Friday, February 26, 2010

Identity Numbers

I really feel sorry for the vast bulk of people on this planet who have no unique identifier. Due to an accident of history (well my grandfather's decision to change his surname) I have a surname that as far as I can tell is only shared by other descendents of my grandfather or those who have adopted it through relationships with members of the first group. Of that select group I'm the only David.

That doesn't happen for most people. With a world in which more and more data is capable of being stored electronically the desire to be able to efficiently retrieve it is understandable. The simplest way to do that is with "identity numbers". We now have two proposals for such beasts.

The first occurs in the context of e-health and the proposal for a national health identifier. The only way to line up the health records everywhere is with an identifying number.

Bizarrely that can't be just your Medicare number because of the earlier decision to put multiple parties (a family) on one card and hence number.

The other case is in education where the idea is to give each kid a number so that their test scores can be aligned over time as reported in the Oz and the SMH.

This, of course, raises ire in many over Big Brother. In the 80s their used to be grand fantasies on late night radio on the computer centre in the (unused) Deakin xchange being used to line up the data held on individuals across multiple data bases.

It is interesting to note that the generations more used to having to have numbers for lots of things almost yearn for a simplification, as reported in the Punch.

For health you have a Medibank number and a private health care number (if you pay), every hospital you've ever been to gave you a number when you visited.

In education you have a number for your HSC and a number for any Uni you've attended. It becomes a nightmare hen, say, you want an academic transcript and they want your number from ten years ago.

Meanwhile we decided not to have a national ID card. There was an Access Card proposal or all Social Security and like things but I don't know where that go to. We at last sorted out ABN's for all kinds of trading entities, and income earners all have unique tax file numbers.

The question becomes, if we want a unique tax number, education number and health number should they be the same? The answer is probably no. Not because of Big Brother concerns and aligning data bases. I'm sort of happy for that to happen especially for statistical data bases (how accurate could a health study be relating the incidence of health issues to education and income be huh?). Where the issue is in relation to identity theft and non-Government intrusion.

We all at least see on TV and movies how Americans use the Social Security number as the unique identifier for everything including credit checks, and just how vulnerable you can be once that is misued.

So we want some unique identifiers, but the number is greater tha one. How many should it be?

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