ID and me

I’ve just been on holiday to Italy, where – in common with many EU and other countries – it is compulsory to carry photographic ID at all times.  The only photo ID I have is my passport; my driving licence is still the old photo-less paper kind, because I never move house and I drive like an old lady.  And so I went everywhere with my passport hidden carefully in a zipped inside pocket of my handbag – there, that’s my grandma talking, right there.  Of course no-one demanded to see it, although – with it being Italy – we came across plenty of officials in all sorts of dashing uniforms with braiding, peaked caps, stripes, insignia and the rest.  Until, on our last day and with poor travel connections, we wanted to leave our suitcase in the left luggage place at the railway station, and the fellow manning it asked to see a passport.  And I had a revelation: as he asked, a little voice in my head said, “How dare you – why should I have to prove to you who I am?”  Thankfully for international relations and marital harmony that voice stayed in my head and I handed over the passport.

But it made me think.  Anyone responsible for conducting CDD checks knows that customers can cut up a bit snippy when asked for documents, but is it worse with customers from jurisdictions – such as the UK – where the carrying of ID (indeed, the possession of ID) is not mandatory?  Whenever the idea of ID cards is raised in the UK, as it is regularly, I always say that I would be happy to comply because I have nothing to hide, but if I am honest, I am always secretly rather pleased when it doesn’t happen.  It’s not that I am a big privacy advocate – as I say, I have nothing to hide, and I save my energy for fighting battles that matter more to me – but having grown up without the obligation to carry ID, I would find it tricky to start.

Also – please bear with me while I try to formulate my thoughts – I think I find being asked for my ID rather impertinent because I know that I have nothing to hide, and I tend to think that nearly everyone around me has nothing to hide either, and so on balance, the fact that the authorities cannot identify us all on a whim doesn’t actually matter.  If we change and say that we must all be identifiable at all times, does that suggest that the balance has switched, or that my optimistic perception is wrong, and that nearly everyone does have something to hide?  And before someone jumps up and down and accuses me of undermining my life’s work, much of which is built on identifying users of the regulated sector, please remember that there is a difference between being identifiable when you’re just living your life, and being identifiable when you want the privilege of being granted access to the international financial system.  Goodness, who knew that taking a week off work and eating one’s own weight in ice-cream could render one so philosophical?

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4 Responses to ID and me

  1. Meg Watters says:

    I was recently asked for photo ID to make a credit card payment at a local theatre. I was infuriated as I couldn’t think of a legitimate reason for it. I find that individuals from jurisdictions where National Identity cards are mandatory are quite happy to hand over their National Id cards – but not their passports. It’s difficult to say that we cannot accept National ID cards, but we have more trouble verifying them. Italian and Malaysian in particular.

    • Welcome to the blog, Meg, and thank you for your comment. I was once asked to bring my passport to gain access to a building in central London, but this was just after the tube bombings and I assume was so that they could check that the face matched the ID name. Yes, verifying ID cards can be difficult: I once read an article claiming that a huge proportion of Indian ID cards (used to claim benefits and so on) are fake, and this can be almost insurmountable when checking in a foreign language.
      Best wishes from Susan

  2. Robert James Long says:

    I do not favour ID cards it has to be said. My Mother is very found of saying “if you ahve nothing to hide…” but honestly everyone has something to hide, and even if not so, in a democracy it is the governments job to justify themselves to you, not vicera versa. Thats why Polcieman justify theire presence to you with arrant cards and documents.

    It also assumes that the government will always be trustworthy, laws will always be just and fair. I hate to skip close to Godwin’s Law, but history tells us not the case, and evena s we type various mainstream politicians are making all sorts of odd claims about “foreigners”…

    As a final point, a ID card system would have a associated database, so you now trusting the government (or worse a private contractor) with yet more personal data. That is not a good idea!

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