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Thu, 15 Apr 2004

Identity cards considered harmful

In the week after David Blunkett came out in favour of issuing a national ID card in the UK -- and making it compulsory by 2010 -- Bruce Schneier, who has forgotten more about security than Blunkett and his idiots ever knew in the first place -- does a memorable take-down of the idea that ID cards contribute to security. It makes for sobering reading:

My objection to the national ID card, at least for the purposes of this essay, is much simpler.

It won't work. It won't make us more secure.

In fact, everything I've learned about security over the last 20 years tells me that once it is put in place, a national ID card program will actually make us less secure.

My argument may not be obvious, but it's not hard to follow, either. It centers around the notion that security must be evaluated not based on how it works, but on how it fails.

It doesn't really matter how well an ID card works when used by the hundreds of millions of honest people that would carry it. What matters is how the system might fail when used by someone intent on subverting that system: how it fails naturally, how it can be made to fail, and how failures might be exploited.

Read the rest if you want the gory details. Basically, it's not good. And that's before you factor in the stupendous price of the scheme (£70 per person? You gotta be kidding!) and the security apparat to administer it and the headaches when it goes wrong or is incorrectly trusted, never mind the civil liberties implications.

The authoritarian weakness is to assume a sweeping solution to a perceived problem will, in fact, solve it -- rather than introducing new loop-holes. And this looks to be a classic case of shoot-self-in-jackboot.

(Have I plugged Bruce's book Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World yet? If not, consider it plugged. Go. Read it. Open your eyes and see how we're screwing up. It's seminal.)

[Discuss ID Cards]

posted at: 19:57 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

A footnote to the culture wars

There's been a certain tendency in the US media of late to attribute European political coolness over the whole Iraq/Middle East project to the creeping islamicisation of the EU as a whole. Randy McDonald has contributed a detailed takedown of the islamicisation of Europe argument on his weblog, which should be compulsory reading for anyone who thinks that a combination of higher fertility and an immigration onslaught will turn the EU into a bastion of shari'a law any time soon. For example, as one telling extract puts it:

In the meantime, the status of French Muslim women is particularly interesting. Consider, in the light of substantially greater French Muslim male exogamy, the situation facing French Muslim women, who can respond in only three ways to the deficit of men in their community.

  • French Muslim women remain celibate, and childless.
  • French Muslim women are not involved in stable or permanent relationships with Maghrebin men.
  • French Muslim women in France are marrying non-Muslim men.

None of these options--particularly the last--are compatible with a high rate of endogamy, or with a very successful reproduction of traditional Maghrebin culture in France over the long term. There are strong indications that, in fact, French Muslim women are not interested in assuming the traditionally submissive and subordinate roles of women in the Maghreb. Samira Bellil, for instance, has gained publicity for her writing against a misogynistic culture in the banlieues which uses gang rape as a way to control subordinate women, while Ni Putes, Ni Soumises has come from nowhere to become one of France's more prominent NGOs. And, in the recent controversy over the French ban on hijabs, one interesting thing that many opponents of the ban passed over was the fact that 49% of French Muslim women supported the ban outright (to say nothing of large majorities of the students themselves). All this represents a fairly radical break with teh gender roles prescribed for women by traditionalists or by neo-traditionalists. Oh, and INSEE reports that one-fifth of Maghrebin women give birth to children outside of wedlock.

In a nutshell, the Islamic minorities in the EU states are not monocultural -- they're quite diverse in their origins. As a result, they're very atomized, and the surrounding culture tends to provide a more effective assimilationist pressure than any imaginary "islamic" ur-culture. Indeed, the rate of assimilation and exogamy is so high that there's some question over whether the islamic minorities will retain their distinct identities, never mind "take over" the host nations.

Commenting on the fears of islamicization, Randy notes:

Europeans who use these arguments are particpating in the long-standing fear about being overwhelmed by immigrants. In The Identity of France, for instance, Braudel commented how in the early 20th century, native French were hostile to the then-current crop of immigrants--Belgians, Italians, Spanish, Poles--because of their strong Catholicism and distinctive languages.


Americans who use these arguments are motivated mainly by schadenfreude. Are European countries skeptical about the Bush Administration's foreign policy goals? Could they be interpreted as at least sharing some interests with Muslim countries. ... We see this in Little Green Footballs (warning: grossly offensive racist/nationalist assholes), where nationalistic American posters say that the French will be under shari'a law because these decadent immoral people refuse to have enough children to keep Muslims from inheriting the country. They--sometimes just the French, sometimes the French with the Germans and Belgians, sometimes the entire continent--refuse to support us in our war against Muslims. Accordingly, they will pay the price, and see if we will save them from their short-sighted stupidities this time.

About the only point that McDonald doesn't hammer home is the blatantly racist subtext of these phobias. As Ken MacLeod commented at one anti-war demo last year, "arabs are the last niggers". He meant, the last ethnic, religious, or cultural group that it's acceptable to publicly express derogatory sentiments about in the west. We've broken the centuries old reflex of anti-semitism to the point where expressions of Jew-hatred are genuinely shocking: we see black faces in parliaments and houses of government. Pogroms and lynch mobs aren't tolerated or tacitly encouraged by government. But much the same worrying expressions that prefigured those persecutions can be seen in the west at a grass-roots level, albeit directed at a new target: the fetishization of the otherness of the intruders, the fear that they're breeding like flies, plotting to steal our women and murder us in our beds, and the rhetoric of public health, the calls to cure the disease at its' source, the dehumanization of people to the level of bacteria.

I'm no friend of the islamicists and hold no tolerance for terrorism, but I have to say that I'm becoming increasingly frightened by the apparent rise of anti-arab sentiment in the US. (If you think there's nothing to fear, go read LGF for a bit. Or read what David Neiwert, who has a stronger stomach than I, has to say about it.) While Al Qaida are clearly dangerous bampots, even 9/11 and the Madrid bombings can't hold a candle to what we in the west can do when we set our minds to murder. And when I read about Bush basically giving a war criminal everything he wants in the name of keeping those uppity arabs down, while planning to move the man behind the Honduran death squads into Iraq as ambassador after June 30th, I fear for the future.

[Discuss Iraq invasion

posted at: 16:46 | path:
/misc | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
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Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
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