The Dirty Big Secret: The back room for the ID card

All the focus on the ID card in the media this week as a result of the introduction of legislation into Parliament is great. It is anathema to the citizenry of Australia to consider a National ID card. But what is not being explored is the terrible real problem: the centralized, government controlled, collection of all that information. The reason that honey-pot of information about 20 million Australians is not discussed much and is a bigger worry is because it’s not visible. One will be able to hold the ID card in one’s hand, cut it up, burn it, or bury it in the back garden under the lemon tree, but once your information is entered in that central database, you will never get it out again. The scheme calls it a Register; it’s really a population database. And so far, the legislation doesn’t deal with controlling the information in the database on many points.

Who will have access to that data? Good question. It is assumed that only those who are authorized on a ‘need to know’ basis will have access to the database. But how will anyone know? Evidence of misuse of data by all the agencies with potential ‘need to know’ continues to be exposed, with hundreds of abuses of that information for personal gain, revenge and who knows what other motivation. Recent abuses were ‘inside jobs’ that required no hacking by baddies outside the system. Those real abuses were also limited to the data about people who used or were subject to those agencies: Centrelink customers and Victoria Police ‘customers’ (crooks). How much more tempting will the information about every Australian be?

Who will be on this database? Will it be a record for an individual or a family as the current Medicare system does things? Will this be a US-style system where children will be given a unique number early in life that used to be only given as a Social Security number when/if you went to work? May as well tattoo it on our arms at birth then. Oh, wait, silly me. The chips will just be embedded with the info, just like our pets.

And what about name changes? If the Register is updated with one name and it doesn’t match what’s on the card, what happens? There are still a few women around who do change their names when they get married (or divorced). Since the proposed card will have an ‘Official’ name, whatever that is, and we have multiple ‘Official’ names, how would that work? Oh, wait, the government won’t let you change your name or else it won’t match the number any more.

And what about addresses? We do still move around, don’t we. Will we not be allowed to move house any more without registering all that with Medicare in the future?

It’s all well and good to be concerned about the ID card. But we must also be alert and alarmed about the core part of the scheme: the millions of records about every one of us that will be in the control of, and computer keyboard access of, the Department of Human Services agencies. Are you that trusting of the government to be that ‘relaxed and comfortable’ about this proposal? After all, it is still a proposal. No ID cards have been issued yet, and no central databases established. It’s not too late to say no to your members of Parliament and Senators.

Jan Whitaker, Berwick Victoria

Board Member, Australian Privacy Foundation