[Dave Birch] According to a letter I saw a while ago in The Daily Telegraph, British supermarkets won’t accept a British armed forces ID cards as a proof of age, but they will accept foreign ID cards that they cannot read. Or not. It depends what for.
The student’s French ID card was not deemed to be sufficient proof of her age for the staff at Sainsbury’s, even though the chain does accpet the card from foreign workers who wish to work in the UK.
[From Sainsbury’s denies French student]
So you can use your foreign ID card to get a job at Sainsbury’s but not to buy a bottle of champagne. Bizarre, but predictable: this is what happens when we jumble up credentials and identification, absent any well-formed rules for understanding or verifying them. It reminded me of the discussion from a few weeks back concerning the distinction between actual security and security theatre. Here’s a simple example: you go to open bank account and the bank asks to see identity, so you show them a passport. If it is a British passport, they can phone a Home Office hotline to see if it is real, whether it has been reported stolen and so forth. If it is, say, a Bulgarian passport, they cannot possibly tell whether it is real or not, so they just photocopy it and file the copy away somewhere, just as the British Attorney General should have done with her maid’s work permit (since it is an offence is to not to keep a copy of such documentation). Thus, if you are a criminal then you will always choose to use a Bulgarian passport. Honest citizens are inconvenienced, criminals aren’t. This isn’t so much security theatre as security pantomime, as the BBC have highlighted.
The banks are worried it is still too easy to use a counterfeit passport from abroad to open a bank account, or to get an overdraft or credit card.
[From BBC NEWS | Business | Fake passports prompt fraud fear]
Well, I suppose they could always not open the account unless they can understand and verify the identification documents. The fact is, it’s really, really hard for anyone to understand foreign credentials of any kind. Remember the amusing story of the mystery Polish serial traffic offender being tracked by the Irish police?
It was discovered that the man every member of the Irish police’s rank and file had been looking for – a Mr Prawo Jazdy – wasn’t exactly the sort of prized villain whose apprehension leads to an officer winning an award… Prawo Jazdy is actually the Polish for driving licence and not the first and surname on the licence.
[From BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | The mystery of Ireland’s worst driver]
This does nicely illustrate a key advantage of digital identity over physical identity: this would never happen. If my reader can’t understand your card, that’s the end of the discussion. There’s a nice binary outcome. Where the results depend on human interpretation of shades of grey, surely the system will always throw up crazy outcomes.
An innocent South Tyneside man was arrested because his MoT certificate was a paler shade of green. Michael Cook, from South Shields, had gone to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) centre in Newcastle to renew his car tax. Staff thought his two-week-old MOT certificate was a forgery because it was a lighter shade than his previous one, and the police were called.
[From BBC NEWS | England | Tyne | Arrest over wrong colour MoT form]
Essential to a functional identity system, then, is a cheap and simple “box” for checking whether the card is valid. You put your French ID card, British Forces ID card or Tesco Clubcard into the box at the checkout and the light goes green or red. That’s it.