On a recent visit to a client in London, I was asked to bring along photographic ID so that I could get into their building. And personally, I have only piece of photographic ID: my passport. I don’t have a photographic driving licence, or a gun permit, or an armed forces ID card. (My university library card does have my photo on it, but I can imagine that receiving a rather dusty reception at, well, reception.) And this has started me wondering about ID cards.
In October 2013, Lord West (formerly a security advisor to Gordon Brown) opined in the House of Lords that “there will be a need for a chip and pin type card for people in this country to ensure their security, with all the threats there are from cyber-attacks”. It need not be called an identity card, he said, as that seems to upset people, but without it we will all be “very vulnerable”. Identity cards are already being used as an anti-crime measure in all sorts of environments. In Argentina, for instance, where they are struggling to curb football violence, a new system to prevent those with a criminal record from getting into the stands is being tested. Before buying their tickets, supporters planning to attend a match must get an identity card with their biometric data and criminal record. Referring to his team’s most famous supporter, San Lorenzo president German Lerche commented that “Even the Pope will need to be registered in the system if he plans to see San Lorenzo playing”.
Of course, any such system is only as good as the people administering it. A review in 2013 of the identity card system in India, where millions of people have applied for cards giving them a unique identity number (or Aadhaar), revealed that some of the cards are not as helpful as they might be. Some have been registered with the card issuer’s fingerprints instead of the applicant’s, while others have ended up showing a photograph of an empty chair, a tree or a dog instead of the actual applicant. Well, I have plenty of photos of my cat; perhaps I’ll try that next time I’m visiting a high-security building in London, and see if anyone notices. And remember that if your institution keeps photocopies of photographic ID for AML and other purposes, and the copies are of such poor quality that the face is only a blob, well, it might as well be a dog or a tree for all the use it is.