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“Nothing to hide, nothing to fear”, database security and Britain’s national identity scheme

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:22 pm on 2 June, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state, US politics.
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A common slogan used by many of those who support measures that put the general population under surveillance, such as CCTV and the British national identity scheme, is “if you’ve got nothing to hide, there’s nothing to fear”. I’ve criticised this slogan before, as have Samizdata (e.g. here, at their sister blog White Rose and here), UKLiberty and the No2ID weblog.

However a particularly compelling illustration of why the slogan “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is so wrong-headed, and how law abiding people can be put at risk by those who gather information about them is provided by the spate of recent stories involving large (often governmental) organisations losing, or otherwise publicly exposing, personal details of the people who deal with them:

The above are just a handful of recent stories, and I’m aware of other examples going back years. For example numerous cases of organisations losing, public exposing or abusing the personal information they store are also documented in UK Liberty’s article on data abuse.

In each of these cases, the personal details of law abiding citizens, often numbered in thousands or tens of thousands, have been compromised and may have fallen into the hands of those who might try and impersonate them or otherwise use the information against them. So much for “nothing to hide, nothing to fear”.

The British government claims its national identity scheme will help combat identity theft, but it seems to me that it is more likely to enable identity theft because not only will it store all all the information needed for someone to pretend to be you in one place, but its National Identity Registration Number will end up indexing both your national identity register entry and your entries in other databases both private and public. The NIRN and much of your personal information on the NIR will be shared with many public and private sector organisations and be accessible by thousand and thousands of officials.

It beggars belief that lapses in security similar to those reported above would be minimised by such a system or that the opportunities for stealing the information would be minimised either. And, unlike the systems above, your participation (if you’re a permanent resident of Britain) in the scheme will not be voluntary if the government gets its way.


  1. There is another point to be made here, although the security of any data or PII is important, is that the PII does not belong to the government in the first place.

    I own my PII, not them. I should decide when and where I wish to give some or all of it in return for particular services, not them. It is not theirs to hold, to take ownership of. It belongs to me.

    I shall not be partaking of the great database society, and if necessary will move overseas to avoid it.

    Comment by IanP — 2 June, 2007 @ 8:37 pm | Edit This

  2. Nothing to hide nothing to fear! If ever a phrase is used to kill debate its this one.

    And another phrase you find with regard to the growing list of databases we are subjected to is “no one will be allowed to view your details without your consent unless its a requirement by law” which basically means you`ve got no say in it at all.

    I always thought that the NIR will be the first of such intrusive databases. But I now know that a number of them (the childrens index is scheduled to begin in September) will already be running before then.

    The sound of protest from our freedom loving population is deafening.

    Comment by A Evans — 7 July, 2007 @ 8:43 pm | Edit This

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