Undead ID cards

ID cards aren’t dead, they’ve just been privatised.

The main feature of welfare reform is replacing a host of benefits with Universal Credit. Not only will those on out-of-work benefits have to switch, but also those on in-work benefits like Housing Benefit and Tax Credits. The DWP want everyone to apply for and update Universal Credit over the internet and part of that is proving your identity through a third party service.

“The identity registration service will enable benefit claimants to choose who will validate their identity by automatically checking their authenticity with the provider before processing online benefit claims.”

The DWP have today announced their choice of commercial providers of this identity service. You get to choose from The Post Office, Cassidian, Digidentity, Experian, Ingeus, Mydex, and Verizon but if you want Universal Credit then you have to do it.

Even more worryingly, the DWP press release states

“The online Identity Assurance model will be incorporated into Universal Credit as it’s developed and rolled-out. Over time Identity Assurance will become available to all UK citizens who need to access online public services.”

The intention is obvious; when all government services require Identity Assurance everyone in the country will have to sign up. A cynical view would be that by starting with benefit claimants who have no choice the scheme gains momentum before other people can object. The “ID card” may be virtual only, but the lack of a physical card doesn’t change the problems inherent in an identity database.

13 November 2012 – Providers announced for online identity scheme [DWP press release]

National ‘virtual ID card’ scheme set for launch (Is there anything that could possibly go wrong?) [The Independent]

Nothing to hide? I pity you.

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

If there is anything that you need to fear, then that famous statement is it. Everyone has something to hide. For a start, people want to hide financial and security information. Their bank balance, salary and passwords. People want to hide embarrasing things about themselves, such as personality traits, sexual preferences (and not just gay or straight) and their body. People want to hide little habits that are perfectly innocuous but make sense only to themselves. People want to hide their hidden insecurities, their weaknesses and their flaws. People want to hide secrets that have been told to them in confidence. How often have you asked someone “Can you keep a secret?”

People want to hide things just because it’s none of anyone else’s business.

Think about passing through an airport. The security guard picks you to search. How do you feel as he goes through your bag? As he touches your toiletries, handles your underwear, looks through the book you are reading. Do you feel happy? Comfortable? Or, more likely, slightly embarrassed and resigned to it happening? Worse, you might be selected for a pat-down, or if you’re in America and really unlucky, one of the new TSA open-handed pat-downs.

The truth is, we have everything to hide. Take the aftermath of the case of Paul Chambers and his famous tweet about an airport. Now that it has been found ‘menacing’ by a judge, I catch myself thinking every time I write anything, could this be misinterpreted? Could some bureaucrat see this and decide to question me on it? My friends and I have little joke conversations about taking over the world. About blowing things up. About getting revenge of some kind. And that’s all they are. Jokes. But now there is the risk that I will have to explain those conversations to some government official that just doesn’t get it. It’s not their fault, their mind is just not on the same wavelength as me and my friends, but the result could be that they decide we really are planning to install an evil overlord with a white fluffy cat and sharks with frikken laser beams and hold the world to ransom until they promise to stop being stupid. And that, I really don’t want to have to explain to the police. (Clever me, putting all this on a blog post, eh?)

The famous “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is insidious. It opens the way for gentle intrusions in to our privacy in the name of protecting us from the bad people. But it leaves us at the top of a treacherous slope and the climb back is not easy. Once we give away our right to privacy we live in a different world, once every bit as bad as any totalitarian state that you might have read about or seen in films.