Dead Men Left

Saturday, December 11, 2004

ID cards: some vague thoughts

It's out there all over the place, but I found it first via Alister: this is a nightmarish vision of a Britain with ID cards:

Operator: "Thank you for calling Domino's. May I have your national ID number?"

Customer: "I'd like to place an order."

Operator: "I must have your NIDN first, sir?"

Customer: "My National ID Number. Erm, haud on, it's 6102049998-45-54610."

Operator: "Thank you, Mr. Smith. I see you live at 1449 Great Western Road, and the phone number's 494-2366. Your office number at Lincoln Insurance is 745-2302, and your mobile number's 266-2566. Email address is Which number are you calling from, sir?"

Customer: "Eh? I'm at home. Where did ye get all this information?"

Operator: "We're wired into the NSD, sir."

Customer: "The NSD, what is that?"

Operator: "We're wired into the National Security Database, sir. This will add only 15 seconds to your ordering time".

...and so on. The dialogue ends with our unhappy Scots pizza fan being denied his doughy nourishment. I have to confess that I'm not convinced. I can't believe, for instance, that a pizza firm would go so far as to talk you out of buying their products on health grounds, as Dominos do here. I know it's only a small, silly thing, but its popularity does suggest it picks up on widespread fear: that of an interfering, nanny state seeking to mould its citizens into a more orderly shape, even to the extent of trampling on private business. Classic, creeping, state-led totalitarianism, under the guise of well-meaning concern; The Road to Serfdom cleared ahead of us.

I don't think, however, that this scenario is the one to worry about. Of far more concern - if we're into the paranoid projection mode - is the way a centralised data resource like the ID card could be used by private concerns: to promote more consumption, not less, through targeting individuals. The mass consumption society detailed in No Logo, freed from its constraints and swollen to encompass every particular aspect of our lives presents a far more threatening and insidious form of control. The libertarian-led critiques of the all-powerful state, however relevant they may once have been, pale beside the plausible, unintented consequences of an information-saturated free market.

Many libertarians do oppose ID cards, on roughly those grounds. Inspired by the philosopher Robert Nozick, who wrote of us possessing ourselves, our faculties and our skills as our own "private property", the introduction of compulsory ID cards could be represented as the nationalisation of identity - a further step down the road to state-driven tyranny.

All of which is a long way round of saying how strange it was to be discussing direct action and civil disobedience with paid-up members of the Tory Party, following the successful No2ID meeting in Brixton. (To be quite honest, I'd always had libertarians down as Tories with pony-tails, young fogeys cack-handedly trying to look cool, but this lot were a little more serious than student union poseurs.) I don't view libertarianism as the grounds on which to build a mass campaign against Blunkett's ID proposals, though the truth is that it sums up many people's gut reactions to the scheme: I don't want to carry a bloody ID card, it feels intrusive, and there's no reason to rationalise my feelings beyond that. Even the rhetoric of the "security", with ID cards functioning as the political bridge between ASBOs and terrorism, is not enough to overwhelm that gut reaction. Coupled with the already appreciable effects of police harrasment for young black and Asian Britons - stop and searches increasing 300% for British Asians in the last 18 months - and you can see a powerful coalition forming in opposition to the scheme.