Thursday, April 27, 2006

Will you still need me when I'm 64 ... MB?

Joe Hockey, Australia's Federal Human Services Minister, admitted when questioned tonight by Prof. Graham Greenleaf on Australia Talks Back, that the Australian ID card (euphemised as 'smart card') will contain a chip holding a staggering 64 megabytes.

It made a mockery of his spiel that had all the hallmarks of having been written by a junior PR officer: "The smart card is good for you; it will clean up welfare fraud; you will feel safer; you will have more privacy; we don't want to keep much data; they require more personal data from you at VideoEzy; trust us, we're politicians; trust future politicians; blah blah blah").

They could hold your family history, half of Wikipedia and all of War and Peace on 64 megs. Plus a few podcasts. To put it in perspective, I know someone who easily wrote a 100,000-word Ph.D. thesis on a 20 megabyte Mac. The first Windows PC I bought was only 40 megs and it could do a lot of stuff in glorious colour.

Twenty years ago the Bob Hawke (Labor) Government tried to bring in the 'Australia Card'. Well I remember the early days of campaigning against it, when people wondered what a very small number of activists were whingeing about -- and about 80 per cent of the Australian population thought such an ID card was a good idea.

It was one of those weird, rather lonely times for activists -- like a few years ago when people scratched their heads and wondered why you were saying that the USA wasn't invading Iraq because of WMDs. Maybe like 1850 when people thought you were nutzo to oppose slavery. Then, comes the dawn!

Within two years of Hawke's expensive and initially successful PR campaign for the card that knows everything, the overwhelming majority of citizens had woken up to the dangers of such a thing. Hawkey's supposedly progressive government was forced into humiliating defeat -- by the same conservative party which is now busily trying to spin the fantastic plastic into our wallets. Back then (1986-87), 'Australia Card' became like a dirty word that no one would utter. At a guess, about 50 - 80 per cent vehemently opposed it, and it became dead in the water. Labor had to drop it for political survival.

I'm sure they will make the card look very pretty (they can spend millions on design and psychological research) but it will be interesting to see whether this one gets up. Certainly it's patently clear that due to a host of reasons such as increased concentration of media ownership, the rise of the fundo Christian Right, educational dumbing down, and TV addiction/shortened attention spans, the populace is less connected to issues and activism today than in the 1970s and '80s. Certainly the various transnational corporations' lobbies involved with this 64 megabyte monster are far more powerful than two decades ago. Nonetheless, I like to believe that Australians, who have always believed they live in a country with hard-won great personal freedoms, won't take Australia Card Mark II lying down. I hope for a repeat of Hawkey's 1987 defeat.

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