[Dave Birch] A common mistake in government-related discussions around identity is completely misunderstand the nature of the problem itself:

people need to prove who they are many times during a day.

[From In Development » Just what is ‘identity’?]

No, they don’t. People need to prove that they are entitled to do something or are allowed to do something several times during a day, which is actually an entirely different issue. Mind you, it’s an often-repeated mistake, even amongst those who should know better but haven’t really thought it through. When he was the Home Office Minister for ID cards, Andy Burnham said that “I take the view that it is part of being a good citizen, proving who you are, day in day out”. How wrong can you be? Other than the current Home Office Minister for ID cards, Meg Hillier, who said that we should see ID cards as “passports in-country”. Or, indeed, the Home Office Minister for ID cards before him, Tony McNulty, who said that

“There are now so many almost daily occasions when we have to stand up and verify our identity.”

[From BBC NEWS | Politics | Labour admits ID card ‘oversell’]

I blame the education system, but blog readers may have some other explanations as to why this same, fundamental, error is propagated by people who ought to have some grasp of the issues.

This core misunderstanding of identity is what makes it so difficult for a proper debate, and therefore a proper requirements specification, to emerge. Which, as far as I know, it hasn’t. The number of times that you have to prove who are you are very limited: when you open a new bank account and perhaps when you enroll at a place of education. The rest of the time, your identity is irrelevant and applying the full panoply of miracle technologies, from face recognition to portable fingerprint scanners, to the problem is a waste of money.

These 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. As an engineer, I’m often frustrated by a lack of simple, logical thinking in others, even those who are highly qualified. I think what you are describing here is a straightforward logic concept – you want “the bit that proves I can buy alcohol” and not “all the other bits that define me”. In addition, you prefer to keep as many of your defining bits private whenever possible, because once any one of them is public, it stays that way, and it’s easier for someone else to copy you.
    So I would blame poor maths and logic education for the idea that one needs to prove one’s entire “identity” each and every time you have to demonstrate some identity attribute.

  2. I think the confusion can be traced back to the use of Identity instead of Identities.
    Whenever ID is disccused your identity is given as a singular, when in fact it is multi faceted.
    So when discussed perhaps we should refer to an ID card as a Identities card, if it allows the provision of the multi faceted ID we want.
    Having said all this, my understnding of the current UK ID scheme is in fact it only has one Identity (ie one unique number) attached to it so you will effectively be forced to prove your identity, when all you need to do is prove entitlement.

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