Thursday, September 14, 2006

Scan Scam

OK people now it’s all getting just a little bit too scary. Yesterday Tony Blair made his last ever TUC speech against a backdrop of tediously anticipated hostility. The RMT didn’t disappoint, staging a walkout.

Others stayed and held up banners against the war in Iraq. All fine, enjoying our democratic right to protest blah, blah. Juggling the usual array of smoke and mirrors, Tony trotted through his typically turgid menu of challenges, achievements followed by more challenges, even more achievements. I admit I nodded off once or twice. I am on a detox diet at the moment and nettle tea doesn’t have quite the kick of coffee.

Then, somewhere between justifying war and explaining how pensioners will have to live off scraps they find in garbage bins, a smart bomb that no one seems to have picked up on, thudded down. We knew earlier this year that we were stuck with ID cards but at least they weren’t going to cost £300 and you’d only need to get one if you wanted to get or renew a passport. But now it seems that fingerprinting, retina scanning and digital facial measurements are coming. Wah!

‘The sophistication of document forgery means we can only be confident of people's identities if we have their biometrics: their fingerprints, irises and digital measures of their face.’ (Tony Blair TUC speech 12/9/06)

Somebody needs to explain to me why this news is less important than the PM leaking the latest unemployment figures (which are pants anyway) a day early.

This data-basing of individuals will initially apply only to immigrants,

By April 2008, all visa applicants will have their fingerprints taken. All visa nationals will need biometrics to get through border control. By April 2009 people here for work or study will have biometric identity cards, and biometric travel documents will be issued to refugees by the middle of 2007. The first ID cards will be issued by 2009. (Tony Blair TUC speech 12/9/06).

Children are already conditioned to accept pinpoint surveillance. I know people who call their kids every hour and instead of saying, ‘hello darling, are you basking in inner peace’, they bark, ‘where are you?’ There then follows some hard negotiation along the lines of ‘seven… no way, alright, no later than nine… I mean it. Nine!’

Children are already routinely fingerprinted. Yes, you heard that right. An innocuous sounding government sponsored scheme called Junior Librarian uses children’s fingerprints instead of library cards, always without the consent of parents according to the campaigning website Around 700,000 pre-teens have already been fingerprinted under this scheme.

Some secondary schools are introducing a fingerprinting machine outside the school gates to monitor attendance. Even more creepy, if such a thing is possible, they find children to sanction their own surveillance, ‘it’s an easier way of keeping track of where we are and what we do’, one kid at Holland Park Comprehensive told the BBC. From the mouths of babes. That’s the worst part, it seems children are so used to being tracked they actually feel comforted by the thought that adults are perving at them 24/7.

It’s no great leap to see where this is leading. They’ve spent all this money and the system is only partially effective because not everyone’s on it and wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could be sure the person standing in front of you in the airport queue was a bone fide human and not a lizard…

What a sad, sad thing that young people are going to miss out on one of the greatest contemplative opportunities there is – to be sitting by yourself, in the middle of a mass of people and thinking, ‘no one knows I’m here’. It’s one of the few benefits of living in an overcrowded city. The cult of celebrity is to blame for encouraging people to believe they should aim to be recognised wherever they go. Far better to be part of the furniture.

Cartoon by Chris Slane

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