TECH TALK: The UK government is again looking at introducing identity cards, writes BILL MAGEE
Identity cards are like Marmite, donor kebabs and Donald Trump. You either love ’em or hate ’em. But one thing is clear: Brits are just not wired up towards sharing their personal information willy-nilly. As an island we appear strongly resistant to their compulsory introduction. Why is the ID card such a contentious issue?
Data privacy is certainly a hot topic. Just ask Amazon, hit last week with a record £638 million fine for breaching the EU’s digital privacy legislation, GDPR, which sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal data of individuals.
The UK has entertained the notion of a card of sorts but as a temporary measure and in emergency situations. We did so to pay for a Middle Ages war, as a church tithe and an anti-spy measure during the two 20th century World Wars. A decade ago, a compulsory scheme almost made it to Royal Assent but was scrapped by the UK Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition.
The current government seems undeterred by such apparent concentrated reluctance. It is picking up on an ever-increasing digitisation of our lives and plans an ID card of sorts, placing it on the same legal footing as passports and driving licences but outsourcing our digital lives to an unknown number of private companies.
These separate databases will have a handle on our highly sensitive personal information and track our movements, all feeding into one giant centralised governmental database. Whitehall argues such a move increases personal privacy, making it harder for fraudsters to access data and giving everyone confidence they are in safe hands.
The Commons all-party science and technology committee thinks otherwise, calling on a national debate to ensure transparency.
Scottish Privacy Forum warns individuals already have “limited opportunities” to control ever-growing invasive data collection. The independent body of senior academics and policymakers is calling for a better understanding of ethics, impact and consequences behind such a proliferation.
Critics claim the digital route is just an excuse to lock us all into a further layer of bureaucratic control. Take the government’s planned ‘General Practice Data Planning and Research programme’ for the NHS. Health website medConfidential describes as “disturbing” the likelihood of extraction and passing on of personal medical data.
London School of Economics associate professor / reader Edgar Whitley, says: “The private sector wants to get market share, get access to consumer data, become the monopoly provider”. He told wired.co.uk many of the government ideas about digital IDs have come from the private sector.
Such companies operate in a siloed fashion, gathering information in real-time by using a daunting array of “Big Data” interconnected sensors, tracking devices and access controls.
Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff says such organisations use personal data to predict, influence even modify our behaviour.
However, something’s got to give. There are not nearly enough qualified professionals to run the government’s show. Figures from computerworld.com reveal as many as 100,000 such unfilled jobs in the UK marketplace by 2022.
UK data protection laws have tended to be introduced by consensus in conjunction with EU legislation but publictechnology.net warns against a prioritisation of authorities’ access to personal data over citizens’ right to privacy.
London is listed third in the world’s top ten of most CCTV cameras per 1,000 inhabitants (the other nine all being in China), according to Calder Security. Add the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, nicknamed the “snooper’s charter”.
Some say the ID card is a visible symbol of a Brexit Britain that’s increasingly turning into a surveillance state.
Others say it is just another personal identification like the driving licence, or young person’s accredited PASS card, to ensure a good night out (with or without kebab).
What can be the harm of an ID card for the Internet Age? Answers on a cyber-postcard.