Forget ID cards and cameras

We already have ration cards, passports, driving licenses, PAN cards, BPL (Below Poverty Line) cards, Voter ID cards, and heaven knows what else. Now, after the bomb blasts in Bangalore, the government is considering ID cards for all citizens. That and cameras to monitor “sensitive” locations, like the area near your elbow called the funny bone.

Seriously though, I don’t think we need another card. You can get a driver’s license by paying an agent. You can probably get other stuff like ration cards and BPL cards by doing similar palm-greasing. So, it’s not too difficult to get an “identity”. Once you get that, you can get a mobile phone, a bank account, and all sorts of things. So, if you can get all those things, wouldn’t it be reasonably easy for a resourceful person (like these pesky terrorists) to get an identity card?

Even if you do give everyone ID cards, then what? Are those who have ID cards legitimate because they have one? People are able to make fake passports that allow them to move around. How hard would faking an ID card be? And if the card had additional technology (chips, biometrics, blah blah), how much of an expense would that be to the taxpayer? Would the expense be worth it and more importantly would it help us prevent attacks? Also, we are not even considering that corrupt officials can give ID cards and legitimise some nutjobs.

The bomb near Forum mall in Koramangala was identified because someone noticed wires sticking out and called the authorities. No amount of ID cards would’ve helped here. It was a regular citizen who was vigilant who helped prevent another blast.

About cameras monitoring different locations, as Bruce Schneier has repeatedly pointed out, closed circuit cameras are not very good in preventing crimes. They may be good for “after the fact” investigations. So, you can’t prevent anything happening, but you may be able to catch people faster. If the images aren’t grainy or if the terrorists aren’t already aware (they probably are). Is it wise then to put cameras all over the place, to enable the government to monitor its citizens and for the taxpayers to pay for the huge expenses? No.

What we need to do is to train our police officials better and pay them better so that they gain the trust of ordinary citizens. What we need is to have a better centre-state intelligence interaction, to ensure that we’re not caught with out pants down like we were last week. What we need is for politicians across parties to get together and think about a sensible strategy instead of asking for laws like POTA to be reinstated.

What we don’t need is to start giving up our privacy and our freedom in the face of fear. As Ramachandra Guha pointed out in a recent TV debate, China and Russia don’t have many terrorist attacks because they’re police states. We, as a democracy, are more vulnerable but that doesn’t mean that we should give up our democracy and become a police state. The freedom that democracy affords us should not be taken for granted.

Fight terrorism by all means but do it in a way that doesn’t mean we give up our rights slowly. Because, that would mean that the terrorists have won and that’s the last thing we should let the terrorists do.

PS: I’d written this post two days ago and tweaked it yesterday, but I wasn’t able to publish the post. Today’s edition of the Deccan Herald had an editorial titled Fighting terror which makes some superb points. Here’s an excerpt:

The assumption is that only a hard state can effectively deal with threats to itself and to the life and property of citizens. But the strength of the state is determined not by the stringency of the laws but by its democratic fibre and the efficiency with which even ordinary laws are implemented.

Nicely said.


One thought on “Forget ID cards and cameras

  1. Most of the time, these people take all the “Wrong” steps to prevent mishaps. I agree to what you’ve said – getting a photo identity card is no big deal in India. Greasing an agent’s palm makes things very easy. One more ID – some more grease. Job done!

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