Identity Politics

It seems like a very long time ago, but it was actually only last July that the Labor Premier of my home state, Peter Beattie, and our ‘Liberal’ Prime Minister both raised the possibility of a national ID card in Australia. I’m sure this was mainly brought up as a bit of a diversion, and it has since sunk into the background again. However, I expect it will be raised again at some stage next year.

One of the reasons I think the issue will reappear in Australia is because it is currently being seriously pursued in the UK. This post on the site of Peter Black, a Welsh Liberal Democrat MP, gives a good outline of where things are currently at in the Parliamentary battle on the matter. Peter Black was one of the first politicians to take up blogging in a serious, ongoing way and his sites are well worth looking at.

The Democrats in Australia have always had a strong pro-privacy approach, going back to the days of Janine Haines. Natasha Stott Despoja has been pushing these issues most strongly in the Democrats (and indeed in the whole Parliament) in recent years. Personally, I’m probably a bit more willing than most Democrats to consider less stringent personal privacy arrangements if a convincing argument can be made that there are clear public benefits in doing so. I was willing to look at an ID Card in this light, but I’d have to say that the more I look at it, the more I find it hard to see genuine benefits to the public. It seems like another of those things that enables governments to look like they’re doing something, but will actually be enormously expensive and prone to abuse, yet of minimal public benefit. The Australian Privacy Foundation provides a good compilation of information on what a national identity scheme would entail. As they say, “it’s not just about a card, and it’s not just about a database”.

For what it’s worth, I made this topic the subject of a web poll on my old site. Web polls are of course completely unrepresentative. However, if they aren’t misrepresented as being more than they are, they have some modest utility, especially if they also allow people to leave comments. Of the 600 people who (a) looked at my site, (b) scrolled down far enough to see the poll, and (c) could be bothered voting, there was a pretty strong opposition, although it was still less than 40% who described themselves as opposed outright.

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  1. I was one of those 40% who posed strong opposition… I think. I’m certainly opposed. Being a technically-minded person, I know that a compulsary all-purpose ID could never be effectively developed. Even if it could, I don’t believe it would offer any of the benefits which the government claims and it is, of course, wide open to abuse at several levels. The article is dead right.
    Just my thoughts there.
    PS like the news site; calling it “the Bartlett diaries” cracked me up

  2. I think it largely depends on the applications of any proposed card and the facilities it would office. I’m not sure that the current scenario (separate state driver’s licenses as the nation’s default identification currency) is the most sensible and useful solution.

  3. Well, I just wrote a fairly extensive comment on the poll comment page, so I won’t repeat it here.

    However, I would like to reply to Guy’s comment by saying that I disagree. I think that using state drivers licences is fine. I have never had a problem using my drivers licence as ID in any state or territory, and it is even accepted as official ID to get on domestic flights.

    I haven’t studied this issue in detail, but, unless there are huge numbers of forgeries of state licences (again, I don’t know) that we can prove would be more likely to be caught under a national identity card system, I don’t really see the point in spending all that time, money and hassle on the change.

    If we really want to ensure the peace of mind of Australians, we should retain the no disadvantage provision of AWAs. That would be a fraction of the cost to run and make a much bigger difference in people’s lives.

    Just my 2c

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  5. For some reason I thought an ID card was a given.

    Isn’t the government looking at some sort of smart card to replace the Medicare card? And isn’t that an ID card by stealth because just about everyone has a Medicare card or is on one, whereas not everyone drives.

    Or have I got my wires crossed somewhere?

  6. Lucy, drivers licenses may work fine as a de facto form of ID, but then there are quite a number of people out there who don’t drive (e.g. young people, people who have had their licenses revoked, people who choose not to drive, handicapped people, elderly people, etc. etc).

    I think there is a case for a single nation-wide form of identification on that basis. I’m not sure maintaining six or seven different systems is optimal, particularly given that many people for one reason or another can not or don’t use drivers licenses as a form of ID. Of course, there are many detailed considerations that would have to be taken into account in order to ensure that such a system could not be misused.

  7. Yup. Wires crossed.

    If I’m a government body, and I give a service, I can make that service conditional on you having a card. Or more accurately you have a record with me, the card carries the record number.

    Don’t want the service, dont take the card. But more to the point, no-one has any business using the card for other things than that service. That government agency should not share information off that account with other agencies, according to the National Privacy Principles.

    With an identity card, there is no service. Instead certain folks are empowered by statute to be able to require the production of the card under certain circumstances.

  8. the drivers licence is a no brainer,we have tax file numbers that are just as good as any id card and we all have a medicare card,we do not need to spend millions more on this toy ,if there is millions to spare then spend it on the future of the country ,education

  9. The question is WHY we need ID as much as anything. Most common use for ID? Proof of age. That doesn’t actually require anyone to know your name or address – it’s no less useful to issue a photo proof-of-age card with no name, or at least no address. Until the correct distinctions are made – for example, proving identity against proving age – asking if an ID card is necessary is basing the question on a false premise.

  10. How about making the government give us free passports instead? At the moment they charge you $179 for 32 pages. We could combine the two.

    As others have pointed out, it’s all smoke and mirrors anyway. Almost everyone has a drivers license, passport, tax file number etc. So in theory “they” know everything about you anyway. The correct progressive response to all such proposals is “If there’s a practical application for this let’s do it, but we need a bill of rights first to make sure it’s not abused some time in the future.”

  11. I agree with the general theme of the practical implementations being too costly and difficult. If it were put into action however I think, and we see in many other countries such as Spain, that it’s uses would broaden and it would become an internal passport, bank authorisation, etc. In New Zealand for instance it was proposed that any card brought into effect might even have a geographical movement tracer. Seriously 1984.

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