Number Plate+ (a response)

profile pic of John Carr

It's now 10 years since I worked in online safety but it's an area that continues to interest me both as a father and as someone who creates online standards. I was pleased today to receive a message from one of the leading and most influential figures in UK online safety, John Carr, inviting comments on his proposal for Number Plates for people.

It is so wrong, so bad, that I would be among the organisers of a march against it. No. Categorically, fundamentally, no.

Bob Kahn and his friends at ITU have been trying for a while to introduce a new internet based on handles/DOIs/anything other than the DNS. As John notes, this has the enthusiastic support of totalitarian regimes everywhere. It has no place in a democracy.

Of course, Facebook, Google and all the others all have IDs for me. The government has, I think, 5 IDs for me. Systems like ORCID exist entirely to provide online IDs for people. But to create one, single point of reference that you have to use everywhere online, well it would be music to the ears of Dominic Cummings, Aaron Banks and Alexander Nix, as well as advertisers. They'd be very thankful to you for making it so easy to profile everyone to the Nth degree and for ushering in a Chinese authorities' style social credit system. Profile me based on what I do using your products and services, sure. But not based on who I am.

Simple examples: I use Twitter primarily for work-based info. Only rarely does my political ire spill over into the public domain but then Rees-Mogg does that to any sane person. So profile me on Twitter and you'll see I'm something to do with online standards. I'm more 'me' on FB (I live in the Suffolk countryside and I have a dog), but even there I am, of course, acutely aware that it is essentially public and that the privacy controls are meaningless. My own vanity website projects a subset of me. Google tracks me everywhere but I find their services indispensable and I recognise that it's the price I pay since I have never paid them a single penny. But none of them has the full picture. They don't know my medical records, my financial position, my holidays etc. I once challenged a friend to find my son and wife's names online. They managed it, but not easily.

I don't believe I'm a purist. I agree with you on WHOIS although, as above, I would be very against a government take over of ICANN. They just managed to separate themselves sufficiently from the DoJ before the man-baby took office. I remained silent on the issue of DRM in the browser that split the W3C community when I was there. And my children are definitely vulnerable online. Facebook is a very real and present danger to the whole adoption system, for example.

But your proposal for a single online ID for every citizen amounts to nothing other than a mass surveillance system by government on its citizens and commercial companies on their target markets. The best thing David Cameron ever did, on day 1 of his first term, was to cancel ID cards. He was right to do so.