The Identity Divide and the Identity Archepelago

(I’d meant to post this in June. Oops! Chaos reigns!)

Peter Swire and Cassandra Butts have a fascinating new article, “The ID Divide.” It contains a tremendous amount of interesting information that I wasn’t aware of, about how infused with non-driving purposes the drivers license is. I mean, I know that the ID infrastructure, is, in essence and aim, an infrastructure of control. Even so, I didn’t realize how far it had gone as a tool of compliance enforcement.

There’s more to say than I can get into this blog post. Short form: go read it. Slightly longer form:

There are lots of details that are just great. For examples:

“The More ID checks in society, the more ID theft matters.” (page 11)

In a discussion of a 2005 deficit reduction act attempt to reduce medicaid fraud: “A GAO study instead found that the major effects of the program were higher administrative costs …and denial of medical benefits to eligible US citizens” (page 14)

“In addition, some state will not issue a state ID until a person has caught up on all outstanding payments due the staet, including traffic fines and child support payments. As ID requirements spread, persons who cannot afford to make all such payments may be denied the right to vote, to receive health insurance, or to become lawfully employed.” (page 16)

“…independent reviews of the E-Verify program have found that employers engage in prohibited employment practices…” (page 18)

My copy of this report is covered in markup, about “the computer is always right,” about linkability, about data shadows. In fact, about the only thing I don’t like is the title. I don’t think this is a divide, I think that identity has become an archepelago, a la the Soviet Gulag system.

In the preface to The Gulag Archepelago, Solzhenitsyn wrote:

And this archipelago crisscrossed and patterned that other country
within which it was located, like a giant patchwork, cutting into its
cities, hovering over its streets. Yet there were many who did not
even guess at its presence, and many, many others who had heard
something vague.

I think the argipelago is a better metaphor than a divide. A divide
exists, and most of us exist on one side of it. But the identity
archipelago! At a moments notice, we can be thrust onto its other
side. A phone call, a letter, and our identity’s connection to the
machine is broken. Our data shadow has sinned, and we are cast into
the archipelago, forced to learn its ways.

In conversation, Peter has said that the Gulag analogy is too over-used, which is a shame. Maybe identity is more like an accident–you’re driving along and 35 and boom, you wake up in the hospital. Maybe it’s more like a vase, dropped and you’re cutting yourself picking up the shards. What’s the right description for the fragile system we have where people get violently yanked into the nightmares?

[Comments have been closed because of a flood of spam against this single entry.]

One thought on “The Identity Divide and the Identity Archepelago

  1. Texas now requires a certified copy of the original birth certificate to renew a driver’s license if you are overdue at renewing it. This will have major impact on the elderly, and unemployed. This story is becoming all too typical. Here are the rules about Driver’s License/State ID renewal. Notice that a valid state DL/ID within 2 years of expiration is a valid form of ID.
    Also many states are now requiring photo ids for the Amish and other religious groups that object to photos on the grounds of “graven images”.
    [Ed: Dude, your links are broken.]

Comments are closed.