There is not a single study that has shown a spike in crime following the introduction of a sophisticated identity card. And the so-called right to privacy is more illusory than real. That’s why there is nothing to fear from the introduction of the proposed smartcard.

Fears about privacy and possible abuse of the card have led to alarmist calls by a number of Coalition MPs opposed to the card. Bronwyn Bishop even went so far as to say that the card failed the “Nazi Test” because it could help evil regimes to identify targeted groups.

The only sensible point to emerge from the smartcard debate is that it confirms that the smaller the issue, the more intense the dust-up.

The government in one form or another already possesses nearly all of the personal information that is to be contained in the proposed card. In essence, the smartcard will simply collate disparate pieces of information that it already has.

Fears that collating all of the information that the government has about us will lead to abuse are misplaced. There is no link between the collation and storage of information and increased crime or other types of abuses of our civil rights – hence the reason that crime waves don’t occur following publication of the White Pages.

In fact the opposite is true. It has been estimated that the smartcard will reduce fraud on government services by $3 billion over a ten year period.

Moreover, the right to privacy has been overstated. History shows that humans don’t need a strong right to privacy to flourish. Despite this, the so called “right to privacy” has regrettably blossomed over the past few years.

Although not without qualification, the principle that “if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear” has considerable merit. Privacy is often no more than code for the “right to secrecy”, which is damaging to an open and free society.

If there was less privacy, criminals would find it harder to plot harmful acts (recall that the London bombers were identified by use of closed circuit television); we would be better placed to make informed investment decisions (no more tiresome “commercial in confidence” conversation stoppers) and know more about the real agendas of our politicians.

Concern about privacy is normally a code for a hidden agenda. Privacy, should rarely, if ever be a policy stopper. Less privacy is in fact normally good for you. An important paradox emerges in relation to giving too much ground to the right to privacy. The more tightly certain types of information is guarded, the more entrenched is likely to remain its significance and the prejudice that it can induce.

A good example of familiarity leading to greater acceptance is the changed community attitude towards homos-xuals. The courage displayed by some high profile people to “come out” over the past decade or so seems to have blazed the trail for many previously closeted homos-xuals to do likewise. This has resulted in a discernible dampening down of previously existing widespread homophobic attitudes.

In the end the smartcard will lighten your wallet by replacing over a dozen cards and result in less fraud against the government. There is no demonstrable downside to it. Over 60% of Australians are in favour of a smartcard, so let’s get on with it so that the politicians can spend their time on matters that count.

Dr Mirko Bagaric is a lawyer and author.

Peter Fray

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