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Identity Crisis

Wired has an article on how to have a national ID card that doesn’t threaten civil liberties.

The truth is, any identification system is inherently neutral; it can either respect privacy or threaten it. But this distinction was lost in the noise until last fall, when media mogul Steven Brill promised a middle way: a volunteer ID card that, he says, would protect both privacy and security. His company, Verified Identity, hopes to have cards and turnstiles in place by February.

…a privacy-friendly card is feasible if it follows one simple rule: verification, not identification. In other words, the card would confirm identity but wouldn’t allow the government to pick you out of a crowd. There’s a model: In 1995, Canadian entrepreneur George Tomko invented an innovative technology that made it possible to lock packets of data in encrypted files, using a fingerprint as a private key. After clearing a background check, the users of a Tomko-like card would receive a digitized packet of information that said, for example, they were cleared to cross a particular border. They’d download the parcel onto a card and lock it with a thumbprint.

Read the whole thing. The most relevant, in my opinion, is the conclusion of the article that says that according to Steven Brill the pressure for ID cards will be overwhelming after the next attack, so a well-designed one is better than a desperate one. It is not entirely without merit to say that rather than fixating on whether ID cards threaten privacy, civil libertarians and techno-positivists should explore security measures that might actually thwart terrorism. This might take the wind off the governments’ sail to introduce feel-good solutions that are invasive, threaten privacy and are ultimately less safe.

3 comments to Identity Crisis

  • I think there is always going to be a conflict between civil liberties and preventing terrorism. I wouldn’t want people to be allowed to walk onto planes without anyone being searched unless they wanted to be searched, for example. If ID cards are used for good purposes, I can’t see a problem with that: of course, we don’t trust governments to do that flawlessly, and they won’t do it flawlessly. But I think national security depends on having someone in charge of one’s nation.

  • Mark Ellott

    Unfortunately, the people who put themselves forward demonstrate by doing so that they are the least suitable for the job…

  • Gabriel Syme

    Alice, would you do me a favour and tell me what you think about the central argument of WR that says that there is no inherent conflict between civil liberties and terrorism. Of course, you must step out of the statist framework first. The argument is in the left hand top corner of this blog. http://whiterose.samizdata.net/wr_argument.html