One of the many issues arising from the
September 11th events in the USA has been the matter
of better managing and tracking of identity. As readers of
Shopper will realise, technology provides a raft of solutions
that are all vastly better than what we have at present –
which now amounts to nothing at all – but we all know how fast
governments and politicians seem able to act when it comes to
the intelligent deployment of new technology.
Unless, of course, the deployment in question concerns
weapons of mass destruction that are effectively marketed and
promoted by their well-practised manufacturers, when no expense
or effort is likely to be spared.
However, maybe the rules of the game were
sufficiently altered by the willingness of the participants to
top themselves in the process that even our dawdling government
can be woken up to the rude new reality. All the knee-jerk
legislation that our parliament can conjure up at moments like
these is presently challenged to suggest an answer for dealing
with determined folks who could probably hijack a plane using
only a sharp pencil.
After all, when the hijacker slams that
sharpened pencil through the ear and into the brain of a flight
attendant, and then tells the Captain that he/she has semtex
contained in their bowel, wrapped in a condom, and using an
inductive detonator that can be a very simple a battery
and coil – is the
captain likely to take a chance that this is Jeremy Beadle
having a laugh?
That’s a tricky one, and none of the
above scenario would be detected by any past present or proposed
security measures. So
the only viable answer, from this time onwards, is to
identify and root the maniacs out before they get anywhere near
a plane. We may end up with all passengers having to strip, be
X-rayed, passed through a pulsed magnetic field, and be required
to don a basic “flight suit” before being allowed to board
with no baggage of any sort. The bags themselves might have to
be carried on separate and randomly chosen aircraft.
Reports that El-Al flights are picking up
passengers because of the fearsome reputation of the hitherto
efficacy of El-Al security suggests that market forces may well
help drive this process along. Airlines declaring that they will
only carry passengers of proven provenance will inevitably seem
attractive than those willing to “take a chance”. So let’s
get the old chestnut out of the way:-
Hmmm…. but isn’t allowing a “detectable
suspect” to pass through security checks by virtue of the
ineptitude of a “tolerant society” an affront to the personal
liberty of others going peacefully about their business? I think
it probably is.
Soon after the ID card idea was mooted, the
usual UK commentators declared that determined terrorists would
find ways to forge ID cards? Really? Says who? A card with
thumbprint, retina and voiceprint key – plus a pass phrase would
take a fair bit of forging. The tricky part is always going to be
the initial validity “check” where the card holder has to
prove who they are.
A big problem (and nothing to do with
technology) arises since, inevitably, those who will have the most
difficulty proving who they are will come from the curiously
untouchable ranks of our multicultural society.
Sorry folks, but freedom has many prices, and offending a
few sensibilities will be one.
Now, does this mean that anyone without an approved ID card
becomes a pariah and a non-person? In a country where suspects are
innocent until proven guilty, that’s unlikely to be enforceable.
Maybe the best way to sell this whole card notion to the nation is
to attach tangible new benefits to carrying the card. More carrot
than stick, please.
By allowing citizens to manage and own their
“public” persona, they can then sell parts of this data to the
big market and credit research companies like Experean that
presently pay for collecting general statistics collected from
commercial transactions when you fail to tick those boxes on the
So the fearsome ID card could become a
national “loyalty card” – earning money and points; but if
you choose not to become part of this scheme, then there will be
an assumption that you have something to hide. Don’t blame the
democratically elected government of this country, blame those
responsible for funding international terror, so whilst you might
have felt relatively secure watching from 3,000 miles as the World
Trade Centre collapsed like a house of cards on September 11th,
the inevitable consequences are only just starting to emerge.
Although the physical card will be the focus
of emotion, the real issue is that this data has live on a central
global reference database to be of any use. Would police forces be
able to resist the opportunity to screen out every sort of petty
criminal if the fingerprints were so easily accessible?
Inevitably, the scheme would eventually extend to DNA, and
insurance companies would love to get at that.
I just wish that the next stage of thinking
through the process of managing personal identity was not in the
hands of a government that once bragged about the UK as “the
best place in the world to do e-business”, and has let us slide
to around number 15 on the list of connected nations in the space
of a couple of years.
We do indeed live in interesting times.