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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