This page provides a small selection of:

There have been far more than these of course. We're too busy analysing the scatty information that the Government releases, and preparing submissions, to formally keep track of all the Editorials and Letters.


Editorials

Yet another crisis of identity card?, The Melbourne Age, 18 July 18 2005:

A national ID card won't help fend off terrorists or improve immigration security. … the Australia Card … was rejected, as much as anything, for cultural reasons. An identity card was considered by many to fundamentally alter the relationship between citizen and state. It was also seen as opening up the possibility of mass surveillance. … In the absence of a universal identifier, many of its objectives have been achieved incrementally in Australia, some would say by stealth. The introduction of tax file numbers and Medicare cards, coupled with driving licences, passports, birth, death and marriage registration all serve to satisfy identification requirements. But the potential for cross-referencing such data remains limited. … Would an identity card have saved Cornelia Rau from wrongful incarceration? Probably not. Serious questions remain as to whether a national identity card, even one using the latest microchip or biometric technology, would reduce the risk of terrorist activity. Those intent on doing evil have always been remarkably adept at finding ways around such measures. And when terrorism is partly or wholly home grown, as in London and Oklahoma, a piece of plastic isn't going to make a jot of difference.

Identity card not part of war on terror, The Brisbane Courier-Mail, 19 July 2005:

… Just because governments and financial institutions know much more about the individuals who use their services than they did 20 years ago does not mean that individuals should surrender their privacy rights. Indeed, much of the public disquiet over the Government's attempts to strengthen Australia's security and intelligence capabilities has centred on what such changes mean for civil liberties and the right to privacy. Such disquiet is likely to turn into public revolt long before the Government gets very far down the track of introducing a national identification system. There is another reason the idea of an ID card is likely to remain just that in Australia. Recent history suggests governments cannot be trusted not to abuse such a system. The fate of wrongly detained Australian Cornelia Rau has been held up as an example of why a national ID card would be a good idea, yet her treatment at the hands of immigration and police authorities should serve as a warning about how individuals judged to be embarrassments to the government of the day would fare under a national ID system.

Smile for the cameras: technology and the ID card debate, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 2005 :

… Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the threat of terrorism has been gnawing at the edges of civil liberties in many nations, including Australia. The freedoms which define democracies should never readily be surrendered. Surveillance, of the kind exemplified in George Orwell's 1984, can only empower a totalitarian state. … the extraordinary reach of information technology and the globalised nature of security threats have so radically altered the environment in which we live as to warrant a new debate. One thing, however, has not changed since 1987. It is incumbent on any government to demonstrate why a national ID card system would make Australia a safer place - when so much information is already available - and how it would be protected from abuse.

Universal ID still on the cards, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 6 2006:

There is an encouragingly high degree of scepticism about the suggestion of a national ID card. The cost, on one estimate, would run into the billions. ... Mr Howard has since stressed that he has no firm view about the card, one way or the other. Mr Ruddock is equally non-committal. Indeed, politicians of all stripes seem decidedly tentative ... To inform both politicians and the public, Mr Ruddock has foreshadowed an inquiry: an announcement is imminent about who will conduct it and just what it will consider ... The questions will multiply rapidly ... The value of a national ID card will be in direct proportion to how much it can reveal about the person who holds it. And once established, there would be continuing pressure to expand its scope. Technological change means such a card would now pose far greater challenges to liberty and privacy than the Australia Card suggested by the Hawke government in the mid-'80s. The controversy about individual rights and freedoms will burn far brighter now than two decades ago.


Letters to the Editor

Not compulsory, just vital – The Government says the "access" card will not be compulsory, but then says people will need it to claim Medicare, welfare, veterans' benefits etc ("Access your areas", March 9). This would appear rather contradictory.

Tom Devrell Tamworth (Sydney Morning Herald, 12 March 2007)

The Australia Card has raised its ugly head again. Isn't an ID card a further erosion of our civil liberties and thus another victory for the terrorists? Instead of trying to make Australia "safer" with cards and detention centres, why don't we try to address the issues that turn people into evil suicide bombs? It is time to act to make our world a fairer and safer place for all people.

Nick Winwood, Randwick, NSW (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 July 2005)

I would like John Howard to explain how a national identity card would prevent terrorism. I cannot see how this would work unless:

- Every person in Australia is required to have one and carry it at all times. Of course, how one deals with the millions of legitimate visitors who arrive here each year is a mystery.

- Police (national, state, paramilitary or secret) are able to stop anyone at any time on any pretext and demand their identity card, arresting and detaining anyone who cannot produce their card.

- Sufficient police are deployed in all public places to be able to effectively prevent any person from doing damage. To ensure this, police would probably need to be armed with automatic weapons and be trained and prepared to use them to bring down any suspect they thought was about to trigger an attack. Better that a few innocent people die than one terrorist succeeds?

- Better still, make it a smart card with remote radio reading capabilities so that people on "watch lists" can be detected at any public facility.

The ID card is a furphy that will do nothing against terrorism but jump us closer to the world George Orwell warned of.

John Gwyther, Surrey Hills, Vic (The Melbourne Age, 18 July 2005)

It's said an ID card could have saved Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez Solon. But that's wrong. All that was required to save them was for one of the public servants who handled their cases to do his or her job. Just one.

Bill Tarrant, Tempe, NSW (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 2005)

ID cards to fight suicide bombers: what a brilliant idea! First, you spend absurd amounts of money making ID cards for everyone, then you spend even more to make sure that people swipe their card every time they get on or off a bus or train. Next, after a bombing takes place, you find the black box that contains all the ID card information and, by a complex process of elimination, determine which of the dead people was the terrorist. You are then in a very strong position to make sure that they don't do it again.

Ian Alexander, Porto Alegre (Brazil) (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 2005)

How does John Howard think that an ID card is going to stop terrorism? I can see the headlines: "Terrorist kills hundreds, but we know who he was." Great, that will help the families left behind. In the fight against terrorism, an ID card would be about as useful as a fridge magnet.

Roger Clark, Five Dock, NSW (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 2005)

Consider the reasons we've been given over the years for an ID card. Firstly to stop welfare fraud, then tax fraud, identity theft and now to monitor would-be terrorists. A card won't stop terrorism any more than drivers' licences stop unlicensed drivers speeding. Criminals have always found ways around the system. Always have and always will. What is needed is more training of intelligent law enforcement officers on our borders, effective enforcement and protection systems, and in our local police forces, who can protect the nation and its people. What we don't need are more public servants soaking up resources that law enforcement officers should be given.

Michael D. Robinson, Hurlstone Park, NSW (The Melbourne Age, 19 July 2005)

Why not just micro-chip all citizens of Australia, like we do to cats and dogs? Then we would not have to remember to carry the cards and we would not lose them. The real danger with national identity schemes is that governments can - and do - turn against citizens who do not support their ideology or political flavour. Everyone should read A Question of Madness by Zhores and Roy Medvedev about what the Soviet political system did to Zhores Medvedev, a Russian biochemist. In 1970 he was declared mentally ill for political reasons and the system moved against him at every turn. We cannot afford to believe that shades of this could never happen here.

Linda Brownstein, Benalla, Vic (The Melbourne Age, 19 July 2005)

If the national identity card comes about, and our existence is conditional upon a digitised photograph and biometric data stored on a super-computer agreeing with reality, we will all finally be reduced to a state of absolute subjection. Presumably, I will need the card to obtain any sort of government benefit, buy a ticket on anything to anywhere, and be subject to 100 per cent tax on any income if I cannot prove that I am myself. If a database search turns up the fact that I am a terrorist, who am I to argue? Governments tend to come and go, but the consequences of their actions can be permanent. Before people jump on this bandwagon, they must seriously consider how this card could be used in the future. Hopefully, millions of us will refuse to have anything to do with it.

Ian Semmel, Maleny, Qld (The Australian, 19 July 2005)

A national identification card to stop terrorism? Spaniards have had one for more than 40 years. It was introduced by the Franco dictatorship. Sadly, in the Madrid bombing, it was used to identify the victims.

Simon Palomares, Clifton Hill (The Melbourne Age, 20 July 2005)

Robert Thomas (Letters, 19/7) might want to clarify what concrete benefits would be gained by our sacrificing some civil liberties. And, indeed, which liberties he proposes scrapping.
Australia does not need "mini-passports" for internal use - akin to what people in the Soviet Union had to endure when the communists were in control. We are not at war, regardless of what the Federal Government claims in its trumped-up war on terror. Nor do Australians need to identify themselves with biometrics such as electronic fingerprints and face or iris scans - parameters commonly subject to false positive and negative readings.

What Mr Thomas appears to be proposing is a so-called smart ID card that combines biometric, health and financial data, all connected to a central database. The concentration of such data on all Australians in a single location could prove disastrous if it was attacked by hackers. This is possible given the increasing frequency and voracity of such incidents. The danger is magnified when so much information in so many fields is involved.

Cards can also be lost, and the stakes are far higher when all personal information is concentrated on a single card instead of spread across several. This renders people even more vulnerable to ID theft and unable to conduct necessary transactions that would require an ID card until it is replaced, at cost to the bearer, of course. Also, what would be the penalty for non-compliance in such a system? Fines, or perhaps imprisonment?

Regarding Britain, Mr Thomas might want to consider the growing opposition to the Blair Government's ID bill that recently passed through the House of Commons. Aside from the assault on privacy and civil liberties, the cost of introducing the system has blown out to several billion pounds, though the exact figure is unknown.

John Howard, a staunch opponent of the Australia Card in the 1980s, might do well to remember that governments in Australia are answerable to citizens, not the other way around. Liberty is too valuable to entrust to ill-considered ID schemes that are highly vulnerable to abuse.

Tim McKnight, Osaka, Japan (The Melbourne Age, 21 July 2005)

For those folks who are wavering as to whether or not we require an identity card for fear that the information it will contain might be abused or mismanaged by government, I have a suggestion: just imagine the minister responsible for the ID card portfolio is either Philip Ruddock or Amanda Vanstone. Exactly! Let's just stick with the fridge magnets in our fight against terrorism.

Matt Laffan, Sydney (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 2005)

In the Netherlands, they introduced their ID card in 2004 and from January 1, 2005 it became compulsory for every person above the age of 14 to carry the card at all times. Now it is reported that, in the first half-year of its introduction, already 34,000 people were caught not carrying the card. The result was a fine for 16-year-olds and above of €50 ($A79) and for the 14 and 15-year-olds a fine of €25 ($39.50). Sounds like another nice little revenue earner. Not only do they want to monitor the population, but ensure we are going to pay for it many times over.

Ben van Heusden, Coolaroo (The Melbourne Age, 25 July 2005)

'Populist Stampede to national ID card':

I note with concern the comment in today's Technology section (page 30) that fears about a identity card are not as great now compared to 1987.

The concerns are magnified greatly now due to the increasing networking of information systems, the ability of abuse and other mischievous behaviour by those who have access to the system and contractors, the prevalence of hacking and phishing (just ask the banks) and the ability to corrupt or remove data with minimal traceback to the perpetrator(s). These concerns come in addition to the marginal utility that such a complex system has in combating the stated aims of terrorism, fraud and like crimes plus usage creep - driver's licences are demanded as ID from mobile telephone contracts to entering pubs. The identity card will just replace the driver's licence as a general identity document with all the problems outlined above.

One sincerely hopes that such a proposal does not gain traction - given the history of our politicians to seek easy and populist answers to complex and challenging issues, I am deeply cynical about the current stampede.

Robert H Bromwich, Moore Park Beach QLD (The Australian IT Section, 26 July 2005)