarchists a decade or two hence. Terrorists come and go, but Big Brother is permanent.

  10. Ros
    July 24th, 2005 at 16:02 | #10

    “ISO 14443 defines identification cards with an embedded chip (proximity card) and a magnetic loop antenna that operates at 13.56 MHz (RFID). More recent ICAO standards (UN body) for machine-readable travel documents specify a cryptographically signed file format and authentication protocol for storing biometric features (photos of face, fingerprint and/or iris) in ISO 14443 RFID chips”

    While UN doesn’t specify other than face it would seem that the world is heading in this direction. Suspect that this is another issue about which there will be much shouting and excitement but it is coming your way and nothing will stop it.

    Heard David Marr sneering this morning that the UK had gone cold because of cost of cards. He obviously isn’t aware of the French solution to that, citizens have to pay for their card.

    So not only will we have one, we will probably have to pay for it. Only problem I see with that is that the state govs currently get our dough for licences, how pleased will they be.

    The inserted chip thing I like, never lose or forget it. Unless it chooses to do what IUDs do.

  11. Andrew Reynolds
    July 24th, 2005 at 16:36 | #11

    And, of course, an ID card would have stopped the alleged London bombers, too – they were British citizens, unknown to the Police or counter-terrorism units, on what was an apparently lawful visit to London.
    An ID card would have stopped them, just as it would the September 11th bombers – again, there was no record of any of them as terrorists or, indeed, any other crime. They climbed on to the aircraft with, what were at the time, allowable items of hand luggage.

    The ID card has been proposed as the solution for a lot of ills – but just ask the citizens of Madrid. They have them there and there is still fraud, false claims for benefits and terrorism on a grand scale – not just perpetrated by those claiming to be good Muslims but also by citizens of Spain – the Basques. It has not worked yet.

  12. Anne Archie
    July 24th, 2005 at 18:03 | #12

    I’d like to suggest it’s not the Why, or the How (ANU Data Mining http://datamining.anu.edu.au/ might have an idea on that) but the Who. That is, who (and how) are the government departments going to contract out the services.

    In the UK, the NHS Number for Babies is part of the pilot for universal civil registration.
    “NN4B is part of the NHS Information Authority’s sister service the NHS Strategic Tracing Service (NSTS) which helps healthcare providers to verify NHS numbers.” http://www.nhsia.nhs.uk/nn4b/pages/default.asp

    Schlumberger-Sema (bought by Atos http://www.defy-id.org.uk/greasypalms.htm#atos) is at heart of NSTS.

  13. July 24th, 2005 at 21:01 | #13

    I think the reasons that the humble national ID card has been touted around the shop recently are wrong, but I also think there are probably some decent arguments for having them. More here.

  14. July 24th, 2005 at 23:58 | #14

    Later I’ll expand on your reasoning, JQ, although a number of commenter’s have pointed out some issues. For now, I’ll merely mention that these issues matter a great deal to me, as someone subject to faulty data matching. A few years ago Quadrant pontificated on how maybe ID cards were becoming both practical and unthreatening, so I sent them a letter about it, which I paste in below. You’ll see that I didn’t have to reach very far for an example of someone being deported under mistaken identity:-

    You say various things about identity cards in your November editorial. Not
    all of them are borne out by experience, not even by the examples you give.

    For instance, there is indeed a valid argument from expense against them. What
    counts is not the fact that a universal card would be cheaper than a
    multiplicity; the costs we now face are sunk costs, and a new universal card
    would impose new and additional costs.

    As for risks of being on a central registry being “fantasy and paranoia”, even
    the limited system we now have has already presented me personally with a real
    and continuing burden. As I am one of the unexpectedly frequent victims of
    faulty data matching, I have a continuing struggle to prevent being linked to
    other people of the same name and date of birth. To say that errors “can be
    dealt with easily enough”, that is not so even now. That is, they can be dealt
    with but not easily; after two years I found that I had not received driving
    licence correspondence as it had been sent to Koo Wee Rup. As, when and if
    there is a universal system, far from these independent checks being as
    convenient the errors that creep in will be locked in; any “check” will simply
    be referred back to the central registry which will accurately if spuriously
    return the false information it holds. If on immigrating I found it hard
    enough to get a Tax File Number on the grounds that I already had one and
    lived in Gippsland, what would happen to people in my predicament in the
    future? The worst that has happened to me so far was being given a difficult
    deadline to challenge a Social Security penalty some years ago, with a contact
    address for an office that was in the process of closing, when one of my alter
    egos had left the country without my (naturally) telling the government. At
    least it is unlikely that I will face the fate of the person who was recently
    deported because of mistaken identity (page 6 of the Australian of 4.12.01), but if that ever happened to
    anyone just how easily could it be challenged? It was sheer luck that brought
    that case to light.

    And that is just an example of what can happen to individuals when mistakes
    are made. It cannot be measured by any aggregate, as those tests simply slide
    over the problem. How much worse could they get if, indeed, there ever were
    bad faith at any level, whether institutional or from the misbehaviour of some
    individual? Both possibilities exist, with the latter being realistic if we
    can judge from recent court cases against a former ATO officer.

    No, in this matter, as in matters of constitutional change, I prefer Henry Ford’s design philosophy: when asked why his cars
    did not have a certain common feature, he replied that if he didn’t put one in
    it couldn’t break and it couldn’t fall off. And, he might have added, the
    savings in money, space, and weight could be devoted to the other parts. In
    the days when automotive matters were untried, unproven, and often erratic,
    this was a sound principle whatever the advantages of the feature. Since –
    contrary to your position, and as I have found from my own direct experience –
    we do have serious defects in our existing identification approaches,
    I submit that this is the line we should take here.

  15. observa
    July 25th, 2005 at 10:29 | #15

    All this talk about ID is making me feel a bit low doc!
    http://ato.gov.au/corporate/content.asp?doc=/content/61711.htm

  16. Darryl Rosin
    July 26th, 2005 at 09:13 | #16

    I’ve not given this a lot of thought either, beyond shaking my head at various assertions I read in the newspaper.

    An ID card is about authentication, providing confirmation that this person I am meeting is the same person who did some other activity in the past.

    Unfortunately, the security problem is that we don’t know who the bad guys are. How would an ID card have prevented any of the recent London events? What about Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City? All of the Sept 11 hijackers had legally entered North America and would almost certainly have had the right documentation to board their planes. This is not a problem solved by an ID card.

    I think a new card would be a waste of time and effort, but if we must have a “compulsory” national ID, why not just give give everyone a passport?

    The main issues in my mind revolve around what happens when someone can not or will not show their card? Will the system be designed to permit identification using *only* biometrics in the absence of the card? If so, under what circumstances will it be permitted to identify people without their consent?

    If, as Ros suggests, the card will contain an RFID chip readable at a distance, then it will be readable by anyone with the right equipment – third parties would not be able to access the government info system that underlies the card, but they could verify that a particular card was in the possession of the person who purchased products X, Y and Z at checkout 12 the day before yesterday.

    This approach also suggests that criminals will be able to identify card-holding Australians in a crowd of foreigners. I’m not sure that’s a desirable security outcome.

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