In the interests of balance…

Given that I’ve posted a couple of times about Alan Johnson’s recent ID cards announcement, it’s only fair to point you to his piece on the Guardian site today. It certainly refutes any allegation of a U-turn in one respect; the opening sentence is one we’ve seen from every Home Secretary since the Scheme was conceived:

“Our identity, the information that makes us unique, is something that we get called upon to prove each day, when we are opening a bank account, renting a flat, proving our right to work.”

Please, Alan, can I stop you there? Two counter-examples to this assertion:

1 – 2/7/2009: Went to local chartered accountant to see if they would be a good firm to do the books for Future Identity. Needed to provide proof of identity for anti money-laundering compliance (compliance on his part, that is… I have no idea if he’s a money-launderer…). No problem. One passport (already got one), one page of bank statement. Job done.

2 – 1/7/2009: Went to Houses of Parliament to attend Privacy APPG meeting. No need to prove identity. Their priorities are:

  1. have you got anything dangerous in your briefcase/briefs, and
  2. do you know the number of a room in the Palace of Westminster?

Having satisfied themselves on those two points, they let me straight in.

OK; in the first instance, I needed to prove my identity, but had no difficulty doing so without an ID card – and I could have presented my driving licence or either of a couple of other photo IDs I already possess. Net value-add of ID card: zero.

In the second case I didn’t need to prove my identity at all, despite wanting to gain access to one of the most protected buildings in the country. I had to indicate my entitlement (and that only in the vaguest possible terms), and that I did not present a threat. Net value-add of ID card: zero.

Of course, these two examples are entirely unfair and un-representative. Normal passport use aside, it is extremely rare that I have to prove my identity at all. The last 36 hours have just been most uncommon in that regard.

Now, there may indeed be people who daily apply for a new bank account, flat, job or passport. My advice to the Home Secretary is… those are the buggers you want to keep an eye on.

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4 thoughts on “In the interests of balance…

  1. Atis says:

    Well, he's probably wrong when he says "daily". Actually it hapends much rare. but happends. And sometimes you can't foreseen when you have to prove your identity. Passport works well, of course. But nowdays it's more travelling document (plus ID, of course). To cary credit card-format ID on daily basis is much more handy than passport. In many countries drivers licence is used as 'de facto' ID. But not all have them. What i see as "net value-add" to ID card is when it can be used nstead of lot of other cards – like student card, library card and so on – i.e. when ID can be used notonly as tool to identify you as a person but also (at the same time) your role and rights/authorisation.Another added value can be electronic signature that can be also used as authentication tool in computer systems (e-services, internet banks and so on). Then it becomes a "real" and "virtual" ID and passport is needed only when you travel outside EU.

  2. Robin Wilton says:

    Thanks Atis.. you're right; real occasions of need to prove identity are much rarer than 'daily'… but that's been the message the policymakers have been putting out for several years now, which is a shame.Concerning library/student access: I would question whether those actually require proof of identity at all. If you look at the extensive use of Shibboleth in the education community, the principle they operate is precisely that a student does *not* need to prove identity: he/she needs to prove the attribute "is a student". Similarly for a library: they don't need to know who I am, just that I'm a member of the faculty (or library) in question. Sure, at some point they need to know how many books I have taken out – but an ID card can't tell them that.

  3. Atis says:

    Yes,i agree that in cases i mentioned *theoretically* all you have to prove is that you qualify (for atending library, nightclub ar buying alco & cigarettes). But usualy you still have photo and name on your card along other data. And at the same time you have to prove *you* are the *student* with certain rights. Though your name theoretically is of no importance in this case (but poto on student card and student card itself is).ID card don't store data about how many books you borrowed (hough it could – if it's chipped). But ID (well here it don't have to be exactly "the ID card") could be a link between you and records in library's database.At the same time i acknowledge that here are risks of having "all-in-one" card. Mainly because of possibility of misuse of data on/in the card (especially if card stores sensitve data on chip or grants access to your data in databases).

  4. Atis says:

    Ah, i just wanted to mention that i wan't to abstract from politics arround ID cards and article You mentioned. I'm interested in theoretiacal and practical use of ID cards (not exactly ones in UK but taking this issue broader).

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