I is for ID Card

Peter Beattie and John Howard seem to be boosting the idea of a national ID card with the enthusiasm the major parties often seem to have (when they are in government) of giving governments more power.

The Democrats – under Janine Haines’ leadership – were crucial in stopping a national ID Card being introduced in Australia back in 1987. This doesn’t mean the idea shouldn’t be considered again, but personally I’d need some convincing.

Giving more information and potential power to Govt officials strikes me as dangerous unless we have better safeguards for citizens (and others). A Bill of Rights is the perfect vehicle to attempt to provide those protections and if Peter Beattie was to commit Queensland to something like this (as has been done in the ACT), I would feel a bit more reassured with his enthusiasm.

A Senate Committee inquiry, initiated by the Democrats, has just produced a report which shows some of the existing shortcomings with our national privacy laws. These would definitely need to be fixed too before we consider an ID card.

I am also very uneasy that the issue is being raised in part as a suggested weapon in the so-called ‘war on terror’. As was stated in this article, the London bombers could have got visas to enter Australia “in about 30 seconds”. ID cards can do nothing to address this. Nor would a UK identity card have helped them. Their identity was not the problem. Using the ‘war on terror’ seems to be a guise for the Government to give itself more power without accompanying it with proper controls and safeguards on how that power is used.

Having said all that, it is worth having a debate on this, as long as it is an informed one, rather than a simplistic measure put forward under the ‘war on terror’ pretext. We already have huge amounts of personal identifying information spread all over government departments. A more unified national mechanism could make the undoubted ‘public good’ aspects of having such data more effective. It might also make it easier to detect abuse and misuse of that information if it was centralised. Of course, it could also make that misuse and abuse much easier too.

Michelle Grattan takes a reasonably measured approach to the issue and comes down broadly in favour of it. I found a very useful outline (with further links) of some of the factual issues that have to be considered in any realistic discussion of an ID card at this site – http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-0112.html – which I got through an internal Democrat discussion list.

If you want to revisit what the original Australia Card was all about, this paper by Roger Clarke from 1987 gives an outline of its technical details and the origins of the idea. It is interesting to note that an ID Card is being floated today as a possible solution for the problems raised by terrorism and migration issues, while the perceived ‘evils’ it allegedly addressed in 1986/7 were tax and welfare fraud. I found the addendum, which deals with the political endgame, particularly interesting. Despite having previously given an indication that he would not use it as a double dissolution trigger, Prime Minister Hawke found the opportunity offered by the disruption of the mad Joh for PM campaign too big a temptation to resist and used it as an excuse for an early election. As Roger Clarke says, “although it was the ostensible reason for the election, the Prime Minister’s policy speech devoted less than two lines to the Australia Card, and during the entire campaign the major parties barely mentioned it.” There has not been a double dissolution election since then.

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6 Comments

  1. I personally have no problem with a national ID card, in principle. The details are what need to be thrashed out to make sure they arent open to abuse and are impossible to forge.

  2. My answer is no. Not now, not ever. we have enough unique numbers already. Tax numbers, drivers licenses, passports; what else does the government want to track us with?
    This solves no problem. It is just more intrusion, and bureaucratic weight on our lives from big government.

  3. The majority of terrorists are young Muslim males. That is where counter-terrorism should be focused.
    Making everyone get an ID card and harrassing little old ladies for not having ID is inefficient and diverts resources from tackling real threats.

  4. Andrew, when considering appropriate responses to terrorism, one needs to keep an appropriate sense of perspective of the scale of the problem.
    If there was a terrorist attack on the scale of the London bombings in Australia each and every year, you’d still be more likely to be murdered by your spouse than a terrorist. You’d be almost as likely to die in a bicycle accident as in a terrorist attack (there are 35 deaths a year in Australia from bicycle crashes, down from 150 a year back in the 1950’s).
    Terrorism or global warming. Which do you reckon should be occupying government more?

  5. Andrew.
    Thanks for posting this subject and the debate on a National ID Card is just starting but like you, I do have reservations.
    Noting the responses to this issue from those who have taken the time to visit your site, their comments are interesting. However, clearly remembering the original “Australia Card” debate, one could suggest that there is a “hidden agenda” in play by the Federal Government, not only on this issue but in other areas.
    Today on Southern Cross Radio – 2UE and 4BC Brisbane, some interesting discussion on this subject/issue.
    A comment that I heard on radio this afternoon, refers to a Letter to the Editor – “Courier-Mail” of today’s date re the reasons why we fought in both World Wars.

  6. What information does the Australian government want about us that they do not already have, Andrew? And how will the concatenation of information stop people from blowing things up?
    An ID card would not have helped Rau or Alvarez. Rau’s goal was avoiding being taken back to the Manly psych hospital and thus willfully sought not to be identified. Alvarez was suffering from a closed head injury and likely was incapable of providing identity data. The broken culture in DIMIA ensured that anyone they took into custody who was not capable of coming to their own defence would be subject to their whim.
    We have a national healthcare system in Australia. Will my medical records be available to any government agency on ‘the grid?’ Scary.
    Moreover, will not carrying the card at all times constitute an offence? Why not just microchip us?
    How do Australians define freedom? What is reasonable in terms of our expectations to move freely in Australia without government or police interference?
    Like you, Andrew, I also fear that there’s far too much potential for abuse and bureaucratic self-perpetuation in a system of a centralised database and ID cards, against little demonstrable benefit, certainly against terrorism.
    I also agree with you that a Bill of Rights for Australia is long, long overdue.

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