|Montreal, March 30, 2002 / No 101|
by Ralph Maddocks
Some may argue that the Police State is not simply in the process of arriving, but that it has already been with us for some time. Certainly the events of September 11, 2001 have done nothing to retard the process. There are many small developments, each one seemingly innocuous in itself, which are helping the police forces of the world to increase their grip on the activities of people.
The introduction of identity cards has been the subject of much recent discussion but so far many of the various governments involved appear to have shelved the matter. Temporarily shelved at least, or until the various propaganda machines have had time to do their work. The introduction of driver's licences bearing the owner's photograph has provided the state with a perfectly acceptable substitute for a temporary form of ID card. Nobody is making much fuss about a photo on their driving permit, having long become accustomed to requiring a licence to drive.
The original purpose of the driving licence was to ensure that the applicant had the mental and physical competence to drive a vehicle. All states rapidly turning this into a method of controlling a part of their population, and soon we began to hear the government refrain that "driving is a privilege and not a right." A refrain which has been unquestioningly accepted by the majority of the population. This underlying theory is present in states as varied in their political philosophies as the USA, Canada, England and China.
The use of face-recognition technology though has shed new light on one police practice, a practice which most likely has surprised many people. With digital photographs in common use, it is very easy for the forces of law and order to scan, on a routine basis, the databank containing the province or state's drivers' license photographs to find look-alikes for criminal photo lineups. Whatever your description, if it matches the facial characteristics – or even a composite – of a suspect, your photograph could be among those laid out alongside the photo of an alleged armed robber or murderer for a witness or victim to identify. Ever wonder how many police line-ups you may have been in? I'll bet you thought too that the new provincial health cards and driver's licences, with their nice coloured photographs, were in colour because they look less like the old grainy black and white ones that made us all look like shifty criminals.
All this occurred to me recently, when I had my photo taken for my latest driver's licence. Being a wearer of orthochromic lenses, which turn dark when exposed to light of any kind, I was asked to remove them before my photo was taken. When I asked why, I was informed that the police don't like photos of individuals with dark glasses! So now my health card and driver's licence each bear a photograph of an old white haired individual blinking at the camera. Of course, in real life I do not look like that because I wear my glasses continuously. But this isn't a problem for the police because their photo recognition equipment is much more interested in the shape of my face than its adornments.
The polls taken following the WTC incident showed that there is considerable public support for many of these so-called anti-terrorism measures, support accompanied by cries from many for even harsher measures to restrain liberty; including, unthinkingly, their own. Even in the USA, well known people, notably Oracle's Larry Ellison and Harvard's Allen Dershowitz, have proposed a US national ID card. Ellison having even offered to manufacture them himself, presumably as an act of charity and patriotism. Closer to home, Quebec's Minister of Health, under the cover of wanting to reduce fraud, has been again touting a health card with a chip, to counter so-called violations of his system. Since they introduced photographs on the Health card a few years ago, some reduction of fraud has taken place, but it has not been eliminated as reports in the French press showed recently.
The Police Federation in the UK says that it would welcome the introduction of a voluntary ID card. They claim that, after the events of September 11th last, personal identification is now a priority and securing individual identity is the first matter to address. They say that while the police service is ever vigilant and prepared for terrorist attacks, they must also cope with the conflict between communities who live in an atmosphere of fear, hostility and confusion. Reading their position on this I found that while they say "The introduction of an identity card would have other benefits too. It would reduce the number of people taken to police stations just to confirm identity, help in the prevention of fraud – especially (welfare) benefits fraud – and would be valuable as proof of age for pubs, clubs, cinemas and other age-restricted access," they also say that "The integrity and credibility of identification cards must be carefully checked to ensure accuracy and in the first place it needs to be voluntary. If this does not work we will have to make it a mandatory requirement for everyone."
There you have it, first introduce a voluntary system which inevitably will not work to their satisfaction then they will just have to make it compulsory; after all it is for our protection. When the Canadian Federal government first issued everyone with a SIN (Social Insurance Number) it claimed that it was only to be used to allow everyone obtain social or health services and nothing else. Yet this soon changed, first the SIN was required when conducting a banking or brokerage transaction, then it had to appear on your tax return because it had become an identifier of an individual, and the government could now begin to trace some of that individual's activities. I have even been asked for my SIN when renting an apartment. This is not covered by the list of uses to which the SIN may be put, so knowing that I would not obtain the apartment if I refused, I provided the owner with a wholly fictitious number and he seemed quite pleased.
The authorities everywhere know that the use of an ID card to control terrorists is most unlikely to work unless combined with biometric data and perhaps DNA, and that the software used is based on something akin to the kind of complex software used by credit card companies. When a storekeeper requests authorization to approve your purchase of something, the credit card company's software does several things. First it checks to see if there is such a card in the system; and if so, that it has not been reported as stolen. It then checks to see if there is enough credit to allow the purchase. Then it checks your transaction history, the kind of transactions recently you have made and checks to see if this new purchase fits that profile. Next it checks its inventory of fraudulent card usage and produces a "score" which is used to determine whether or not to authorize the purchase. Last year, when buying some rather expensive electronic equipment on a credit card, I triggered this system and I was asked, right there in the store, to "speak" with some anonymous individual who asked me all sorts of questions in an effort to see if I was who I claimed to be.
The other name for this is "profiling," a term which is commonly understood to be a system used by police to stop and question citizens who are dressed differently or who are somehow different to the majority. Now, imagine that our formerly benevolent government wishes to introduce an ID card. It will not be long before it is required to be used for everything you do. Book a flight – produce ID; Pick up your airline tickets – produce ID; Rent a car – produce ID; Buy or rent a house – produce ID; Cash a cheque – produce ID; Buy a TV set – produce ID, need I say more? These transactions will then be scanned by a supercomputer (also accessible to another country's agencies) and a profile of your actions past and present developed.
For example, the record of your child support payments; if you are behind in them you could find your purchase of that new TV set refused. If you haven't paid that parking fine you got last year in Yellowknife, your purchases could be stopped. Buying that expensive gift for your girl friend may result in questions being asked about the reason for the expenditure when she doesn't have the same name as your wife or daughter. After all, we must protect the morals of our subjects. Your spending patterns will be compared to your income tax returns and your bank balance to see if you are a tax cheat (one of Mr. Landry's favourite people) or living above your apparent means.
Imagine that a mistake is made – and this happens in the credit system quite often – your "credit" is refused. Your profile becomes mixed up with another person of the same or similar name and suddenly hard-faced men with guns are waking you up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning.
As I ponder this new and ever intrusive world in which we live I really wonder if those who support the introduction of ID cards have ever fully considered what is really happening. In a recent symposium, Robert Higgs, senior fellow at The Independent Institute said "Of course, once people have been subjected to such thoroughgoing government surveillance, all relations between the government and the public are transformed. Whether the rulers be revolutionary despots or democratically elected officials, every citizen knows that 'they' know all about him and his affairs, and hence no one dares to step out of line. In such a situation, the socio-political system will gravitate ineluctably toward totalitarianism."
Hong Kong is the latest state to announce that it will issue so-called "smart cards" embedded with a chip which has their name, photo, date of birth and a digital thumb-print of each thumb to all Hong Kong residents, aged 11 and up, all at a cost of
Still, many in Hong Kong were disconcerted when the government floated the idea of a high-tech card loaded with so much personal information. The local smart card hackers are already displaying their talents and many fear that the IDs will present a tempting target. In Hong Kong, as elsewhere, black marketers sell pirated cable television decoders that use bootlegged smart cards to decrypt pay TV channels. To allay public fears, the Hong Kong government opted against requiring the cards to serve as driving licences and library cards. With those and other applications optional, the government hoped its scaled-back proposal can be approved by lawmakers and launched next year. Although the digital fingerprint characteristics will be stored on the card they will not be in a government database so even if a hacker penetrated the system, there would be no fingerprint data to steal. If the card is stolen, officials say the data on the chip cannot be easily retrieved.
Last month, an initial
In the USA, states are rushing to enact their own versions of the US Patriot Act. A Vermont Law School professor, Michael Mello, who recently testified on an anti-terrorism bill in Montpelier said, "State legislatures are in the process of re-calibrating the appropriate balance between liberty and security in the post-September 11th world." What is occurring, Mello said, involves a localized repackaging of the federal anti-terrorism laws, passed by Congress in October as the USA-Patriot Act. Like the Patriot Act, proposals in Maryland and a new law in Virginia permit law enforcement officials to get court orders to retrieve records of e-mails and other electronic communications, not just telephone records.
Statistics compiled by local prosecutors in Maryland showed that 91 percent of the conversations, that were recorded by police during investigations in the year 2000, turned out to involve people with no connection to the crimes being investigated. Despite this, Maryland's proposal would expand the ability of police to tap phones by allowing investigators to plant a listening device indefinitely, not just 30 days. For the first time, it would, permit use of a "roving wire tap" to record a suspect's conversations on multiple phones with a single warrant. It would allow a judge to seal search warrants for up to a year. "Our goal was to conform our law to what the feds are already doing," said Del. Ann Marie Doory (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the Maryland Security Protection Act of 2002.
Many critics object to the provision that makes terrorism a new crime. Just as hate-crime laws attached stiffer penalties to existing infractions, the terrorism charge could be attached to any of a long list of existing crimes, as long as the suspect committed them with the intention of instilling widespread fear or coercing action from the government. The problem with that, Del. Sharon Grosfeld (D-Montgomery) said, is that "you're talking about very harsh penalties that could be added based on someone's political beliefs, not because of their actions. That strikes me as very dangerous."
Last November, there was even a case of a man going to retrieve his rental car, which he had reserved over the Internet, being asked not only for his driver's licence but also his thumb-print. The man, a New Mexico-based magazine editor, said he found out about the requirement when he walked up to the Dollar Rent A Car counter and noticed a display featuring a drawing of a big thumb making the A-OK sign with the words "Thumbs Up!" printed on it. The display explained that thumb-prints were being collected from customers as part of an effort to reduce fraud and theft. When the man refused to submit to this indignity, the car company's employee refused to rent him a car.
I would be very surprised if any of these concerns really matter to those who govern the new Police State. Such concerns never seemed to affect Adolf Hitler or Joe Stalin, as far as I can tell.
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