[Dave Birch] I love this kind of serendipity.  I was wandering down the road to meet William Heath of Idealgovernment for a coffee when I happened to glance down a passageway in Old Gloucester Road opposite the October gallery.  I was utterly surprised to see a piece of ironwork from 1925 advertising "British Monomarks".  I was even more surprised to see an office marked British Monomarks behind it: it turns out they still exist.

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British Monomarks has a special place in the history of digital identity.  Early in the Second World War, their chairman William Morris proposed an interesting (and presumably patented) solution to the problem of national identity management, which was that every child should be given a unique additional name when their birth is registered.  These names (eg, 9XPWE3) could then be used for official purposes — on driving licences, marriage certificates (their was a moral panic about bigamy at the time) and all other official documents — to uniquely identity individuals to the great benefit of the government in particular and society as a whole.  Of course, I had only ever come across the name British Monomarks in this context, so when I saw the sign it caused on odd frisson.  I naturally pulled out my phone and snapped away…


What Monomark’s plan recognised is that it is the uniqueness of the identifier that is critical and the principal purpose of a national identity register.  Once you have a unique identifier, then there is no need to use anything else.  This is why I don’t understand why you would put someone’s name on an identity car: only the number need be visible.

My opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public.
[posted with ecto]

1 comment

  1. Dave – that is completely bizarre! I’ll check it out tomorrow morning! Sorry about the lack of coffee…and cheers for not shopping me about that 🙂

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