I'm not suggesting that every proposal should be met with a coherent and workable counterproposal on day one. But some evidence of a debate would be nice.
Take ID cards: This debate seems to generate a lot more heat than light. The starting point for many people appears that we have a fairly satisfactory settlement around privacy at the moment. When pressed, those same people will acknowledge that this is not really the case.
Any fule kno that The Man, with a bit of time and energy - would probably be able to piece together your movements, phone calls, personal finances and transactions, and use it in evidence against you. CCTV and imaging software combined with other commercial data can complete a detailed (in my case, tedious) picture. Put together with similar data about alleged associates of mine, then this could provide the kind of info that the Stasi would have envied. And if legal failsafes continue to be eroded and a more pernicious government were to succeed this one, this could form the thin end of a wedge.
Personally, I'm just as worried by the way that non-state actors can access this information. The Man isn't always The Man From The Ministry.
So, with ID cards, while all of my instincts tell me that, as a scheme, it should be opposed, I can't think of any other way to assert privacy rights over my identity. Unless it is defined in a robust and secure way, then we have something that is actually worse than the state having a monopoly of power. We have a situation in which anyone with a budget and a few lawyers can know anything they need to about me.
Sure, privacy campaigners will say that they can keep fighting on all fronts without any consolidated personal ID to protect. But that hasn't been the case so far. Generally, most of us don't seem to be able to identify and stop the initiatives that continue to cause our privacy to leak further. Or when we do, the utility - say, of having a cashpoint card, a mobile phone, e-mail or an Oyster card - over-rides our objections. The slowness of legislative processes mean that the law can provide little protection either.
As it happens, I'm inclined to think that ID cards may, eventually, have a similar appeal to the general public as mobiles / cashpoints / Oyster Cards have. Having one would probably save us all a lot of time and grief.
The man from the ministry who is in charge of this project says:
"Maybe we should start arguing the case that ID Cards will reduce the threat of the Surveillance Society and help safeguard civil liberties."Maybe he has a point. I just doubt that this has entered the government's thinking yet. The first part of that sentence provides the clue:
"Maybe we should start arguing the case that..."
My mama always told me, "Son. Beware of post-hoc rationalisations."***
But if we are opposed to ID cards, what should we be in favour of instead?
*** This is a lie. She just told me to get to Mass on Sundays.