07 October, 2012


Deine Papiere, bitte!

The last Government's national identity card scheme fell apart in the face of public opposition, spiralling costs and incompetence in implemenation.  It was killed off by the incoming Tory administration, probably more as a populist gesture than out of principled opposition.

So everything's hunky dory then.  The database state is dead.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper, up to a point.  Certainly the prospect of being stopped and asked for "papers", at first by the police and then in short order by pretty well any petty official of the state, has for the time being at least receded.  We are for now spared the delicious irony of being apprehended for failure to show ID to a Nigerian traffic warden who is himself probably in the country on a long-expired tourist visa and working under a made-up NI number.

You can walk the streets unidentified and unlicensed alright, but it's an empty privilege as it's increasingly difficult to take part in the organized economy without some kind of approved ID.  I have no problem with the fact the some transactions require proof of identity, certainly those involving claiming benefits and services from the state or where proof of good faith and non-criminality is a sensible requirement.  Whatever, those can be argued case by case.

What does concern me is the narrowing of what counts as acceptable identification and the emergence of a system of de facto ID cards.  We are increasingly settling on two acceptable forms of identification to the exclusion of all alternatives: these are the driving licence and the passport.  These documents have two clear advantages for "suppliers".  Firstly, they are widespread.  Secondly, their serial numbers can easily be checked online.

So what's to worry about?  Well, not everybody has them.  Me, for instance.  And the tendency, in our increasingly systems- and procedure-driven world, is for there to be no flexibility to go outside the prescribed system.  If you don't have the de facto documentation, then you are a non-person and cannot receive services.

Let me give you a couple of anecdotes.

When I left my last employment, with the company I usually refer to as MegaCorp Inc, I found myself needing to provide and pay for my own mobile phone service.  Shocking!  So I toddled along to a well-known operator and eventually settled on a SIM-only monthly contract.  Credit card checks went through without problem.  And then I was asked for personal identification.  Passport or driving licence.  No alternatives accepted.  End of transaction.  I toddled a little further down the high street and bought myself a PAYG SIM in another (mainstream) phone shop.  No names, no pack drill.  At least in 2008 anyway.

In the event, PAYG served my needs well for the next four years.  I have recently moved to a contract with the second operator, and without all this ID bollocks.  So it was the operational whim of one company, but you can see the way things are going.

Another anecdote on a more trivial level.  As an old fogy in training, I am entitled to stuff like discount cards for national rail travel.  You pay something like £25 for the card and you get 33% off most national rail tickets.  I bought one of these in 2008 and as I did a fair amount of rail travel that year it costed in nicely.  On that occasion I filled in the form and turned up at a booking office and showed the clerk my birth certificate, a tatty paper document hand-written in 1948 in best copybook cursive.  No problem.  When the card expired National Rail emailed me to say I could now renew online and even get a three-year card at a significantly reduced price.  Great stuff.  But the three-year card was only available on-line and proof of age was only by entering a passport or driving licence number.

Fair enough.  I can still trot along to the station clutching my birth certificate to get a one-year card.  For now, anyway.  This exclusion hardly puts me in the position of a stateless refugee, does it?  But you can the way things are going.  For the operational and technological convenience of states and corporations, "rationalizations" are being made which drive customers in a particular direction.

There is no actual compulsion, but in reality it becomes progressively harder for the individual to function as a full citizen without acceding to the "rationalized" systems.  Consider an example.  Suppose, in 2008, government concerns about criminal use of mobile phones had led to a requirement to identify the purchasers of PAYG SIMs and that more-or-less all operators had chosen to implement identification through on-line checking of passport or driving licence numbers.  No mobile for me, then.  Is that a problem?  You don't have to have a phone.  Well, apart from the considerable personal inconvenience, yes it is.  I think you will find that many services these days require a personal telephone contact number as part of the sign-up process.  Bit tricky if you can't get a phone because you don't have a driving licence or passport.  Well, use your home landline.  Maybe, but before domestic internet access became a factor, I decided to relinquish my home landline and convert completely to mobile.  I don't think I'm alone in this trend.  Being uncontactable by phone may seem like a blessing.  In practice it's a crippling limitation for those outside the cash-in-hand economy.

All of this stuff can, for the time being, be worked round, at some personal inconvenience and restriction.  But the trend is clear, and the options are being squeezed out.

You may be wondering why a perfectly normal chap like me doesn't have these documents.  After all, doesn't everyone?

The driving licence is easy.  I don't have a driving licence because I don't drive.  There are a number of reasons why I don't drive, but the clincher is that my eyesight is at best marginal for the purpose.  Even with the prosthetic palliation of a pair of specs, my focus at middle and long distances is poor.  I don't know if they still do the reading a number plate at 25 yards thing: I might pass it by squinting and lucky guesswork.  So no driving for me.

As to passports, well I've had UK passports in the past and have travelled to foreign climes in the days of yore, but these days I have no business reasons to travel abroad and no strong inclination to enjoy put up with the glamourous experience of airports and aeroplanes — Greyhound buses of the air but with slightly less smelly and slightly less nutty fellow passengers — for elective personal travel, ta very much.  My last long-expired passport is in the drawer somewhere.  It predates machine-readables.

What prompts me to rant about this just now is that I'm currently negotiating with a respectable financial services company who want to sell me an investment package to apply my idle lucre.  All went well until the not entirely unreasonable question of identification arose.  Can you bring your passport or driving licence to our next meeting, please?  Don't have either, Cock, sorry.  Ah!  Stunned silence.  In the event, since they're after my money, I expect a perfectly sensible way round will be found.  That remains to be seen.  But you can see the way it's going, innit.

I am actively considering going through the expense and bother of renewing my passport.  Not because I have the remotest interest in calling upon foreign chappies to allow me to pass their borders without let or hindrance at her Britannic Majesty's Request and Requirement, but simply in order to function normally in British society.

NO2ID won, did they?  Hmm.

Ihre Papiere. Not "Deine."

[Reposted] Originally posted by Furor Teutonicus to Dogwash at 07 October, 2012 23:05

I have a 6 year old unregistered PAYG phone. I expect that They will remotely explode it one day.

Last week I was chatting to a young lady who had just moved to my city. She had wasted her morning trying to get written confirmation of her new address from The Council.
This was for the benefit of her new employer, the local wing of the NHS, this despite the fact that she had been passed by the CRB which itself requires proof of residence and that her previous employer was...

another wing of the NHS.

[Reposted] Originally posted by banned to Dogwash at 08 October, 2012 05:24

I'm not convinced that They will be that polite, FT.

[Reposted] Originally posted by Edwin Greenwood to Dogwash at 08 October, 2012 06:40

Another wrinkle: I went to my local tool hire shop to rent something or other. They want TWO forms of identity, one of which can be a passport (OK 'cos I have one), the other has to be a utility bill.

Do you have utility bills any more?

We don't - everything is email and online.

Sorry, hire shop, you just lost my business.

[Reposted] Originally posted by Weekend Yachtsman to Dogwash at 10 October, 2012 11:31

Would they accept two passports? :-)

As to your E.Mail/utility bill question, aye, that is SO symptomatic of the medium to small size firms who just have not caught up with available technology yet.

The sort that insist you can contact them at any time by E-Mail, and then never even OPEN the bloody things.

[Reposted] Originally posted by Furor Teutonicus to Dogwash at 10 October, 2012 11:36

"Do you have utility bills any more?
We don't - everything is email and online."

That's why, when EDF wrote to me and said, "We're going to save the planet by providing your electricity bills on line only", I insisted that they continue to provide paper bills, quarterly by snail mail. Fortunately this seems to be an offered option on their website, presumably for legal reasons.

Lecky bills are pretty well the only utility/public authority bill I continue to get on paper. Plus they're quarterly — another thing which demanders of identity stipulate is that acceptable proof of address should no more than 3 months old.

[Reposted] Originally posted by Edwin Greenwood to Dogwash at 10 October, 2012 11:44

Related, vaguely.... When I was doing some freelance teaching, I was told by an agency they would happily provide me with work if I could demonstrate I was a UK citizen. Passport, sir?

I produced it, but it was no good. It had expired. I pointed out I had no desire to travel abroad again, and it was still me (admittedly the photo in it looked a shade more youthful, if a tad less knowing about life). No, has to be a current passport, they said.


Ah, EU regulations. That useful catch-all inhibitor of freedom. You see, sir, they said. You may want to teach Photoshop in Krakow.

Not, I pointed out, on bloody £14 an hour and I pay all my own travel.

We can't help you then, said the agency.

So Krakow never got to see my expertise...

[Reposted] Originally posted by Brit to the core to Dogwash at 10 October, 2012 12:29

An author, I think it was Bill Bryson but not really sure, was asked for photo ID before being allowed on a US domestic flight. He didn't have a driving license on him, but he had a book of his with his pic on the back of the dust jacket. The jobsworth wouldn't accept it. The jobsworth boss's boss did accept it. He nearly missed his plane because two people either had no discretion or were morons.

[Reposted] Originally posted by Dr Evil to Dogwash at 10 October, 2012 16:00

Similar in some ways but on a positive note that to an extents highlights the stupidity of the ID situation...

My son in law is working in Angola.

To spend his "hard" earned salary he and my daughter decided to buy a flat in NW5 - so not a cheap option.

He needed/wanted a bit of a mortgage and went along to a local bank. The bank needed ID and proof of UK residency. Explaining they were in Africa for a couple more years and the object of buying a place was so they could have UK residency was a hard circle to break! It was suggested he should get me to add him to a couple of my utility bills... With a certain amount of trepidation I called Water, Electric and Sewage who were astoundingly obliging and with a week I had another name on my bills.

In the end it was decided not to proceed with that bank but with NATWEST who hold his account.

[Reposted] Originally posted by Anonymous to Dogwash at 12 October, 2012 14:47

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