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Universal IDs are thought by their proponents to be a prudent idea both technically and economically. A Universal ID card brings about the reality in the concept of online government where interaction between citizens, government and business is enhanced. This is through government being made aware of the people’s opinions as the people’s awareness of their rights and government activities and requirements is facilitated. Simon Rogers a computer ethics professor cites some ethical concerns that come with ID cards. He points out the card does way with the right to be anonymous because most people will accept the card as their identity.
He also points out that the right to participate forms much of the ethical code of a digital society. This is a right that is at risk of being abused when governments enforce the identity card on every citizen (Middleton, 1999 pp22-27).
Since the 1970s there have been claims that auto-ID technology will lead to abuse of privacy rights and eventually totalitarian control of the people. There has also been a proliferation of terms such as Big Brother and function creep to describe the government’s all-seeing ability and the potential abuse and misuse of information. The focus on beating terrorism and fraud has led to greater centralization of information in government agencies. Storage and searching capabilities of computers nowadays are greater than ever before making the possibility of loss of privacy more of a reality (Michael and Michael, 2004,pp433-450).
The Universal Identification System serves both public and private functions. This means that both the private and public sectors have to supervise one another so that they can remain within the boundaries of legislation for data protection. To make the project of universal identity more legitimate, privacy activists have been brought on board.
This has helped to increase public support for the project (www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/oz/allan/IUD_Scenaro.doc.) In a Gift of Fire, Sara Baase describes the benefits of fire and the dangers associated with it. She parallels this with the necessity of computers; their importance in daily lives is evident from their ubiquitous use. Though the Universal Identification system is beneficial in the fight against fraud and terrorism it does not come without ethical issues and the potential for computer crime (Baase, 2002, pp1-8; 230-240).
The danger of the Universal Identity card lies in the fact that an individual’s personal information is made available to holders who are making an information profile. There is a chance that these holders could use the information without the knowledge of the individual. Identity theft is also a common problem especially where the ID system fails. This creates a potential for large losses where the aggrieved individual decides to sue for violation of their rights to privacy (www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/).
Philosophical debates on privacy have been influenced by the development of legislation that protects privacy. In majority of these debates and especially those concerned with the use of information technology, the focus on privacy involves an individual’s control over information about themselves (Parent, 1983, pp269-288). A more comprehensive definition of privacy is that it is a value that enables the individual to control the access that other people have to him/her and the person’s choices and expression. The debate on ethics and information technology is based mainly on the impact that information technology has had on moral values and rights. The right to privacy and the right to access information are the major issues that feature in discussion (Decew, 2006).
The Universal Identity Card is one of technology’s advances that has caused considerable debate and though accepted by a large part of the American population, it still raises considerable ethical concern. There was great concern about how easy it would be to monitor an individual’s actions with a great deal of discomfort being focused on behavior that individuals consider embarrassing such as trips to a gay bar, purchase of pornographic literature or an individual’s choice of birth control (www.scss.swartmore.edu/).
Loss of anonymity when buying various controversial books has caused many individuals to opt for cash payments. Most scholars of ethical issues actually consider loss of anonymity to be generally an invasion of one’s privacy. The use of Universal identity cards led to redefining of privacy protection laws and policies. This change in what is deemed public and private is inevitable with the government increased ability to access information about all the transactions that individual has made.
As such reliance on statutory laws that protect personal data and therefore personal dignity had increased. The major tenets of the statutory protections include processing of personal data in a fair and lawful manner, and in amounts relevant to the reason it was accessed in the first place. In addition, the length of time the data is kept should be only as long as the purpose is accomplished and measures (both technical and organizational) should be taken to ensure unlawful and unauthorized data access does not occur together with measures against damage or accidental loss (www.sees.swarthmore-edu/).
Morals have their origin in the group where an individual achieves maturity, this is also the same for business ethics with organizations being in a position to promote and enhance ethical practices. The Information Technology industry may therefore be better placed to promote ethical practice within itself. The danger with this however is that the public does not understand the intricate dealings of the industry and it is possible that a number of organizations would put profits above ethical practice.
Often, it has been argued that identity management is a means to prevent fraud and industrial espionage. The danger with this focus on the benefits of electronic monitoring is that it is susceptible to abuse with some organizations assuming a universal right to explain monitoring of employees. The situation that this creates is one where civil liberties of individuals are abused and suppressed because of the potential of a few employees to break the law (Middleton, 2004 pp 435).
The danger that an individual’s identity agent could collude with other parties posing a privacy and security risk is a very real problem.. This is possible because current technology does not provide a means of accountability for the users. The government being big player has the capacity to usurp the identity system and violate principles that may have developed concerning identity management systems. The potential for information gathered from universal identification to intimidate, discriminate and hinder communication would place information ethics in serious jeopardy (Rundle M and Conley, 2007, pp 28-29).
In some cases data matching is used to determine whether an individual will be involved in fraudulent behavior. The danger with this occurs when there are errors in the inputted information; this could lead to the wrong person being monitored for having the potential to commit crime which in a way assumes that the individual is guilty before they have been proven innocent. Data matching unlike traditional investigation focuses on groups of individuals and is based more on suspicion than actual wrongdoing.
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The use of personal data together with the inference program that is automated may consequently result in false information which causes harm and suppression of the individual’s rights (Middleton, 2004, pp 436).
Despite the ethical concerns mentioned above, the system of universal identity cards has been accepted by the public due to the changes of terrorism and the desire to preempt fraud. The importance of educating information systems on ethical issues cannot be emphasized so that the rights of the citizenry are not suppressed.
The potential for the system being subverted is always present and this risk is higher especially when trust in universal identification systems is increased. For instance, chances of fraud are higher when one’s identification card is used to permit a greater variety of services and goods. While the gains that can be achieved with a universal identification system cannot be denied, it is necessary that ethical questions be considered and answered in policies concerning technology and economics.
Decew Judith 2006 Privacy and Technology, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web.
Michael K and Michael MG, 2004, The Social, Cultural, Religious and Ethical Implications of Automatic Identification proceedings of the Seventh International Conference in Electronic Commerce Research 10-13. pp433-450.
Middleton Chris, Ethics Man Business and Technology, Reed Business Information pp. 22-27. 1999.
Parent W, 1983, Privacy, Morality and the Law, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 12:269-288.
Rundle Mary and Conley Chris, 2007, Ethical Implications of Emerging Technologies: A Survey pp. 28-31.
Universal Identity. Web.