I got another email from Nick Clegg today about his opposition to ID cards. I must admit my opposition to them is much more subtle.
I’m actually in favour of a simple ID card scheme, if it’s seen primarily as a cheaper passport. That is, if one could buy a passport-light which consisted only of the laminated page with the photo and the name at fraction of the price of a real passport, it’d be really convenient, and for people travelling only to Europe, it would replace the passport completely. Such an ID card could also be useful for documenting who you are, for instance when opening a bank account. This is how ID cards work in Germany and France, for instance.
It’d also be useful to have a central database with basic information about everybody in the country – their names, addresses, relationships and so on. This would make it much harder to acquire a false identity (thus battling crime and terrorism), and it would be so much easier to change one’s name or address because it would only have to be changed in one place, and that information could then be passed on to subscribing organisations and companies. This is what one has in Denmark, for instance.
However, if one combines the two approaches, and especially if it’s extended with information from other databases as well as fingerprints and other biometric information, it gets scary. Sure, it would be really useful and convenient, but it becomes far too big-brother-ish for my taste, and it could really be misused by an evil regime. Unfortunately, this is the scheme New Labour want to introduce.
I’ve been a satisfied customer with smile, the Internet bank, for years. They pay decent interest on a current account, cash-back on the credit card, and their email-based customer service is normally helpful and fairly efficient.
My first grievance with them was when I added Phyllis to my credit card last year. They didn’t give her a separate pin number, and when she tried to change it away from mine, the card was swallowed and had to be replaced.
More importantly, when I asked them to add Phyllis to my current account, we discovered a major flaw in their system: You log on to their system using your account number and two passwords. However, these passwords are defined by the account number, so the only way Phyllis can log on is to ask me for my passwords. This is a major breach of security in my book – one should never tell one’s passwords to anybody. It’s also illogical – some of the passwords (or rather, secure information) are things like place of birth and first school, but she’s unlikely to find my first school as memorable as I do.
Furthermore, this system also means she gains access to the accounts I haven’t shared with her, such as my cash ISA. I don’t mind too much about that in this particular case, but it’s rather absurd that she can access my ISA while I can’t access hers.
Why haven’t they implemented a normal username system, so that we could have separate usernames (and passwords) while accessing a joint account?
Update (28/2): When Phyllis recently logged onto smile’s website using the details for her personal current account, our joint account suddenly appeared, too. So now the problem is solved, it seems, although I still wonder what they’d’ve done if she hadn’t had an account with already.