ID Cards 2: A solution to what, exactly?

Vox Profession, Vox Dei, or Reductio ad absurdum. It's all just bloggin' to me, man.

My previous post on ID cards generated quite a few comments, and certainly verified my view that it is an emotive topic. The difficulty is differentiating between professional, personal and political viewpoints. The BCS does not lobby on behalf of members, but makes use of member's professional expertise to inform for the benefit of the public. That certainly includes being critical where it is necessary.

...but where does that line begin and end?

I was interested to see a BMJ editorial suggesting that having kids is bad for the environment, and asking whether GPs should start advising patients along those lines. I was entertained by The Register's response, which basically suggested that Doctors should stick to their own area. It is easy for us to run the same risk of overstepping our collective expertise, which just ends in us looking foolish. The BCS should not worry overmuch about upsetting people where necessary, but it must be a last resort, and on ground where we are a recognised authority.

Are we a recognised authority on civil liberties? Are we experts on the socio-political impacts of identity cards? Well, actually we do have people in the membership with expertise in these areas. Part of professionalism is taking a wider responsibility beyond the bounds of technology - the application and effect of IT.

So we aren't terribly happy about where things are with ID cards. The official position is that we feel there is a "...lack of clarity and transparency over purpose, implementation and future plans" and that this needs to be rectified. It's hard to comment on whether we think the scheme is a good idea, when we really don't know what is being proposed, but we can certainly say that this lack of basic information is a *really* bad idea, and that tendering for contracts without this being made clear is an extremely bad idea. In the book of 'how to botch up a large project', starting without agreed requirements has an entire chapter. However, let me quote Paul's comment to you on the previous post:

"The BCS produced a very creditable report (link in main article) on this whole subject. Since these issues are of huge importance to the public, has the society considered how best to contribute to the public debate? Has there been a high profile press release, with suitably eminent experts speaking to the media about our reservations? I hope I didn't miss it :-)"

I take the point, and I hope we will give the issue a higher profile. There is a question of a sort of 'effects-based' doctrine. We need to make our public and private approaches at the right points. Sound and fury with no outcome may make people feel better, but surely we are only effective when we see an effect! Campaigning to change policy (rather than just to raise your profile) is a subtle art; principles and pragmatism dancing on a pin together. I know that sounds a bit weaselly, but it is true.

On the other hand, the only real way of judging effect is through hindsight, so sometimes you just have to go for it. In other words, you risk undermining your credibility if you take a stand...or if you don't. Welcome to the wonderful world of politics!

Let me finish with another quote from a comment on the previous entry:

"If you'd gone over that post you could have shortened it to a couple of paragraphs for all the value it contains."

Oh dear, I've just done it again, haven't I.

About the author

Thoughts on membership, the profession, and the occasional pseudo-random topic from the BCS Policy and Community Director.

See all posts by David Evans
June 2019
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