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NEWS & CURIOSITIES
Are ID cards either philosophically or pragmatically justifiable?
Emphatically no. A requirement for every citizen to carry a device that enables the authorities to demand immediate information about them dramatically changes the relationship ofindividuals to the state, from being private citizens to being numbered conscripts. An ID card or device (technology will rapidly supplant plastic cards because the latter are too easily lost or stolen) is a surveillance instrument, a tracking device, like a car number plate or the kind of tag punched into a cow’s ear.
Any animal (including, soon, the residents of Britain) thus tagged and numbered is a trackable, controllable unit, exposed 24/7 to monitoring. And history teaches that once an instrument of control lies in the hands of authorities, they will use it: from “protecting against terrorism”(if only!) to catching tax-avoiders to finding defaulting child support-payers to collecting parking fines to watching members of the Socialist Workers’ party to snooping on individuals against whom rumours and gossip have turned attention: and so on. Who can guarantee that a government in these islands 20, 40, 60 years hence will be as benign as the one, today, that wishes to tag us all for the greater ease of policing us? In the absence of a guarantee, why create now a giant computerised “national identity register” ready for the hands of a possibly less benign future?
The main pushers of an identity surveillance system—the biometric data companies who stand to gain billions—tell us that the iris and fingerprint details that will link you to the computer that stores your address, medical records and so on can be stored
on a chip the size ofa full stop. This can be implanted in your earlobe, ostensibly to protect against loss or theft, and read by a device similar to a barcode reader. I asked David Miliband what the difference is between this and a number branded on your arm. His furious response was proof that I cut close to a nerve.
Making “identity recognition”a precious commodity will create a huge new criminal industry dedicated to stealing, forging and manipulating identity cards/devices. Remember BMW’s thumbprint security for their cars, and how thieves simply cut the thumb off the owner in order to drive away his car? We are destined to become a nation of Van Goghs so that thieves can access our bank accounts and votes.
No informed individual or agency wants the ID scheme: see what people like the assistant commissioner ofthe Metropolitan Police and—unanimously—everyone other than the government minister present said at a meeting in the Palace of Westminster earlier this year. No one who cares about civil liberties and individuals’ rights could so cavalierly shrug their shoulders as those who seem to me to be enacting a trahison des clercs over the matter.
Sent in by Alan James, York. Send your philosophical queries and dilemmas to AC Grayling at email@example.com
How might an acceptable ID system work? See David Birch, p52
enigmas & puzzles BY IAN STEWART
Thanks for all the fish
The annual fishing competition was finished, and the fishermen of Mostleigh Harmless gathered in the bar of the Sober Newt to await the verdict of the judges.
“That’s very curious,”Reid suddenly remarked.
“What is?”asked his friend Wilson.
“The number of fish that I caught is exactly the same as the number of letters in my surname.”
Wilson thought for a moment. “Me too.”
“And me,”added Jones, who had been buying a round and had
returned to the table bearing the fruits of his labours.
“Rubbish!” scoffed the landlord. “You fishermen always tell tall tales! I’ve seen the score sheet, and it does show that one of you caught four fish, one caught five, and one caught six. I’m not committing myself as to who caught what, because the final say belongs to the judges. But I did notice that among you three, the average number of fish caught by those who are lying about their catch is exactly the same as the average number caught by those telling the truth.”
Of the three fisherman, who caught the most fish?
COMPETITION Prospect invites you to solve the puzzle and send us the solution. Correct answers will be entered into a draw. The winner will receive a copy of Super Crunchers: How Anything can be Predicted by Ian Ayres (John Murray, £16.99).
Send answers to firstname.lastname@example.org by 12th October. The winner will be announced in our November issue. The answer to last month’s puzzle and the winner are on page 76
10 Prospect OCTOBER2007 Euro-hypocrites
A Brussels debate organised by think tank Notre Europe, dedicated to keeping alive the flame ofJacques Delors, featured a panel ofnotables— Margot Wallstrom, vice president ofthe commission; Giuliano Amato, Italian interior minister; and Valééry Giscard d’Estaing, former president of France and chairman ofthe European constitutional convention. After delivering themselves ofsuitable sentiments on the need to get the people more involved, the panel were asked ifthey thought Nicolas Sarkozy’s idea ofappointing 12 wise persons to reflect on Europe was a good idea. Walstrom thought it bad; Amato thought it worse. When the moderator, John Lloyd, put the question to Giscard, he gave an enormous Gallic shrug. Pressed, he gave an even bigger one. Later, though, as he left the hall, he bent over the questioner and said: “I do not think it is a good idea.”
Quakers get going
The Quakers, long the most self-effacing of denominations, are waking up to the fact that, in the competitive 21stcentury religious marketplace, you’ve got to go out and spread the word. The last week of September is Quaker week, part of a campaign by BritishQuakers to raise awareness—respectfully and non-invasively—of the “Quaker Way.”An army of publicists has been hired; the Quaker slogan—“Simple. Contemporary. Radical”—has been pasted across advertising boards; numerous chapters are holding meetings (in silence) on public squares for all to join. A group whose worship has traditionally consisted of “sitting in quiet expectation of God”is at last starting—as one of their new ads puts it— to “live adventurously.”
The NYTand the power of search
On 18th September, the New York Times announced it would stop charging for access to “premium”parts of its website, ending a controversial “paywall”experiment that began two years ago. The Times’s move is likely to cost it around $9m a year in foregone reader payments; its executives expect the eventual increase in revenues from advertising to outweigh this. But the move also marks a significant shift in the development of a search-engine-led internet. With around 13m unique visitors a month, the Times is the world’s most-read newspaper online. Yet it is still regularly beaten by blogs and other free resources in the top ten results for major stories, and this access-via-Googling is now setting the agenda. At the same time, “informal”online outlets are seeing their influence increase. With their NYT -sized readerships, leading blogs earn enough from advertising to pay full-time writers, and even send them around the world.
Technology blog Engadget sent 12 people to cover the CES technology conference, more than most major newspapers. Advertisers are also getting more savvy with their online spend, something established names can turn to their advantage: time-per-visit is becoming at least as important as number of visits, which helps brands like the NYT , with their lengthy and informed content. The NYT ’s move could also be a reaction to News Corp’s purchase of the Wall Street Journal , one of the internet’s last bastions of paid-for content: Rupert Murdoch has suggested he may soon make it free.
“The little round label has fallen off”
NEWS & CURIOSITIES
The production of a kilogram of beef emits the same amount of CO2
as the average European car driving 250 kilometres.
NEW SCIENTIST,21ST JULY 2007
During the first year of the Nazi invasion,the Red army issued 800,000 death sentences to its own soldiers. ”NO SIMPLE VICTORY”BY
In Chicago and New York,among other US cities,full-time female employees in their 20s earn more than males.
QUEENS COLLEGE,NEW YORK
After the end of donor anonymity, there are now only 205 sperm donors registered in Britain. BBC NEWS ONLINE,16TH MAY 2007
In 2002.Bangladesh became the first country to ban plastic bags.
THE GUARDIAN,12TH MAY 2007
In 2006,177 British men had cosmetic surgery to reduce their breast size. HARPER’S,MAY 2007
About 25 per cent of American workers in the private sector get no paid holiday at all.
NEW REPUBLIC,30TH JULY 2007
Windscreen wipers,laser printers and bulletproof vests were all invented by women.
BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR THE
ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE
About 80 per cent of all news on the internet originates from print newspapers. NEW YORK REVIEW OF
BOOKS,16TH AUGUST 2007
Four of the five richest Americans— Bill Gates,casino owner Sheldon Adelson,Oracle's Larry Ellison,and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen— are college dropouts. “ ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD:HOW
THE FORBES 400 MAKE—AND SPEND—
THEIR FORTUNES”BY PETER W
BERNSTEIN AND ANNALYNW SWAN
Prospect OCTOBER2007 11