Photo ID and False Security

I’ve noticed that more and more people are now asking for photo ID, supposedly for my security. This afternoon it was my apartment complex management, so I could exchange my old ‘X’ key for a new one (they changed the locks last week).

I was told the ID check was needed for my security. The key in question opens a few perimeter gates, the pool gates and the laundry room. The perimeter is not even fully fenced – there is even an open walkway right past the leasing office front door, and a driveway for cars behind it. The few gates that have locks rarely close on their own, so the key is not really needed (I don’t think I’ve used the locked perimeter gates more than a couple of times in the 8 years I’ve been here). If you forget the key, you only have to walk 50 yards to a gate-free entrance. The pool wall is low enough that kids climb over it all the time. That leaves the laundry room… hardly a threat to my security (and often propped open anyway during the day to ventilate it).

It is very interesting to see how many people think that photo ID cards are somehow going to improve security. They are much like the DRM systems being touted by the MPAA and RIAA: all they do is annoy honest people. Those wishing to break the law have about as much problem getting photo IDs as they do bypassing DRM schemes to make copies of a movie or a song. If you don’t believe me, think about this fact: all the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks had first class plane tickets, and valid identification, some of it even issued by US authorities. Likewise, all those involved in the Madrid and London bombings had valid ID. Even more telling, the London terrorists would also have been able to get the proposed (and totally pointless) British National ID Cards. Notice I said valid ID. This was not forged ID; it was real ID, issued by the appropriate authorities.

If anything, having these ID cards will make us less secure for a number of reasons:

  • There will be an assumption that having a valid ID makes you automatically OK. Would you be happy to allow those with the new British ID card to bypass the X-ray scanner at Heathrow?
  • Storing so much information in one place, especially one that will need to be networked so that police and immigration officers can check it, makes it a great target for identity theives. Even more so if the ID is assumed to be correct at all times.
  • While the laws in place today might make it illegal for the government to use the data for anything else, this is no real guarantee for the future. Firstly, the laws themselves can be changed or replaced. Secondly, governments are not immune to breaking laws, or declaring that they are above the law (current telephone surveillance activities in the US being one such example).

I suspect that Blair and Bush will be remembered in history as being the leaders who bowed down to the terrorists and gave away the one thing that made our societies better than theirs will ever be: our freedom. Whether it is introducing pointless ID card schemes, monitoring telephone calls, or even trying to pass religion-motivated laws that victimise some of their citizens, all it does is erode that valuable freedom some more. If this is allowed to continue, it will not be long before we will be no better off than the people in places like Iran and China: restricted in what we can say or do for fear of being branded a supporter of terrorism.

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