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Elitism and Identity

08 Jan 2013


I’ve been following with interest some of the talk about potential applications of identity management technologies of late, much of which suggests that there are some people whose entitlement to privacy, more or less broadly defined, is somehow lesser than others.

In the UK, Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit have recently proposed that smart card technology be used to track the use of leisure centres by obese and other unhealthy benefits claimants who have been prescribed exercise by their doctor. In what has been described by a spokesman as a “carrot and stick” system, benefits would be cut where attendance was not meeting the terms prescribed.

Apart from the fact that the system as it has been described would only report entry to the leisure centre and not exercise, thus making it a system merely of surveillance rather than “incentivised” healthcare, no such scheme has been proposed for obese and unhealthy people who do not receive the benefits mentioned (which seem, significantly, to be restricted to local authority/housing).

In Iowa in the US, the Department of Public Safety is getting together the money to set-up a face-recognition system that will enable it to run stills from security cameras across the state against a database of stored images. Though anybody out and about in Iowa could end up being closely surveilled, it is being touted as a means of keeping tabs on the state’s registered sex offenders.

"You always start with sex offenders,” said the Republican State Representative, Chip Baltimore, “because nobody is going to stick up for sex offenders.”

In the midst of a national discussion on welfare and “workers versus shirkers”, Westminster Council is banking on few people sticking up for obese benefits claimants, either. For some reason I am reminded of the closing scenes of Equilibrium, when the protagonist John Preston enters Father’s room and finds it full of the flourish and ornament that has been stripped from ordinary civilian life; if it is not already evident in such schemes, elitism feels rather close. It will be interesting to see how debates on both schemes develop. If these proposals encourage an I’m-alright-Jack response from the majority of the population, does that make it easier or more difficult to loosen the original restrictions on the use of such technologies?

By Georgina Turner

Tags: identity management, government, smart cards