A card for all reasons

As governments around the world rush to create national identity schemes and to roll out national identity cards I wondered about the idea of “one card in your wallet”.

I recently went on a cub-scout campng trip with my 9 year old son. After the first day’s watersports activities, when the children were all “asleep in their tents” – yeah right – and us Dads were enjoying our “Cheese and Wine Evening” (I do enjoy cub-scout euphemisms), the topic of the national identity card came up. I thought I’d conduct a small poll  of the assembled fathers – guys from all different backgrounds. A few techies like me, salespeople, insurance, air-conditioning, heavy engineering, builders, a food-designer (well, chemist really), project managers, fat, thin, small, tall, old, young, grey-on-top, hair-on-his-hair – a whole cross-section of life. I asked how many of them  would be happy to keep their wallet full of cards as it stands at the moment,  or to have it replaced by a single national identity card which would have all the necessary applications and data loaded on to it to perform the function of every card in their wallet.

Not quite unanimous, but almost total agreement with the idea that one card is better than many. But as the conversation went on, many decided to change their minds. There then followed a lot of “it depends” and “who is in charge of the system” and quite a lot of “what if I lost the card?”. A healthy debate on the trustworthiness of the government was the inevitable outcome. We split in to different camps (and as we were camping, that was right and proper). The “what about the audit trail?” camp. Dads worried about inferences the security services could make about the audit trail we leave behind us as we use the card for different reasons. Concerns that under current legislation, they have the right to lock you away for ever without trial if you are suspected. Could an innocent audit trail lead to  unfounded suspicion? Unanimous agreement that it was unlikely – but what if it did happen. to You? There was definite unease in this campabout the idea.

The other camp was the “If I’ve got nothing to hide, I don’t need to worry”. They had faith that nothing like that could ever go wrong and thateven if it did, a few innocent people are sacrificed for the greater good of the many – a small price to pay for being able to monitor people. It increases our safety.

The final camp was the “how much of my other data am I revealing to unauthorised parties when I put the card in a card reader”. They didn’t like the idea that a hacker might modify a terminal and you’d think you’re in the off-license buying a bottle of wine when in fact the reader is extracting your life from the card. The idea that you’d typed your PIN in and authorised the machine to get at your data.

There were about 30 Dads there. There were approximately 10 people in each camp. Some people were in 2 camps at the same time. But overall, the idea of a single card to do everything in your life was not thought to be a good thing. It seemed to give control to the card issuer (the government) and they were tired of the amount of control  and surveillance the government is gradually getting over our lives at the moment.

That got us on to the topic of speed cameras and CCTV cameras. An interesting observation from Dads who had had a credit card stolen and used (in the days before PINs I guess). They could tie up the time of the purchase with the location. Why were the police not interested in using in-store CCTV footage to catch the “real  criminals”, but they oh so very interested in the footage of you breaking the 60 limit on the M25… A general sense that the more “criminal” you are, the less interested in catching you the police are…

 We then planned a fantastic £multi-million bank robbery, but we were too drunk to pull it off by then. And despite the fact that the police would never be interested in investigating it because it’s not a motoring offence, it’s a criminal offence – most of the Dads declined to “do the job” because it’s illegal…


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