*******ID Cards - a World View
by Nathan Allonby
Global Research, August 31, 2009
Understandably, campaigns against the introduction of ID cards have tended to play up the problems with ID systems, presenting them as being unworkable and creating unmanageable problems with privacy invasion, fraud, unauthorised database access, organised crime, reliability of biometric recognition, etc.. As a result, a substantial number of people believe mandatory ID cards ‘just won’t happen’.
It’s long past time to stop burying our heads in the sand. There are no obstacles to the worldwide introduction of mandatory, electronic ID cards.
All those problems with ID systems may be real, but they are not enough to stop implementation, primarily because these are problems that will affect people as individuals, not their governments - our problem, not theirs.
There has been hardly any meaningful debate about one of the biggest issues of our time. Most ordinary people don’t like the idea, but project goes ahead anyway.
It’s also time to look at what ID systems are really intended to do, not the public justification. Since governments probably always knew that ID cards wouldn’t stop terrorism, organised crime, ID theft, fraud, etc., there has to be some other reason for their introduction - and it appears to be a reason that governments don‘t want to own up to, in public.
A Coordinated International ID Agenda?
Perhaps we can learn more if we look at what is going on around the world.
Interestingly, nobody seems to have published a comprehensive or reliable survey of world ID schemes, so a survey had to compiled for this article (see table as appendix). This survey has necessarily been fairly brief and incomplete - it is not easy to find good data sources about every nation, so apologies for any inaccuracies, misclassification of certain nations and complete omission of lots more. (If anyone has any links to published data, that would close the gaps, please could they send these as ‘comments’).
For example, on 25 June 2009, India announced that it was pressing ahead with universal biometric ID cards, to be completed by 2011 - to register nearly 1.2 billion people within just 18 months.
One of the few places that definitely isn't introducing smart ID cards is Myanmar (Burma), because they are getting along fine with their present ID card - apparently it is efficient enough for the repression they have in hand. The UN tried to convince them to upgrade their cards, but they wouldn't do it.
There are grey areas, for example, in some states there are biometric ID cards for voter registration, which aren't officially national ID cards, but nonetheless have registered the population, e.g. in Mozambique and Zambia. ‘Election cards’ tend to become national ID cards, immediately after the election, as in Haiti. (How did introducing ID cards get linked to ‘bringing in democracy‘?)
USA would probably come in the grey area, due to the uncertainty (deliberately not clarified) about the REAL ID Act, Canada, due to proposals for biometric ‘enhanced drivers licenses’, Australia, due to the uncertain status of the ‘Access Card’.
Any uncertainty gets put into perspective by the ‘big picture’ - ID cards are coming, almost everywhere.
The role of the IMF and international bodies?
The simultaneous introduction of very similar ID card systems in so many nations seems like more than a coincidence. If this was purely a matter of nations taking their own initiative to upgrade systems, it would happen over a longer timetable, as nations periodically updated systems, once every couple of decades. Does this timetable indicate unseen international pressure applied to nations, to adopt ID cards?
In the process of researching the list, something interesting came out - the plans to introduce a national ID card system in Uganda were announced in a memorandum of understanding sent to the IMF ('Letter of Intent, Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies, and Technical Memorandum of Understanding'). The impression is, the IMF were involved in the decision long before the people of Uganda were consulted about their national ID card scheme.
Again and again, in the public description of the alleged benefits of biometric ID systems, the reasons given include the benefit to the banking system, in preventing fraud, and allowing the poor to have access to the banking system. Several nations (e.g. India) have mentioned the need to confirm that aid gets to intended recipients, and not lost in fraud - again, something which a body such as the IMF might see as a justifiable reason to promote or require biometric ID. Other people would see this as a mere pretext for ‘policy laundering’.
In a different example of Western promotion, the EU has financially sponsored the introduction of biometric ID cards in the D.R. of Congo, allegedly to help promote peace, by tracking down ex-soldiers and ex-fighters. A similar logic has been applied to a biometric scheme in Somalia.
Grotesquely, biometric ID cards are coming to Rwanda. ID cards were a major tool in the genocide in Rwanda. Imagine how much more effective the genocide could have been with a computerised population register, and an ID system with biometrics, to prevent fraud or evasion. Rwanda is an horrific illustration of how lethal ID cards can be, in a nation in civil war, and raises uncomfortable questions about Western involvement, as does Congo.
US, UK and EU
The worldwide introduction of ID cards is merely the visible witness of an invisible process. Policies that profoundly affect our lives and take away our freedoms are worked out in secret international deals.
In July 2005, during its six month rotation as Presidency of the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom introduced a proposal for biometric ID cards for the EU, despite there being no power to do so under the treaties of the EU at that time. Legalities being no obstacle, this subsequently evolved into binding EU policy, in the Hague programme on justice and security.
"Every object the individual uses, every transaction they make and almost everywhere they go will create a detailed digital record. This will generate a wealth of information for public security organisations", leading to behaviour being predicted and assessed by "machines" (their term) which will issue orders to officers on the spot. The proposal presages the mass gathering of personal data on travel, bank details, mobile phone locations, health records, internet usage, criminal records however minor, fingerprints and digital pictures that can be data-mined and applied to different scenario – boarding a plane, behaviour on the Tube or taking part in a protest.
But this isn’t just coming to Europe, as Bunyan explains, because USA and Europe will share similar policies and practices, in an agenda of policy harmonisation : -
… it is proposed that by 2014 the EU needs to create a "Euro-Atlantic area of cooperation with the USA in the field of freedom, security and justice". This would go far beyond current co-operation and mean that policies affecting the liberties and rights of everyone in Europe would not be determined in London or Brussels but in secret EU-US meetings. (The surveillance society is an EU-wide issue’, Tony Bunyan, 28 May 2009, The Guardian)
Does this really sound like democracy, as we used to know it?
Was this a response to 9-11?
This means GW Bush and Tony Blair can only take part of the blame for this project - they may have backed it, but they didn’t start it.
We can trace a continuing pursuit of ID-based databases back to the Australia Card, which was defeated in 1987.
There have been persistent allegation of lobbying by the IT industry for smart ID cards and database government, but this is only part of the picture.
We can also say with certainty that EU-US cooperation on security pre-dates 9-11, as does EU development of security databases which have been applied to political protestors.
What Do ID Cards Do?
- Linking and Coordinating Databases
The new cards are like a high-tech ‘glue’, an interface, joining together all the different state databases, linking their information together.
This is the significance of the ‘multi-functional’ identity function of the new cards - one ID number is the key to access all services and also all databases. One card, one number tracks people across multiple activities - across their whole lives and everything they do - employment, tax, health - everything.
When numerous databases are linked together by means of a common interface, in this case ID numbers, they effectively function as a single ‘meta-database‘.
The initial population register is compiled by consolidating the existing, separate databases. Governments want to know whether or not everyone has registered, and whether any new people have suddenly appeared for the first time.
The Citizen Information Register in Britain :
“will include their name, address, date of birth, sex, and a unique personal number to form a "more accurate and transparent" database than existing national insurance, tax, medical, passport, voter and driving licence records. …The decision to give the go-ahead to the national population register without any apparent need for new legislation or any public debate is in sharp contrast to the intense cabinet debate now taking place over the … identity card scheme.
The scheme is a joint project between the Office of National Statistics and the Treasury …
The idea was developed by the Treasury's public services productivity panel - a group of senior business people and public services managers.
The Home Office… admitted a national identity card scheme will have to be "underpinned by a database of all UK residents" and asked for views on whether the citizens information register should be used for this purpose …The Guardian
The Indian ID scheme is another major example -
This is the new model for e-government, around the world.
Historically, this isn’t the first time we have seen systems like this - this is very similar in concept to the Nazi ID system, as it finally evolved, with a ‘Reich Personnel Number’ to link all other databases. The system of compiling the initial population register from records in existing, earlier databases is, again, very similar to Nazi practice.
Why should this be significant? Why should there be any big deal about the government collecting together data that it already has?
"Once an individual has been assigned a unique index number, it is possible to accurately retrieve data across numerous databases and build a picture of that individual's life that was not authorised in the original consent for data collection," says Sir David Omand in a report for the Institute for Public Policy research. …
“In 2006 Sir David Varney, the head of Transformational Government predicted that the state would know "a deep truth about the citizen based on their behaviour, experience, beliefs, needs or desires".Henry Porter, The Guardian
ID Cards - Loyalty Cards
Let’s not talk about a police state, let’s talk about supermarket loyalty cards. There isn’t much difference between them, in terms of technology, and modern ID cards seem to be close descendants of loyalty cards, intended for a similar purpose - gathering information about people. To be able to track someone, first you need to identify them.
Governments have adopted electronic ID cards because stores have demonstrated what powerful and effective technology they are. Not merely effective, but cost-effective. Unlike defence equipment, such as those missiles that sometimes don’t really work, commercial sector technology has to work, and to pay for itself.
Stores have demonstrated they can track and profile their customers, to find their spending habits, their weaknesses and suggestibility, what advertising works on them. The technology they use not only had to prove it could work, but also that it could pay for itself. If supermarket corporations invest as much as they do, you know the technology has to be very effective.
Powerful and effective software has been developed for analysing stores’ loyalty card data, such as ChoicePoint and LexisNexis. Now we find some of those systems in use at the FBI, to shortlist suspects (2). Governments have realised that this same profiling technology works and can also be applied to finding terrorists, ‘extremists‘, political dissidents or any other category of interest to the state.
Some of those companies also help in data-gathering. When the US government obtained personal data about voters in 11 different Latin American states, for unspecified purposes, that data was obtained by private corporations, including ChoicePoint.
It has been reported that the majority of US intelligence data-gathering is outsourced and that about 70% of the budget goes to private corporations. Although the majority of this spending goes to military-defence corporations such as SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton, consumer corporations also take their place.
Do we see an evolving symbiosis between government and private corporations, where they share technology and tools, and co-operate in data-gathering?
RFID - a powerful tracking technology
RFID is a tracking system, originally developed to track stock in the supply chain and warehouses. Tiny chips allow a serial number and potentially other data to be read from a distance of up to several feet. When an RFID tagged item passes a reader, its number is recorded. When RFID readers are connected to a network, it is possible to compile a record of the movements of an object (or person), by listing the times and places when their RFID number was recorded.
RFID in loyalty cards allows the holder’s name and all the personal information on the card to be read from a distance of several feet, potentially without the card-holder's knowledge. Stores can read your identity from your loyalty card as soon as you walk in, using RFID, without you realising. Now we are being issued with government ‘loyalty cards’, which will identify us by RFID.
Stores also realised, by placing readers at various locations, they could use RFID to track customers’ movements inside stores, for example, to see the products they looked at but did not buy, in addition to those they did.
Very quickly, stores realised that RFID in products, such as clothing, could be used to track the movements of the people who bought them. Unlike bar codes, RFID identifies each item with a unique serial number, differentiating identical items. Store chains’ huge databases allowed them to keep a tally of which objects had been bought by which customers - putting names to RFID serial numbers. This extra information was very powerful in ‘profiling’ customers - for example, they started to get data about who was standing next to them - they could guess whether customers shopped alone, with their husbands or wives, or with someone else.
Soon, they will be able to read the RFID serial number in your national ID card, in much the same way, and government is going to sell ID confirmation, to cross-reference the serial number on your ID card with your name and address. Stores spend a lot of money acquiring data, so knowing customers’ names and addresses, with certainty, has really got to be worth something. Customers will no longer be able to hide their identities, or give false names on loyalty cards.
Employers use profiling
By enabling ubiquitous tracking and profiling, could ID systems herald a corporate culture of conformity, enforced by redundancy for those who don’t fit the right profile?
There have been widespread examples of employers discriminating against individuals on grounds of political or union affiliations. The UK Information Commissioner found many very large and respectable companies had engaged in illegal practices to do this. What would happen if employers used data gleaned from ID systems and social networks analysis to profile staff, to find their friends and associates, and any affiliations?
Perhaps it should be added that the organisation in this complaint had, historically, as the Economic League, been linked to MI5, Britain’s state security service, and had been used for political purposes. (3)
What would it mean to society and political culture if corporate employers could identify and discriminate against political and union activists, so that they could find it hard to get a job? Would that be compatible with democracy?
Hidden Power - ‘Inverted Totalitarianism’
Political philosopher and emeritus professor of Princeton University, Sheldon S. Wolin, has warned of the danger of “Inverted totalitarianism,” as he calls it , which “lies in wielding total power without appearing to, without establishing concentration camps, or enforcing ideological uniformity, or forcibly suppressing dissident elements so long as they remain ineffectual.” “...democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed.”
“the widespread nature of these [predatory lending] practices, if left unchecked, threatened our financial markets.
Even though predatory lending was becoming a national problem, the Bush administration looked the other way and did nothing to protect American homeowners. In fact, the government chose instead to align itself with the banks that were victimizing consumers…”
Less than 3 weeks later, by 6 March, Spitzer had been forced to resign due to a call-girl scandal, revealed by government surveillance of his bank account, using (or rather, abusing) anti-terrorism powers granted by the USA PATRIOT Act. Federal agents had tracked down transactions of less than $4,000. Strangely, the government doesn’t seem able to use to use this same facility to track down the $ hundreds of billions that flow in international drug transactions - money that finances terrorism.
Had Spitzer not been forced to resign in disgrace, it seems hard to imagine the $ multi-trillion bank bailout could have gone ahead. Criticism of the banks and of Bush was greatly weakened by the silencing of this prominent critic.
Imagine if the power of the surveillance state was applied to controlling political dissent, especially in an environment of merger between state and corporate power. Imagine dissidents being driven from their jobs, or perhaps more subtly, just denied promotion.
Imagine how detailed files on the psychological weaknesses and vulnerability of all individuals, generated by profiling, and records of any past indiscretions, could be used to apply pressure upon opponents to government policy.
China - the pattern for international development?
Some powerful people appear to have decided that capitalism works best in conditions of inequality and injustice. A by-product of this is instability - bitterness and resentment, due to appropriating land and resources and forcing peasants off the land, to become sweatshop workers living in unbearable slums. This is about the rich getting richer by robbing ordinary people, co-opting the power of the state to do so. This is the reason for the high incidence of riots, ‘disturbances’ and social tension in contemporary China. None of this troubles the West.
What the West has tried to do, however, is guarantee China’s stability, and help keep a lid on any trouble, by providing China with access to the latest surveillance and security technology - to make China a more effective dictatorship. New technologies that are found to work, in the social laboratory of China, can be adopted and applied elsewhere.
A good example of this would be facial recognition technology, supplied to China by the US, illegally but with a nod and a wink, to make it easier for the Chinese authorities to identify troublemakers in a crowd, or simply follow the movements of people of interest, and perhaps identify any people they meet and talk with. Recognition systems now can match one face in a million, good enough to find one face in a city. How neatly this dovetails with the database of digital images provided by China’s ID system.
The RFID facility can also be useful to states with mobile populations. India is anticipating the migration of large numbers of the rural population to the cities. India plans to use a combination of RFID and “GPS-based Geographical Information Systems (GIF) to automatically record the voter migration or shifting of residence”, to automatically update databases such as the electoral register. One can also see how useful this would be to the Chinese authorities, with large numbers of rural peasants migrating to cities, illegally, to work as an untraceable, unstable underclass.
So, is this the model to be applied elsewhere - increasing inequality, increasing slum populations, and unrest controlled through security? As we have discussed above, India’s ID system has explicitly anticipated tracking migration of a shifting population. India’s leaders admire the Chinese economic model, and want to shift India’s society from one that is predominantly (60%) rural, at present, to one that is 80% urban. That means 400 million extra people are going to be forced into India’s already overcrowded slums. And yes, the World Bank has an explicit role in promoting this, saying that urbanisation and migration are good and necessary things. Many neo-liberal economists say that slums are a ‘necessary stage’ in urbanisation, but that ultimately, by promoting industrialisation, this will lead to increased living standards. The fact that hundreds of millions of Indians don’t want this doesn’t seem to count in their democracy. Does it ring true, that the reason for tracking these people is so that their voice can be heard, at elections?
There have been increasing reports of a ‘neo-colonialist’ land-grab in Africa, with large tracts of land being acquired by overseas corporations, based in Asia (e.g. Korea) and the West. Some of the world’s largest slums are in sub-Saharan Africa. Expropriation of land from peasants is a recurring theme in ‘economic globalisation‘, around the world, as discussed in this essay by James Petras.
Maybe it’s time we faced up to the fact that this problem doesn’t just affect other people, in far-off lands, but also affects us, in the West. Let’s open our eyes - large scale population movements are happening in the West also. In USA, cities are dying, with whole neighbourhoods, in some cases whole districts, being bulldozed because their inhabitants have been repossessed. This account of the plight of Detroit residents is reminiscent of post-Katrina New Orleans, with private military contractors assuming government powers, in Urban Management Zones designated for wholesale clearance. This is the western manifestation of a global pattern. It’s not just ‘other people’ who can lose everything.
Could there be a relationship between some poor Chinese or Indian family being forced off the land, into the sweatshop, and someone in hometown USA losing their job to outsourcing, losing their home shortly thereafter? Sometimes the relationship is simple and direct, such as relocation of factories, often it isn’t direct or visible, but competition for jobs is part of globalist economic strategy - the connection is real and intended.
However, in 2009, the US Census Bureau plans to find even the people who have lost their homes, by employing 140,000 temporary workers to look for hidden and improvised housing units, finding GPS coordinates for every ‘front door’. A current legal case may make that data available to private sector corporations.
The worldwide implementation of systems for population surveillance and monitoring has to be significant. It doesn’t sound like it is part of making the world a kinder, nicer place.
Let’s recap the scenario described above: -
Ÿ ID cards are being introduced as a coordinated, international programme, organised at a level above national governments and beyond democratic oversight;
Ÿ This is only part of a larger project to transform the nature of governments - in Britain. actually called ‘Transformational Government’ - gathering more information, to manage our lives more closely;
Ÿ A vast new apparatus for surveillance, monitoring and control is being introduced at the very moment democracy is being side-lined and made impotent;
Ÿ Government policies will be made internationally, above the level of democratic governments - effectively superseding democracy as we know it;
Ÿ Our lives will be changed by a pervasive invasion and oversight.
It’s not a happy scenario, is it?
We shouldn’t close on such a bleak note of pessimism, because it simply isn’t true there is nothing we can do, although we have left it pretty late. We have a good chance, if we recognise what’s going wrong.
1) Organising Internationally
Unfortunately, this is where it gets scary - as yet, there is no international resistance. No-one has yet started building real links between ID opponents in different nations. It gets worse - many nations don’t even have a national opposition, just a scattering of a few isolated activists, not linked by any group or network. This isn’t just true of Africa and ‘new democracies’ - this is even true of a lot of Europe.
Having tried to find and link with some of these opposition groups, the author of this article found many groups are too over-stretched in their own fight to find time to network or see the bigger picture. Unfortunately, as a generalisation, many are difficult to contact, fragmented and over-stretched, if not demoralised.
Try to look on this as the good news - we haven’t failed, so much as just failed to get organised. However, unless we get organised pretty soon, this will become an irreversible defeat for freedom and democracy. The other side is going to win without ever having to fight a battle, not only because have we no army to fight back, but because the public haven‘t even realised there is a war.
Hopefully, people will respond to reading this, and start to organise more effectively - by linking together, for mutual support and coordination.
It’s time to network! It’s time for groups and activists in different nations, to start building an international network of opposition.
There is, however, one campaign group slightly ahead in this area - CASPIAN (Consumers Against Surveillance, Privacy-Invasion And Numbering), which has an international membership, works closely with other groups in different nations and addresses the bigger picture, including corporate data-gathering and RFID. The author suggests CASPIAN as a good initial hub for contact. Alternatively, please contact the author of this article.
For those readers not already in a campaign, CASPIAN is one of the best organisations out there - and it’s free to join.
2) Raise awareness - engage the public.
It‘s time to raise this issue, at every opportunity, to get people thinking about the direction of public policy. Public awareness is vital. We have to draw attention to what’s going on.
Unfortunately, many campaign groups have been side-tracked into fighting ID legislation, instead of fighting for public awareness. Lobbying in legislatures is depressing and ultimately fruitless - the real decisions are being taken in a whole different framework, out of public view. The overall scenario is that institutions and legislatures no longer respond to democracy or public opinion. In reality, politicians see that campaign contributions, ‘hospitality’ and ultimately political success are linked to their ability deliver a pre-arranged programme that suits corporate financial backers. Their success depends upon overcoming opposition to that programme, by managing and controlling opposition, by appearing to listen and appearing to give concessions. Their job is to waste your time and energy.
The good news is, the public recognise this, and they don’t like it - it’s just they don’t know what to do, because no-one is offering any alternative.
Some groups have been looking for more effective alternatives. For example, CASPIAN has been fighting corporate data-gathering via consumer protests and boycotts. It’s a strategy that has been successful - international corporate giants fear consumers and hate bad publicity. Legislators are more inclined to listen to someone successfully hurting their corporate sponsors. In capitalism, sometimes we have more power as consumers than as voters.
This empowering example of direct engagement with the public, unmediated by appeals to politicians, shows the way forward.
3) Expose the mind-set of the people implementing this scheme.
What kind of mind and personality would want such a thing? Wouldn’t you have to be disturbed to want this?
The book Political Ponerology (4) describes the mind-set of such politicians - they aren’t embarrassed by exposure of their actions, but can’t stand exposure of their psychology.
Say what’s going on, you risk being labelled a ‘conspiracy theorist’, but if you say our leaders are immoral, corrupt and capable of anything, nobody doubts you.
What reason have they to be so paranoid about us? Why do all we have to be watched? What’s wrong with their heads, that they need to place us all under suspicion and treat us all like criminals? Why are they so misanthropic? Why are ordinary people so dangerous and threatening?
4) Don’t use cards, use cash.
It’s incredible how much people have willingly cooperated handing over their personal information, cooperating in surveillance of their lives.
Try not to leave a digital record. Don’t let your card identify you.
Think of this as the first step on a larger journey.