Privacy, biometrics and the presumption of innocence

Re-posted from archive of infinite ideas machine 2004:

In an information society, absolute privacy exists only inside your own head.

Most people would agree with or admit to the need for at least a degree of privacy in everyday life (indeed it seems some, e.g. celebrities and politicians, are desperate for it!), but many do not fully appreciate the nuanced and often complex relationship between privacy and identity. Make no mistake, they are related – and, in the context of ID cards and a National Identity Register, a serious erosion of your own personal privacy may be just a single (mandatory) data field away!

An informative consideration of the privacy issues and options arising when implementing biometric security systems, the BioPrivacy Application Impact Framework and Technology Risk Ratings offered by the IBG BioPrivacy Initiative are well worth a few minutes’ study.

The problem with using biometrics to ‘tie everything together’ in the NIR is that it will, once and for all time, give the State ownership of your identity: you will be who the State says you are – even if they are mistaken (and they do make mistakes!) – not who you assert, and can prove in a variety of State-and-otherwise-sanctioned ways, that you are. This really would be a fundamental change in UK civil society and has, justifiably, been characterised as the end of ‘presumption of innocence’.

What may seem like a good idea now to those who believe that “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about” may seem distinctly otherwise when, e.g. it is their 16 year old granddaughter who gets a permanent black mark on her ID record for having hung around with a dodgy crowd after school – some of whom were caught shoplifting.

As I understand it, the State exists to serve the people. With ID cards and an NIR, we are teetering on the edge of a slippery slope (of indeterminate steepness…) that leads to the State dictating who is a person. In a few short years if I don’t want a State identity I will become, by default, either a criminal or a non-person!

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