Should I reconsider my privacy stance?

Some people who know me might think I’m a bit of a privacy freak. This is true to a certain extent. I try to limit the amount of personally identifiable information that gets out to others. I don’t provide optional information on web sites and web applications, unless I see a direct benefit from doing so. LinkedIn has information on when and where I worked and studied and a list of some people I know. This gives me a direct advantage. Providing my mobile number to an online survey company does not, so I don’t provide it.

On the other hand, I have been known to lapse. I don’t have unique password for every situation (I remember about 10 to 15 passwords but use hundreds of services).

Jebas just pointed me to this article discussing the introduction of Welfare Smart Cards. It reports the intention to allow private companies to “broad access” to the information stored about the card-holder.

The idea is that, for example, people on welfare benefit can spend their benefits directly on groceries, but not on cigarettes and alcohol. At first I think why not? These people are getting help to survive, and survival does not depend on access to certain luxury items. On the other hand, I’m thinking this is a huge invasion of privacy with the added [government] benefit of an Orwellian culture.

I decided to see what the readers of the article thought and found some rather amusing entries:

THOSE who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. A smartcard might root out a lot of undesirables and fraudsters.

I’m sorry, but this isn’t a rational comment, and the author is obviously oblivious to the existence of corruption, system security vulnerabilities and incompetence. It is possible, in my opinion, for information to be bought from an official (there will be one ready to take the non-sequential, unmarked, used currency), obtained by means of compromising the system security, or simply trawling through the trash out the back of any superstore in order to get copies of all the information that was printed out and dumped by the incompetent trainee who doesn’t know better.

I STRONGLY object to the smartcard because it targets welfare recipients as the only cheats who would rip off the taxpayer or become terrorists. I do, however, support a national ID card that involves every citizen, no matter what their financial position, occupation or income. Many of the biggest cheats are those who can afford to dodge tax.

Now this one got me thinking. I actually agree with the sentiments. My view that those who want to break the law will do so and not get caught because they work outside the law, and that laws serve only (or mostly) to intimidate and scare those who would not break the law in the first place. Case in point: I don’t speed on highways even when it is safe (no traffic, clear day, good road conditions, car is capable, I’m alert, etc) because I’m scared of getting caught. Some people pass me at about 30kph or 40kph on the Hume when I’m doing 110kph on the dot.

That said, would I be willing to have a national ID card that allows the government and associated entities (including “broad access” to supermarkets, banks and the guy who owns my local milk-bar) to get information about me if it were to reduce or eliminate tax evasion and benefit fraud? In principle, yes. I’d have no problems.

But so long as corruption, security vulnerabilities and incompetence are a factor, I am vehemently opposed.

I just found another thread of comments on the same story at the same site.

I’d love to hear how you feel about this? Is there a happy middle ground? Is an Orwellian society the way to go? Should we all burn our documents and keep our money under the mattress?

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