More Facebook-Themed Whinging

Now facebook has been around for a few years, and the students who first got facebook have grown up a bit and meanwhile everyone has facebook anyway, peoples’ kids and babies have started popping up there. You see albums of first ultrasound scans, newborns, first birthday parties, second birthday parties, so-and-so’s first day at school in brand new uniform with crisp box-creased chequered dresses and sweaters and shiny new shoes, standing on the doorstep. And it goes on.

I’m not sure if I can put my finger on why, but this makes me deeply uneasy. I know that if I had children I would be deeply proud of them and think them the most beautiful, wonderful things in the world. And I can understand why you’d want to put photos of your child up there in the same way that you put up holiday photos to show everyone else how happy you were and what a great tan you got and how spectacularly cultured you are – it’s that thing about facebook actually being a way of presenting yourself to the world, advertising your depths of maternal feeling and how cute your child looks in a sun-bonnet.

I really don’t think it’s a good idea. Not just because no-one wants all their friends to see their baby photos and you know that if facebook is still around when those kids get accounts of their own, they will get tagged in all of those photos by amused – or even, perhaps, malicious – friends.

That’s not really what concerns me, though, and I don’t know what it is about this that does concern me. Small kids in passing, yeah, sure – if your holiday album happens to contain a few photos of your family which may include your baby daughter or nephew or sister in the same way that peoples’ grandparents and parents crop up in facebook albums from time to time – I don’t have the same kind of problem with that.

It’s a privacy thing, and it’s unnerving. It’s the idea that peoples’ whole private lives are going to be archived on the internet, that children will never be, somehow, quite so free or unobserved again, now there’s the internet. I really don’t mind what data the government has on me or my family and I don’t think I disagree with things like ID cards or DNA-testing the whole population (if it could be proven that it’s not going to throw up erroneous matches and place me at the scene of a murder in Buckinghamshire when to be quite honest I’m not entirely sure where Buckinghamshire is).

And I suppose, up to a point, I can control what information there is about me up on facebook. I can untag myself from photos, if I like, set the privacy settings how I like and only befriend people I know, like and care about. I can talk about myself as much or as little as I like, in as many different ways and media as I choose. I understand how this works and am therefore able to give knowing consent to what is out there about me remaining ‘out there’. I’ve always understood that even if you think you’ve ‘deleted’ something that was once online, you probably haven’t, and I don’t think that’s put me at any risk in any way, as far as I’m aware. And I am reasonably well aware. A small child won’t be. I really don’t think you should have any major presence on facebook until you’re old enough to choose to have a facebook account of your own and fully understand how to use it safely and carefully and responsibly and not regret it later – though how old or mature you have to be to be able to do that is entirely open to debate.

So no, not that I’m expecting to have children any time soon, they won’t be going up on the internet. To be honest I highly doubt I’ll be using facebook by that point, and I don’t suppose I’ll have the time or the inclination to write a blog, but if I do, relevant blog entries will go something like ‘Daughter born [date][weight].’ Cue hiatus. And that’ll be it.



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24 responses to “More Facebook-Themed Whinging

  1. ” I really don’t mind what data the government has on me or my family and I don’t think I disagree with things like ID cards or DNA-testing the whole population”

    Point is that there is no need for the state to have that info. It’s an invasion of privacy for no/very little gain, and so shouldn’t be tolerated.

  2. Adam

    “I really don’t mind what data the government has on me or my family and I don’t think I disagree with things like ID cards or DNA-testing the whole population”

    ID cards have proven exceptionally effective in the past – such as in 1994 in Rwanda, where ID cards indentified members of the Tutsi tribe, which helped make the genocide extremely efficient. Although, they do wonders against terrorism – like the biometric ID cards Spain had in Madrid in 2004… Luckily nothing happened then…

  3. This sort of thing worries me a bit too. I’m more scared of any offspring I ever spawn looking back through MY facebook profile. No-one should be able to find out exactly what their parents got up to at the age of 20. Since nights out and parties seem to be the things that get photographed, it wouldn’t exactly set a good example either.

    Our baby photos belong firmly in the attic of our house, where I’m actually still the only member of my family who can reach them down. The only slight problem I can see with that system which wouldn’t happen with facebook is that my dad doesn’t have access to any of them, which is maybe a shame.

  4. Jenny

    I don’t think it’s an invasion of privacy – or rather, if it is, there is nothing to know that I have any problem with people knowing. Tell me, what is there that I *should* mind people knowing? As far as I can see, I am a human being, much like many others. I have a pretty small income, I’m a full time student, I don’t own a car. I have a passport, I have DNA, I live in one of two cities most of the time, one in which I rent a house shared with three others, one in which I live with my parents. I have a provisional driving licence; I am female, 5’6″, with pronating feet and short sight. I spend most of my time on the internet looking at webcomics, facebook, email, and a number of smallish blogs, with some time spent looking at clothing websites from which I don’t usually then go on to order anything. Most of my money goes on food, public transport, drink and clothes, not necessarily in that order. I work in a pub. If you were to ask me questions about any of those things I would answer you, albeit perhaps with a slightly odd look.

    I can’t see what else there is to know about me that you can list as some kind of statistic. There is almost nothing about me that *someone* doesn’t know, be that how I think or things I have done in the past. As far as I’m aware I have never broken the law.

    Objections I have to the ID card system are that it would probably cost a lot of money which the country doesn’t currently have; I think that’s about it. Meanwhile – your driving licence and passport are on the same card, if they were clever enough that would also contain your blood group and other important medical information – in case you were suddenly rushed to hospital; and i don’t see why it couldn’t also double as your busspass, proof of disablement, railcard, and even municipal gym pass (we have a system here where you get a city smartcard which acts as library and gym cards as well as bus passes (which work like oystercards in that you load them up with credit and then scan your way onto the bus). I think having a card like that would be very handy. And, if you’re doing nothing wrong, what on earth do you have to fear from such a system?

    Now, back to facebook, photos, etc. I don’t really mind the idea that my kids might one day find those photos. A lot of photos from really good times in my life have made it into the photo albums I put together anyway, so they’re out there for my kids to find. I might hide them though until my kids are old enough to already be making their own stupid decisions and not throwing the ‘but you used to get drunk’ thing back in my face when I want them home and sober by eleven because it’s school in the morning.

    To be honest, though, there are very few seriously embarassing photos of me. Countless ones of me at various parties in slightly odd clothing, but I can think of only about five or ten in which it’s obvious that I’m a little the worse for wear…

    As for baby/childhood photos, Dom, couldn’t you scan some in and then send them to your dad via dropbox or on a cd or something?



  5. I could, and have in the past, but you’d be surprised at the number of arguments two people who hate each other can have over possession of the images of their spawn.

    I’ve felt uneasy about ID cards, as you know, for ages. I’ve finally decided my only totally defensible objection to them is that they could be misused. Not to find stuff out but, as Adam pointed out, for very efficient genocide (or just plain discrimination). I also just don’t trust computers and would rather they know less about me if at all possible.

    Oh, and I’m also secretly a criminal mastermind with drug smuggling operations in fifteen countries and lots to hide.

  6. Adam

    When did “if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” become an accepted method of government?!? I thought I was innocent until proven guilty…

  7. The thing is though that there is no good (innocent) reason for the state to collect such a large amount of information about its citizens. And it’s dangerous to assume that the government will always use the information/powers it has in a responsible manner (for instance see the myriad cases of anti-terrorism legislation being used to spy on people for things not related to terrorism…)

    Have a quick look at this.

  8. JM

    So I came across this thanks to Mia, and the argument here interested me.

    I think that the claim of ID cards limiting freedom is flawed; they don’t limit, they merely allow the government to observe you as you go about doing whatever it is that you do. If you do nothing wrong, then nothing will come of it. If you break the law you get caught. That at least is the theory, when genocidal maniacs wield it then yes, there will be deaths. But then a genocidal maniac who thinks you are a target is likely to kill you to make sure he doesn’t ‘miss any’ rather than let you go due to lack of evidence.

    As for “innocent until proven guilty”, if the government has exact details about you and every other person, it is less likely for you to become incriminated by accident by virtue of sharing similar attributes with the perpetrator and will as such remain “innocent”. “If you have nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” is not a method of government, it is something that should be true of any system which has laws it seeks to uphold. At that point, only corruption and/or incompetence within the respective law enforcement agency can change the fact. The point is to cut crime, not terrorism, through the certainty of punishment (rather than the punishment itself) and as such free reasources with which to counteract terroists who act in a way that make conventional law enforcement measures often catch them too late.

    And while it might be a little costly given the circumstances, the argument that it is bad just because the technology is advanced and not know by most reeks of the worst kind of reactionary logic. Not to mention that the whole point of a Democracy is to ensure that, no matter how powerful the government becomes, it cannot enact laws that the majority of its citizens disagree with. While this can be sometimes subverted, in Europe we have a very functional system which means fears of a large government are absurd. Governments -need- absolute power over thier borders in order to act quickly and efficiently towards goals that benefit the population; to limit their power is to limit their ability to help you and everyone else who needs their support.

    As for the facebook argument; each individual should and must have the right to decide for themselves how much presence he/she wants to have on the internet and as such people should limit themselves to photo’s of themselves, with group photos done by consent. Putting pictures of others on the internet ranges from being incredibly rude in the best of cases and incredibly offensive towards the other end of the scale. And doing it to those who cannot then defend themselves, through lack of profile or lack of mastery in a given language, is simply disgusting and cruel.

  9. The reaction to the technology is not that it is advanced but that it doesn’t work. Biometric security systems quickly become less effective as you talk about larger data sets. The ID card system would have merged a large number of such technologies and no provision was made for when it cocks up.

    The innocent until proven guilty argument holds perfectly well because enhanced surveillance has always required some suspicion of guilt. That’s why you need a warrant to search property, and why CCTV operators are not normally allowed to peer inside residential buildings. Why should expecting someone to register invasive details of their lives be any less controlled?

    Putting pictures on the internet of others cannot be considered rude unless those photos are defamatory, just like there’s no reason I can’t take images of people walking past my window in the street outside and post them on the internet. Personally, I think embarrassing photos of someone in the bath as a baby count as pretty defamatory, though.

  10. Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety ” – Benjamin Franklin

    JM, do you not see the inherent issues with the government (or anyone) “observing you as you go about doing whatever it is you do”?! No-one has the right to observe you going about your daily life, or to collect such a large amount of information about you. It may help with law enforcement, but that’s no excuse; it’s a massive invasion of privacy and (IMO) this mega downside easily outweighs the positives. “If you’re doing nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to hide” is a terrible defence of a deeply illiberal idea.

    IMO it’s slightly naive to assume that the state is always benevolent. Even in Britain in the last few years, we’ve seen plenty of instances of the state (as police or councils) using laws and powers in ways they were not intended to be used (and that’s before we start on more extreme cases, which were just whitewashed). We should be extremely wary of the powers & information we give to the state.

  11. “counteract terroists who act in a way that make conventional law enforcement measures often catch them too late”

    Also, given the frequency of terrorist attacks in Britain, I wonder whether it’s really true that conventional measures catch them too late 😛

  12. JM

    Dickie… If you are in public, and bear with me because this is groundbreaking I know, PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU. Why should you care if the seeing is done by eyes or by cameras? Indeed, the person viewing you in person in a far more suitable position to hurt you that a person who sees you on a CCTV. Nobody is asking to put cameras in your home. Nobody wants to place wiretaps on you phone lines. And those indeed would be an invasion of privacy. But in public, you don’t have any guarantee of privacy, that’s why the distinction is there. You’re not, as far as I can tell, complaining about cameras in museums or galleries and yet the concept is the same. They (the government) just want to make sure they can see anyone breaking the laws in public. Which to me seems fair enough.

    And as for you Franklin quote; you are not giving up liberty. Nobody has told you where you can and cannot go in public, nobody has told you that you can no longer use certain public services. You have merley been informed that you will be tracked as you do so. Which is far nicer than many police states that the government is being compared to, who don’t even say these measures are being taken. And I would hardly call installing CCTV a temporary security.

    You are, on the other hand, correct in your assesment of the Labour government over the last few years. And lo and behold, in this new election, they got voted out, with the extreme and uncessesary use of certain laws as one of the significant others to the floundering economy in terms of voter outrage.

    Moving on to your counter-terror comment. Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on police work but I’m pretty sure the way ‘conventional’ policing works is that a crime is comitted, and the police look for (and hopefully apprehend) the perpetrator. As far as I can tell, and like I said, I am no expert and for all I know you have access to various files which say otherwise, but this sort of approach is probably ill suited to fight suicide bombers. 😛

    Now to you Mr. Rout. A warrant is needed to search property yes, but none needed to search a public street, which is what the cameras are recording. I’m not sure just how invasive biometrics is, as far as I can tell it simply means taking measurements of your body in addition to your fingerprints. Which is the eqivalent of doing a physical exam and then going to get a new passport. As always, I will point out the fact that I do not have an intimate knowledge of this field and so you are free to correct me should my assuptions be mistaken.

    Lastly, my comment about rudeness seems to have been misinterpreted. I’m not saying we should ask people to stay out of our camera viewfinder on a crowded road (though as far as I know, it is a matter of courtesy to not walk through said viewfinder if doing so places you between it and the intended target). I’m saying that putting the photo of someone you intended to take a picture of on the internet without their knowledge and consent is rude at best.

  13. “If you are in public, and bear with me because this is groundbreaking I know, PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU. ”

    Uh, you’re conflating a few different issues here. Jenny mentioned ID cards and the DNA database, and that was what my comment was mostly addressing. But to extend the argument to CCTV, well then it still stands to an extent. I am uncomfortable with widespread use of CCTV. Obviously it has benefits, but it’s still an invasion of privacy. Remember that when people see you, it’s a fleeting thing; CCTV footage is generally recorded… Now in shops and other private areas, I think it’s up to the landowner what they do. In public areas (such as roads), I don’t think that the blanket use of CCTV is always entirely appropriate.

    And it most definitely *is* a restriction on freedom. It’s surrendering a certain amount of privacy, so whilst it’s not directly stopping people from doing things, it’s still most definitely giving up liberty, and is not to be tolerated (imo).

    Concerning the “conventional police work” thing, yes, it’s different. Which is why we have organisations like the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI5 and MI6, respectively) to do this unconventional work. But we still need to be wary of passing over too many powers to them, because it’s crucial that we retain our liberty.

    FWIW, Dominic’s comments on biometric systems are bang on the money. They don’t work reliably enough to be used in the manner that was proposed, so using them as the basis of a security system is questionable (at best!). And again, it has clear security implications.

    The argument “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide” has no place in a liberal, liberated society. Because the point is that the state (nor anyone else for that matter) has absolutely no business in poking into the lives of people (or tracking their movements!) just to make sure they’re doing nothing wrong. And also we shouldn’t be so blasé about handing powers over to the state on the grounds that we think we can trust them.

  14. Photolosopher

    I think that a story called ‘Little Brother’ by Cory Doctorow might be relevant to this discussion – you can download it for free (legitimately) from here. It’s not very long and makes for an interesting read, with some fairly valid points about why various data-collection methods in the name of security aren’t really a good idea, and why the whole “if you haven’t done anything wrong, then what do you have to be afraid of?” attitude isn’t necessarily a safe one. Some of it is stylistically exaggerated, and I know that things wouldn’t be so black and white in real life, but it’s aimed at teenagers so is probably concerned with getting its point across in a straightforward way. Anyway, it’s worth a look.


  15. JM

    My comment on CCTV was based on your statement that “No-one has the right to observe you going about your daily life”. So I’m sorry if I misinterpreted your statement but to me it looks like you brought it up.

    Again, you seem to be misusing the term “liberty”. You see, our freedom already is curbed. By the law, the basis of society and civilisation as we know it. Freedom is the ability to do whatever you please, whenever and wherever you please. Sound good in theory? Keep in mind that it means there are no measures that are taken to deal with murder, theft or anything else considered criminal. Now, if you’re fine with that, it makes you an anarchist (which in this liberal, liberated society is a perfectly acceptable political view to have and I don’t hold it against you in any way) but in that case, may I suggest that you might just be living in the wrong part of the world? In the west, civilisation is here to stay. Sorry. But I digress.

    To clarify, liberty is the list of rights the government affords us. Which, short of a few fringe cases which I expect to be repealed by the new coalition, and personally disapprove of myself, there have been no drastic cuts to.

    The argument that biometrics doesn’t work well yet is no reason to throw the whole thing out of a window. It needs more time and more testing, sure, but don’t act like it’s the devil just because they haven’t had the time to perfect it yet.

    As for IDs, I fail to see how combining your passport, bus pass, oyster (or relevant equivalent), and potentially credit/debit cards is an inherently evil thing to do.

    To finish, let me ask you something. How often do you duck when you see a cop? Hide your face from a security camera? When have you ever felt the need to do any of that? If never, answer this. Have you done anything criminal? If the answers are “never” and “no” (as I personally expect them to be, as I’m sure you’re not a criminal) then I think I just proved my point. Like I said, it is not a matter of policy, it is a matter of fact.

  16. “Again, you seem to be misusing the term ‘liberty’… Freedom is the ability to do whatever you please, whenever and wherever you please”

    Actually, that’s only half of the definition, and it’s only by ignoring this other half that you can accuse me of misusing the term! As you note, there’s the freedom to do as we please, yes. But equally important, there is also the freedom to not have others do as they please to us (without our consent, anyway). So the freedom to not be murdered, to use your example, quite obviously trumps the freedom to murder. So of course, it’s desirable to have *some* mechanism to safeguard both of those differing forms of freedom; it’s balancing these two things which provides the real problem, and that’s what we’re tackling now.

    So the freedom to stop others from negatively affecting us. Well, I consider an important aspect of that to be the freedom to not be spied on; the freedom to go about my daily life without having Big Brother looking over my shoulder to see if I’m behaving myself. I think it’s a crucial part of a liberal society, and so I will passionately defend that freedom against the authoritarian influences of those who say “if you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide”.

    Liberty is absolutely NOT the “list of rights the government affords us”. The state exists to serve us as citizens; we do not exist to be ruled over by the state. So freedoms or rights should be inherent, and the purpose of the state is to protect that liberty. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) grant them to us as a privilege, it protects them as a fundamental right.

    “The argument that biometrics doesn’t work well yet is no reason to throw the whole thing out of a window”

    Sorry, that’s stupid. The technology doesn’t work, therefore we shouldn’t rely on it because we can’t guarantee that it will do what we want it to do! But also…

    “As for IDs, I fail to see how combining your passport, bus pass, oyster (or relevant equivalent), and potentially credit/debit cards is an inherently evil thing to do.”

    This comes back to the thing about “no-one has the right to observe you”. Because combining that stuff in one place makes it very easy to track individuals. You don’t need to observe people visually, if you have access to database records which identify where you’ve been and what you’ve done.

    “To finish, let me ask you something. How often do you duck when you see a cop? Hide your face from a security camera? When have you ever felt the need to do any of that? If never, answer this. Have you done anything criminal? If the answers are “never” and “no” (as I personally expect them to be, as I’m sure you’re not a criminal) then I think I just proved my point”

    That doesn’t prove anything! Like I’ve said numerous times, the “if you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide” argument is not valid.

    The following isn’t quite related to the civil liberties argument, and is more along the lines of pedantry. But it raises some interesting ideas, so it’s worth considering.

    “Keep in mind that it means there are no measures that are taken to deal with murder, theft or anything else considered criminal. Now, if you’re fine with that, it makes you an anarchist”

    Like I said, liberty is more complex than that, but actually this stance doesn’t make you an anarchist. Because you might think that it’s good to have a state for other purposes – for instance enforcing your right to do as you want! And to take things one step further, it’s possible to conceive of an anarchist society which still has something in place to make/enforce laws to essentially safeguard the freedom of individuals. David Friedman gave a talk which tackled this, called “Anarchy and Efficient Law“, which is rather interesting, and isn’t inherently less “civilised” than our current model (and no, I don’t think his proposal is necessarily the best, but the point is that it’s possible and workable).

    • Jenny

      *EDITED DUE TO TOTAL LAZINESS ON IPHONE, SORRY*. Should make more sense now…!

      You also have to remember that, while our government has done some less than agreeable things over the years, we are still a liberal nation. Just because, perhaps, technically, we can be tracked going about our lives, this doesn’t mean that anyone is going to watch us do so. And to be honest I really don’t care if they do because we do not live in an Orwellian nation. I am not going to get into trouble for thinking that the coalition is a bad thing or even for saying so from a soapbox on Hyde park corner. I am not going to get into trouble for doing more or less anything I like as long as it does not interfere with the lives with others. No-one is going to bother observing me do these things anyway. We have the technology and it has itsuses, but we don’t have the sort of dystopian dictatorship that might misuse those technologies and you have to remember that.

      The biggest objection that I can see to any of this is that the technology needs some work. I wouldn’t know about that, you’re probably right. And it shouldn’t be rolled out until it can be relied upon to work. But in theory I have no objection to ID cards whatsoever . Less sure about CCTV though but I think that’s a mild visceral horror rather than because I can come up with a reasoned objection. I have the same sort of horror about long prison sentences and Academies but, well, if I can’t put up an argument I shouldn’t try, really.

  17. “You also have to remember that, while our government has done some less than agreeable things over the years, we are still a liberal nation.”

    Sorry, that’s still no reason to blithely agree to giving the state the power to snoop. Because (daft as it may sound), there’s no guarantee we won’t become an Orwellian nation at some point… And additionally, the state simply doesn’t need such detailed info. It doesn’t need ID cards or a DNA database or whatever, so why should we let it introduce them?

  18. And also, are we really a liberal nation? Comparatively more liberal than some, yes. But I’d still say we’re a far, far way from being truly liberal.

  19. JM

    So… you don’t actually agree with Mr. Friedman? Note, I only assume this because you mention that the state could be necessary, whereas he is an Anarcho Capitalist, and I want to be clear on the political views of the man I am debating with.

    Freedoms to stop others negatively affecting you are called “your rights” and they in fact work by limiting the freedom of others rather than granting us additional freedom. Freedom is our own action or inaction, not the action or inaction of others. And Ok, I admit that you are correct given my lack of the use of the qualitative “civil” before liberty. Civil liberties are the rights that protect us from the state, rather than from each other. And as such are provided BY the state. So yes, my mistake in not being clear enough, but my point remains. And for someone who called me naive for thinking that western governments are for the most part benevolent, you are certainly very ready to declare that civil liberties are not a priviledge. Look at the rest of the world, and tell me the percentage of the human population that benefits from them. Go on. I can wait.

    Ok, and I may get a -tad- emotional at this point but I just keep seeing the same thing over and over again so let me be perfectly clear.

    “If you have nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”
    IS.NOT.AN.ARGUMENT.IT.IS.A.STATEMENT.OF.FACT. This provided that you live in a nation where the govenment is not trying to remove its opposition but in Britain this is not the case.

    As for your ideal world where the government exists only to deal with crime and such, I refer you to a wonderful book, (work of fiction of course) called Jennifer Government. I’m sure you’ll love it.

    I will reserve further critisism of various political leanings until you have clarified which one you belong to, otherwise I risk going off on irrelevant tangents. Though I challenge you to defend what Friedman suggests against me.

    “Sorry, that’s stupid. The technology doesn’t work, therefore we shouldn’t rely on it because we can’t guarantee that it will do what we want it to do!”
    Right, fair enough, we shouldn’t -rely- on it. There is no reason do demonise it to the point where we advance it to the stage at which it IS reliable and after that, use it. I’m not defending the current technology, I’m defending the future usefulness it may have. I mean, look at computers, those were hardly the peak of efficiency when they fist came about, but nowadays everybody has one and they’re -still- getting better.

    On the topic of nobody having the right to observe you, how bothered about it are you? Do you take pains to avoid being seen and followed every time you go out? If not then you may already have a stalker without knowing. Do you use proxy servers and IP maskers when you go online? Because if not there are probably numerous people on the internet who could track you back to your home adress. Do you cover yourself up when you go to places with CCTV? Do you avoid those spots systmatically? Because if not, then you could already be under observation and all due to you doing nothing to stop this from happening. So why should you be so bothered that it is the government rather than anyone else? What makes a body of elected officials so damn terrifying?

    Also, they way you quoted the part on anarchits makes it sound like I think they’re all a buch of crazy people who approve of murder. The full line makes it clear that this is not so. Please be more careful in future.

    *Special thanks to Mia who pointed out the computer example to me*

  20. I’m not sure that “the technology needs some work” really covers it. The project cost an absolutely absurd amount of money and the technology still didn’t progress anywhere usable.

    The issue in many cases is just a simple lack of variance to the samples being collected. As good as the technology gets, there are not infinite variations in fingerprints or facial structures. These things just tend to cluster – and you’re statistically far more likely to create false matches as the sample size increases.

    The technology may simply never reach the point where all this is a good idea.

    I think it’s instructive to look at the Data Protection Act. The DPA governs private organisations and dictates that where they store personally identifiable information, the information stored must be accurate, up to date and always necessary for the legitimate processing interests of the organisation unless prior consent is given. The DPA is built around a set of guidelines that apply to the whole of the Europe and are designed to balance civil liberty with the need to store data.

    Data needs to be gathered and stored. It’s important that we can be identified and that we can only spend our own money and it’s in the interests of everyone if we can avoid fraud and maybe if we can be marketed at a little more effectively. This is all pretty legitimate and compromises have been reached in the past that still protect the rights of the individual. The British government, on the other hand, has shown time and time again that it would rather run counter to these expectations. Government departments store data for years longer than is needed, just in case they’re asked about anything. Businesses are sometimes required to produce paperwork on people that they have no right still knowing about.

    The ID card system is excessive. There is no lawful, legitimate or specific purpose to creating a database of databases in this way, at least that we’ve been given. The data the register would index exists already. That’s not a problem because the data is decentralised. I’m sure that if someone was really determined they could find out all about me, but they’d need a lot of warrants, clearances and searches to get at it.

    I’m not making my point very well. Perhaps a better point to make is that the ID card scheme is already dead. We could debate whether it died for the right reasons until the cows come home, but no-one has any cause to complain any more.

  21. I quoted the Friedman thing to point out that anarchism doesn’t necessarily mean what you were inferring it to mean. I think that Friedman’s proposal is an interesting and not completely ridiculous idea (and so no, it’s not completely indefensible – did you watch all of the video?), but I think there are a few issues with it to prevent me from agreeing with it completely (unless of course those issues could be solved in some way). I’m not a Libertarian, and generally tend towards Classical Liberalism (so yes, I acknowledge the need for the state, albeit as a necessary evil). I probably tend to agree more with Milton Friedman than with David!

    “for someone who called me naive for thinking that western governments are for the most part benevolent, you are certainly very ready to declare that civil liberties are not a priviledge”

    Hmm. I’m mostly arguing from the perspective of Britain (and yes, in part, hinting towards an “ideal”), so it’s a bit misleading to say “it doesn’t happen in other countries”. To be clear, I consider liberty to be a fundamental right, rather than a privilege. That’s not to say that some states don’t encroach on that right (and hey, if the citizens of those countries buy into that and want that sort of state, good for them. I wonder how many really do though..), but the fact that they do it doesn’t shake my belief (or my ideal, if you like) in liberty as a right, not a privilege. That is my opinion, and therefore it shapes my idea of what the state *should* (and note that I’ve been careful to use that word at several points in this discussion) be doing – safeguarding liberty as a right, not granting it as a privilege.

    In fact, if we take a peek at the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Right, we see article 12: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”.

    “‘If you have nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear’ IS.NOT.AN.ARGUMENT.IT.IS.A.STATEMENT.OF.FACT.”

    Well, no, and using capital letters doesn’t help you make your point any better. It’s a statement you’re using to support your position, and I’d pretty much consider that to be an argument. I also disagree that it’s true, for lots of reasons that I’ve outlined previously. But here’s a quick article which explains it all again. It’s *not* simply hysterical scaremongering.

    “As for your ideal world where the government exists only to deal with crime and such”

    Please tell me where exactly I’ve said that? As far as I’m concerned, we’ve not touched about what other things the government should do, and rightly so because it’s a massive topic and not entirely related to this discussion (although it is partially related, of course). FWIW I think that the government should probably do a little bit more than just deal with crime, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t put words in my mouth.

    As to the point about technology might improve to make biometric systems viable, you’re completely correct, they might. But at the moment, they’re not, so we shouldn’t rely them. I didn’t actually rule out ever using them from a technological standpoint, so I’m a bit perplexed that you’re making that argument.

    However much biometrics improve, I’d still be sceptical about their use, again on privacy grounds.

    “What makes a body of elected officials so damn terrifying?”

    I think Dominic has pretty much covered all of this. You’re missing a massive and fundamental point. Yes, people collect information, but it’s all fragmented. No one person/organisation has it all, and as Dominic pointed out the DPA exists to ensure that they don’t give that information out to all and sundry. The state is different, because it would all be centralised. It doesn’t take too much imagination to conceive of why this could be a bad thing – going back to the point about assuming future governments will be benevolent.

    It seems to me that the fundamental difference of opinion is about the role that the state should play in society. Do you have any comments about that?

  22. Adam

    “I am not going to get into trouble for thinking that the coalition is a bad thing or even for saying so from a soapbox on Hyde park corner”

    Actually, you will – you’re not allowed to make a politcal stand or protest within a mile of the Houses of Parliament without prior written consent from the police…

    I think my biggest problem is that post 9/11 or 7/7 – our political culture has evolved to assume that everyone is a criminal, or about to commit a crime. The problem is that ID cards and legislation and bureaucracy don’t stop terrorism. The idea behind the no-protests-within-a-mile-of-parliament-without-consent legislation is to prevent terror attacks on parliament. But if all you have to do is fill in a form, then why wouldn’t a suicide bomber fill in a form, then with permission go into the centre of London and blow himself up?? All the 9/11 hijackers had legitimate ID on them, so did the 7/7 bombers. ID cards don’t stop terrorism. Fact.

    Britain had ID cards during WW2, because we were at war, there was a very real threat of German invasion, and thus needed to be able to identify British citizens. In 1950, a man named Clarence Henry Willcock was stopped by a Police Officer and asked to present his ID card (War had been over for 5 years at this point) – Wilcock refused saying “I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing” He was arrested and fined. As a result of his actions, the law making ID cards compulsory was repealed, saying that it “tends to turn law-abiding subjects into lawbreakers”

    harrassed this pair of photographers earlier in the year… This is exactly why I dislike ID cards, because you give them an inch and they’ll take a mile…

  23. Adam

    grr – messed up the link… I fail at computers…

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