In case you’ve been living on Mars for the past few months, Manchester has been
selected as the guinea pig for the national ID card scheme. ID cards are there to make
travelling through the EU easier and cheaper, to protect you from identity theft and to
disrupt terrorist activity if you believe what the Home Office has to say about it.
I must admit, I was a bit sceptical going in. Why would anyone pay £30 to put even
more sensitive information into the hands of the government? I’m not a tinfoil hat
wearing nut locked in my basement with my 800 copies of Catcher in the Rye by any
means, but I think it’s safe to say that they don’t have the best track record when it
comes to keeping personal information safe.
Step One: Go to the ID card webpage (http://idsmart.direct.gov.uk/index.html) and
request an application pack.
The first thing I read on the website is the fact that I need a passport before I can
apply for an ID card. Erm, I thought this could be used instead of a passport? Scratch
making travel through the EU cheaper and easier.
Step Zero: Get a passport. Fill out forms, get my photos taken, hand over £77 and
go for an interview. The interviewer gets all Nineteen Eighty-Four on me when, to
confirm my identity, he asks me who I bank with. “Erm… Lloyds”. “That’s fine”, he
confirms, “Don’t worry, if you didn’t get that one right, we could ask you who your
mortgage is with”. Yikes.
Step Two: Fill out a second set of forms that ask for virtually the same information
my passport application provided and go for a second interview.
The second interview was an interesting process. I was called up to talk to a cheery
fella who checks my form, takes my money and inputs my info. Just to make
conversation while he typed all my info in manually, I asked “Have you had many
people apply for these things?” Sensing my surprise when he answers yes, he goes
on the defensive. “I don’t know what the fuss is all about,” he starts, “Organisations
hold personal information about you for all kinds of things, it’s just how it works. It’s
about time they came in if you ask me, the Home Secretary has said that they can’t
keep track of illegal immigrants who are claiming benefits”. Hmm, that’s odd, they
didn’t mention that bit in their marketing material, I thought this was about protecting
me from identity theft.
“Besides,” he continues, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry
about”. He says that last bit three times during the interview. I’ve never liked that
phrase “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about” especially
since the US government used it to convince Americans to accept the Patriot Act. You
know, that one that allows the feds to wiretap anybody without their consent.
At the end of my interview, I’m asked to sit back down, write down the answers
to five security questions and wait to get called up again for the second part of the
interview. There are a number of security questions on the list to choose from. I choose the sports
position I played as a kid, the name of my first pet and the first book I’d ever read. I
chose the last one because saying “Jacob Two Two meets The Hooded Fang” to an
over-efficient ID card flunkie tickled me.
Step Three: Give over my “biometric data”. I get called up to the biometric room
where I am greeted by a silver box, a camera and plastic container full of used
tissues. “Close the curtains behind you for privacy,” the woman says. Yikes again.
Biometric data just sounds disgusting. Disgusting AND technical. Like getting a Dirty
Sanchez from a robot. I think to myself, If she hands me a girlie mag and a cup, I’m
outta there, sod the 30 quid.
Thankfully, no bodily fluids were spilled; the tissues were for wiping the fingerprint
glass down (thank the maker). Biometric data is simply college talk for fingerprints, a
signature and a photograph that apparently scans my retinas. Yes, this biometric lark
isn’t like Nineteen Eighty-Four at all, scanning my retinas is entirely rational. As she
takes my fingerprints, I ask her, “Who will have access to these? Can the police use
this fingerprint database to solve crimes?” to which she replies, “Yes, I suppose they
can. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about”. Yikes a third
I’m sure this is not an utterly pointless exercise concerned more with treating me as
a potential criminal than fighting terrorism by fingerprinting me at my own expense.
No, that would be far too cynical. I’m sure that these cards will help hunt down those
pesky illegal immigrants, stop Osama from stealing my identity and make travelling
through Europe quick and easy like it was in the good old days. Why, I feel safer
already. Now then, where did I put my Daily Express?
The original article can be found at Manchester Confidential