The push in Britain for an ID card system residents is a sign of things to come. Not until everyone is named and numbered in a global information network, will political leaders and social engineers rest.
In the context of the London bombings, such an idea will gain momentum. UK PM Tony Blair is leading the charge, saying it is a necessary step in an “unstoppable” global “visa and passport revolution.” The whole project is, of course, of human design and is therefore very stoppable. Nevertheless, hyperbole helps when you’re undertaking something this invasive.
When Australia tried to introduce a common ID system in the 1980s, protest brought the idea to a halt. I went along to the RMIT Storey Hall to hear a parade of anti-ID speakers, Midnight Oil’s Senator Peter Garrett among them. Then we rightly wondered about our right to privacy and security. We feared that far from guaranteeing our identities, the ID system was a potential government surveillance tool.
In Britain, Blair faces similar concerns, with unions, citizen groups and the Opposition lining up. The British Information commissioner warned that UK citizens could be “sleepwalking into a surveillance society.” (As if we aren’t already in one!)
The rationale for an ID system is a predictable if somewhat belated reaction to 9/11. The scarring of that horror has spilled into calls for universal surveillance systems to track global terrorism, immigration rackets and international organised crime. Indeed, a colleague supports something more than a global ID: he wants every Muslim incarcerated until our participation in the “war on terrorism” is over. He says we put Germans and Japanese into camps during the world war, but we have, in this present war, no safeguards against Islamic terrorists. Better to be safe than sorry, he says. Perhaps, but given our entrenched “multiculturalism,” I doubt his proposal will meet with parliamentary approval. While we rightly condemn the episodic and even endemic eruption of these terrifying phenomena, we are also slow to hand over our personhood to the protection of government databases that are themselves vulnerable to piracy by hackers.
Hacking is in itself a form of terrorism that can only survive on the information available to it. Fill a computer with data and it becomes hackable; give the computer nothing and hacking becomes redundant.
One of the most virulent forms of hacking concerns identity theft or identity fraud. Terrorists know this too. What security will we have against security-related, terrorist-planned, data-access violations let alone mindless hackers doing it for the sake of doing it?
In the Pacific, a biometric universal ID system may yet be rolled out. To be tried first among our seamen, biometric ID works by electronically passporting an individual’s fingerprint, eyeprint or facialprint. If this case-experiment among our international seagoing, Pacific workforce succeeds, the idea is to then extend the system until all of us are accounted for.
If such a move is as irresistible as Blair thinks, the debate will then be about what information is going to be electronically stored. In this aspect minimalists (like me), who will want only basic data stored, will line up against security-conscious maximalists, who will want ID systems for everything. I suspect that the choice will ultimately be made by our governments and the technocrats who increasingly rule our lives. But if democracy is to continue to mean something, it will behoove us to ensure we are adequately informed about our rights in this and positioned to determine what it is that we want to know about others and what we think they should know about us.
Christians have historically been champions of human rights, liberalism and individualism. We concede that a global ID system is one way fight the anarchy of terrorism, but we know there are other more heart-driven, longer-lasting, more benign methods in our arsenal—ones that won’t risk global tyranny of another kind. In this regard, whatever our stand, we’re duty-bound to meet evil with good.