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11 March, 2005

'Nothing to hide, nothing to fear'

NØ2IDThis MSNBC report provides examples of the nature and standard of information collated about private individuals by a major US database agency and sold to companies and government agencies.  Supporters of identity cards should read the article and consider it carefully.

Would you want potential employers to read a purely speculative suggestion that you might have a criminal record, or to be recorded as resident of a house an ex-partner purchased well after the relationship ended? Would you like to be identified on the records of neighbours, and hence be potenially associated with their activities, whatever they might be?

Would you appreciate having no right of reply and no opportunity to correct errors?


Actually, I would think that all-purpose identity cards might prevent many of the problems mentioned in the article. After all, with identity cards, each person would have a unique identifier and it would (should) be impossible for your data to get mixed up with those of someone else with the same name. After all, with ID cards, your name is just another datum, not the identifier.

The problems outlined in the article come about because of "data-mining" - a company goes to the internet and assembles all the information it can find on a particular individual. Because the data miner is probably using the person's name as a primary search criterion, it will find other people with the same name.

As for not being able to make corrections, that is a shortcoming of that particular system. It is not inherent to all information management systems. Of course, any information system like the one described should provide the opportunity for individuals to see their own files and correct errors.

I still don't like the idea of identity cards, but I don't think the particular problems identified in this article are worth worrying about.

Posted by Jon. at March 11, 2005 07:40 PM

I suspect those aggregating the data for identity cards will use the same inadequate techniques. In fact, I think it's likely that the job will be contracted out to precisely this sort of external company. Just because the ID card will have a government logo doesn't mean it'll be the result of more rigorous searches!
You're right that once ID cards (or the database; physical cards are less relevant) exist, there's less opportunity for subsequent errors, but I'm referring to errors in generating the ID database in the first place.

Point taken about errors due to mistaken identity, but the issue of one's data being interlinked with those of neighbours isn't of that type, and it's still an illegitimate usage. In the article, Ms. Pierce says:

"Knowing former addresses and neighbors – assuming such information was correct – would be of obvious utility to law enforcement officials investigating a crime."

I don't think law enforcement officials should have automatic, convenient access to such information. In my opinion, the rights of the individual are paramount, ahead of law enforcement.

I certainly agree that the specific examples are extreme, but my point wasn't really that "this will happen to you" but "this could happen to you" – all the more reason to say 'no' to identity cards.

Posted by NRT at March 11, 2005 08:39 PM
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