Thursday, April 27, 2006

The ID card debate

With Australia joining the growing list of countries to have a mandatory in all by name national ID card, soon to be followed by our own green and pleasant land, I stumbled across a comment on Slashdot the more or less sums up my feelings on the ID card debate.
I moved from Australia to the US in 1978, in that year in both countries it was extremely unlikely that a law enforcement officer would approach you for no particular reason and ask for identification. However this very much was not the case in Eastern Europe (where I was born) and presumably the redder portions of South East Asia as well. Also at the time you did not need written permission to live, work, or just be at any certain place. So the "paper's please" thing became a jibe from the armchair anticommunists as sort of a short form of our country is so much better than yours. Indeed my own father, a staunch Anti-Communist, took us for a car trip both around Australia and across the United States in a prolonged state of rapture caused by the fact that we could go all these places and see all these things and not only not present papers to anyone of authority but not go through inspections or checkpoints (even at state lines!).

Fast forward to 2006 and world is different place. Terrorism has replaced Communism and the many of those same armchair anticommunists are now demanding the very things that they derided during the cold war in communist countries. It's a bizarre thing that I cannot travel around the US without identification, Can I refuse to show a policeman identification anymore? (I don't think so, but it's been awhile since I've been back to the US). I can not walk down most US streets with a simple beer in my hand... But I can take train from where I live now to the place where I was born and I can pass the abandoned check point which I passed as a child in a box in the trunk of a car... drinking what ever I want and showing my passport once as I pass over the border into Czech Republic.

I don't need papers in the place my parents ran from, but I need them in the place they ran to... - Bhima Pandava
I have no such experiences with repressive regimes, but I'm a good enough student of history to know that I don't want to have any experience with one in the future, and I'd very much hoped the phrase, "Papers please?", would in today's world be just that. History...