Sleepwalking into a surveillance society: the New Zealand guinea pigs


UK has announced

that all foreign workers – including New Zealanders on the traditional OE – will now be required to carry a photo ID containing biometric information.

These “identity cards for foreign nationals” are the first part of the roll out of a new

National Identity Service

in the UK. The biometric information – a fingerprint – and identity details will be held on a chip in a card, and this information stored on the “national identity register”.

According to the

UK Home Office website


the Act

, up to 265 Government agencies and 48,000 private businesses will be able to access the register to peruse a person’s name, address of present and all previous residences, gender, date and place of birth, immigration status, fingerprint, facial image, iris scan and indices to other Government databases. The purpose of this is “to help them establish the identity of their customers and staff”.

If we could trust every private business and government agency to only use the national identity register for identification purposes, there would be little to worry about. But the potential for abuse of this information is enormous.

The UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas in 2004 questioned why so much personal information was required, and why such a range of bodies would have access to that information.

He stated


The measures in relation to the National Identity Register and data trail of identity checks on individuals risk an unnecessary and disproportionate intrusion into individuals’ privacy.

Others oppose the scheme due to the immense cost, potential for identity theft, and the fact that the scheme has been pushed by the private technology companies that will profit hugely from the scheme.

New Zealanders and other foreign workers are the guinea pigs in this scheme, the first compelled to have ID cards. British High Commission to New Zealand spokesperson David

Rose reassured the public

that privacy concerns were unwarranted:

The only people who really have any need to worry are the illegal migrants or illegitimate employers.

Others worry.

Thomas again


My anxiety is that we don’t sleepwalk into a surveillance society where much more information is collected about people, accessible to far more people shared across many more boundaries than British society would feel comfortable with.

I too fear sleepwalking; that compelling NZ and other foreign workers to carry such ID in the UK will normalise this invasion of privacy, so that if the idea to extend the requirement to UK citizens and to New Zealand is raised, it won’t seem such a big deal.

It is a big deal.