This is a political posting rather than a technology one, although it has a strong technology theme running through it, which I'll come to in a moment. But first of all the politics. In what possible sense do we defend democracy by curtailing it in ways that advance the agenda of our enemies?
The West currently believes itself in a war against religious fundamentalism Unfortunately, governments are aided and abetted in this forlorn endeavor by technologists... that seeks to restrict all of the freedoms the West holds dear. So what is the reaction of the British government to this threat? It curtails the freedoms of its citizens.
The British government has done a deal with Parliament to make it mandatory for the personal details of all citizens to be recorded on a central government database. Citizens will retain the right not to carry an identity card holding a copy of a subset of that information. Big deal. However, from the year 2010, if they wish to leave the country for any reason, the act of applying for a passport will result in the issue of an identity card. Some freedom. [Disclosure: I am an active member of the Liberal Democrats, the British opposition party that opposes this law].
I am at a loss to understand why governments in the West believe that the best defence against terrorism is to attack the civil liberties that terrorists themselves seek to undermine, and which our forbears struggled and spilt their blood to establish.
Unfortunately, governments are aided and abetted in this forlorn endeavor by technologists, whose silver-tongued blandishments find a ready audience among politicians looking to expand the power of the state. Both share a heady utopian belief that, if only they could impose a perfect enough system on the world, it would be a far better place.
The reality is that no system — least of all one designed by either a technologist or a politician — is foolproof. It has already been established beyond a shadow of doubt (and admitted by Britain's own Home Secretary) that carrying ID cards would not have prevented terrorists from perpetrating either 9/11 nor the Madrid bombings nor the 7/7 attacks in London. Nor is there any merit in the argument that maintaining a single central government database will prevent identity fraud (on the contrary, can you honestly conceive in your wildest imaginations of a more attractive target for identity theft?).
This is a law that is welcome only to those vendors competing for the lucrative contracts to supply the British government with its ID card and database technologies. It will do nothing to prevent terrorism, it will further alienate the goodwill of citizens obliged to stump up the cost of this sinister scheme, and — worst of all — it shows us up as craven in our defense of the freedoms we hold most dear in the West. This is a shameful law.