Attorney-General Philip Ruddock is “about to launch a review that could
pave the way for a national identity card, despite opposition from
senior colleagues,” Tim Colebatch reports in The Age today:

In his strongest sign that he favours an ID card, Mr Ruddock yesterday
dismissed fears about the cards leading to breaches of privacy as

But Defence Minister Robert Hill wasted no time in making it clear that he shared those fears.

And with opposition coming from groups ranging from the Australian
Chamber of Commerce and Industry to the Greens, the outcome of the
debate is anything but a foregone conclusion.

Mr Ruddock said he would soon announce terms of reference for an
inquiry into the potential for an ID card, focusing on its costs and
benefits, what information should be electronically incorporated in the
card, and what legal protections would be needed.

Well, if Hilly’s reverting to small-l liberal type then he really he must be going – but back to the proposal.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned that the
plan would add to business costs, saying research by the London School
of Economics suggests that it could cost as much as $15 billion over
the first ten years.

The LSE report is a
cracker. It looked at the British ID card proposals put forward by
disgraced former home secretary David Blunkett. It decided they were not feasible: that they were too complex,
technically unsafe, overly prescriptive and lacked a foundation of
public trust and confidence.

And the British proposal has been for a user pays card – a user pays
card, the costs of which keep rising. The LSE estimates the project will cost
19 billion pounds – 300 quid per person.

Democrats privacy spokesperson Natasha Stott Despoja had some very
good comments on a concept of a national smartcard for medical and
social security data in the week after Christmas. The title of her
media release said it all: Too intrusive, too expensive.

Her response to Ruddock is worth noting:

The claim today by the Attorney-General that “a very large proportion
of Australians have a national identity card now…” will come as a
great surprise to many Australians, according to the Australian

“The ownership of a passport – albeit one with biometric data – is not
the same as a completely centralised database containing everything
from taxation to health information, social security data to passport
information,” Democrats’ Attorney-Generals Spokesperson Senator Natasha
Stott Despoja said.

“Storing such large amounts of sensitive information on individual
cards will increase the risk of that information falling into the wrong
hands and being abused.

“Only last year, Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison admitted a
national identity card would give ‘criminals or terrorists one nut to
crack.’ He went on to say a document verification system, also under
consideration, was ‘a more substantial way to verify identities than
having one document of the Australia Card type, which could be more
easily violated’.”

The question that we asked last July still remains – would you trust
the thugs and fools who locked up Cornelia Rau and deported Vivian
Alvarez with your personal information? And there are two more: Is such a project actually doable? And who will pay?

Government information technology projects often end up being
impossible to implement. Very expensive – and not very effective –
compromises are the result.

Minister for Human Services Joe Hockey is pushing on with his smartcard
it appears, although his minders say it is not linked to the ID card
being considered by the Attorney-General. So we already have duplication. Expensive duplication.

This great idea’s off to a flying start.