I might carry an ID card. I might carry one that said something like: “the bearer has proven, to the satisfaction of somebody accountable, that he is the person he says he is”. I might even carry one that contained some kind of biometric fingerprint so that nobody else could use it and pretend to be me. What I won’t carry (up to a point, I suppose – I’m not going to prison or anything) is an ID card backed by a big ugly database bulging with superfluous information about me (and everyone else, of course…).
I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that a useful ID card scheme doesn’t actually need a database – just a simple way of ensuring that card numbers are unique. Governments, though, don’t seem to be able to resist the idea of building proper databases, full of information.
These politicians, who – don’t forget – belong to a generation that never encountered a computer at school or even at work, apparently retain intact their 1960s spy thriller vision of spinning tapes, chattering teletypes and infallible electronic brains, sifting and matching data to magically pinpoint wrongdoing on any continent. They just can’t stand the idea of an empty database. I say ‘governments’ because I don’t believe for a minute that Cameron’s Tories would be able to resist the allure of hoarding your personal data for more than one-tenth of a parliamentary term either.
What I’d like to see (fat chance) is a government with the courage to say: “hey. Why don’t we try not warehousing personal data? Why don’t we see if we can acquire some competitive advantage from being the developed economy that decides not to waste billions accumulating and analysing this dumb data? Hey. Crazy thought: why don’t we try actually listening to the swarm of super-intelligent geeks who keep telling us we could do without ID cards?”
As a first step we could push through a genuinely voluntary ID card scheme that stores nothing centrally. It will work: it will prevent identity theft and provide a convenient, personal ID for your next trip to Threshers or the library and it will minimise the risk of yet another giant multi-billion pound public computing cock-up. Like I said, fat chance.