It looks like an ID Card. It smells like an ID Card. Heck, it even spooks you like an ID Card. But, as Australia's carbon copy Commonwealth Prime Minister says, "it ain't no ID card".
The "homeland security" strategy in Australia appears to be slowly, slowly catchee monkey. Or rather, dupee monkey with platitudes, then nab 'im with a surveillance net.
Having declared that ID cards would not be imposed on Australians, Prime Minister John Howard announced a biometric "access card" in its place. Australians will be denied access to health and social services from 2010 unless they have one of these cards.
In avoiding calling the Aussie ID card an ID Card, Howard has been able to give the impression that he has "struck a balance" between state security and personal privacy, by changing only his rhetoric.
Opponents are calling it an "ID Card by stealth" and there are many more reasons why Howard's plan looks every bit like that of his UK counterpart.
For a start, the compulsory nature of the card is being shrouded in outrageous doublespeak.
"It will not be compulsory to have the card," the Australian newspapers quoted Howard saying today. But, "It will be necessary for everybody who needs a card to apply for one."
Like Britain's card, which is optional for anyone who doesn't carry a passport, the Aussie card is optional for anyone who doesn't get ill.
Again, like Britain's card, it will be biometric, but not too biometric at first. As in Britain, the limited biometrics are presented as a sop to borderline civil libertarians. Don't worry, says Howard, the card's chip will only hold your digital photograph, not your fingerprints. They fail to mention how unreliable biometric technology is. They couldn't get anything more sophisticated working in the jittery timescale they want to do it all in.
The important thing for the authorities is once they've handed the cards out and got the supporting infrastructure and databases in place, adding new biometrics will require only an upgrade.
Australia's biometric non-ID card will be used to replace 17 existing health and social service cards. It will also be backed up by the thing that makes an ID card an ID card - a massive database, shared across government departments.
It's almost being sold like an ID card. As it's not being called an ID card anymore, it can't be sold to punters as a panacea for terrorism. It's only being sold as a panacea for petty social ills. It will stop fraud and benefits cheats, and no doubt eradicate inequality of wealth and opportunity as well. ®