Astrologers and National ID Cards
I often hear folks who believe in astrology saying things like “That’s just the scorpio in her.” Or, “All Leos act that way.” I rarely hear them say “That’s so unlike a scorpio.” Underlying this is a mind-set which searches for ‘evidence in favor’ of a proposition. This search is a fundamental, and common, misunderstanding of the scientific method. The scientific method is all about disproving hypothesis. A good, real experiment (as opposed to a demonstration or teaching exercise) has the capability to show that a theory is wrong in some way, or some set of circumstances which the experimenter creates. A good experiment does this by saying “If the two spheres fall at the same rate, then gravity can’t affect heavier objects more.” The search for evidence that contradicts what you’d like to believe underlies good science.
There are a number of folks commenting here with anecdotes or ideas that lead one to think “A national id card would be a good thing: Look at all the problems it solves.” Frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn. I believe that ID cards would provide a number of superficial, short term benefits, in exchange for substantial long term damage to our liberty, security, and privacy.
I believe that the damage to liberty and privacy are so obvious that I don’t need to belabor them. The damage to security may be harder for some to see, and comes in both small and large ways. The large ways are that a nation that chooses to lock up or perhaps murder its citizens needs a database to work from. National ID cards have been used extensively for this purpose. To those who say it can’t happen here, I’ll simply point out that neither could torture, nor could our government lock people up for three years without evidence, nor would we ever herd members of an ethnic group into camps, and appropriate their property.
Smaller damage to security comes from the card being declared Trustworthy, perhaps even by law. That is, no one who relies on a National ID card, or the data attached to it, to extend you a loan, assess your qualifications or eligibility for a job, or access your arrest record will ever be found liable for negligence. It will be easier to trust the card and the report than to assess the person in front of you. After all, the National ID card was present; the records are going to be presumed correct. (If they’re not, what’s the point of the system?)
But the increasing need for such cards increases the incentive to induce fraud at the issuer level. Such fraud is usually not perpetrated with malicious intent; it’s perpetrated by someone who would like to pursue the American dream. A hundred years ago, many of these people would have walked across the border and found honest work. Today, they have to commit a variety of crimes. You can sputter and foam disagreement here. You can confuse malum in se and malum prohibitum all you’d like. But at the end of the day, there are a great many people who either feel this way, or are willing to take $100 and console their conscience with such an argument.
Schneier has offered a five part test of a new security system:
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- How well does this measure solve the problem?
- What other security problems does the measure cause?
- What does the security measure cost?
- Given the answers to steps two through four, is the security measure worth the costs?
He even uses national ID cards as an example of a system that don’t clearly answer question 1. And so, if you’d like to argue for a national ID card, please do so. But please don’t do so like an astrologer. Make your arguments like a scientist, and be honest enough to address the other side’s points, rather than simply declaring that you like the idea.