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.