thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Get 'em while they're young

I've been reading, thinking, and blogging about about identity management in the last few months, and my own thoughts, together with discussions with colleagues from computer science and law, have made me more and more sceptical that identity infrastructures can or will be privacy-enhancing at all. For the general reasoning, read my older posts and have a look at e.g. this paper or this presentation, or wait for the video of my presentation at the recent Berlin hackers conference. Or let me refer you to Lawrence Lessig, who as early as 1999 made a major point in his book on "Code and other Laws of Cyberspace" on how identification enables zoning, which in turn enables control. Control of course limits freedom, and identification also limits privacy.

Having said this, I was surprised by a report about the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA) that wants all secondary pupils in Scotland to carry photo ID cards. Their argument was it would stop bullying - yes, bullying!
The SSTA's general secretary, David Eaglesham, said the time had come for photographic identification to be added to the cards used to access school facilities. "Introducing photo ID cards will help bring an end to bullying over use of 'cash free' cards for school meals".
Of course, according to the SSTA, it would also enhance exams security and "assist with access to school bus services" (read: control access to school buses).

But the hidden agenda is elsewhere, and my feeling of being surprised came from how openly it was articulated :
He said that introducing such a system would also help prepare young people for "the realities of identity management in the 21st Century".
Yeah, great. Why not also start fingerprinting all pupils, taking their DNA, putting surveillance cameras in the classroom and forcing them to not let their bags unattended or else they will be blown up by a SWAT team? By establishing this kind of stuff in schools, you create little monsters and authority-obeying subjects, not people who have fun being curious and learning. I totally subscribe to the reaction by Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie:
"We should be preparing young people for the reality of defending their privacy and civil liberties against ever-more intrusive government systems".
Again, Bruce Schneier hits the mark here:
It's important that schools teach the right lessons, and "we're all living in a surveillance society, and we should just get used to it" is not the right lesson.


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