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Comments (65) Posted 03.02.06 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Jessica Helfand

Give Me Privacy or Give Me an ID Card




Illustration by Paula Scher for Subjective Reasoning, issue entitled "Useless Information," published by Champion Paper, 1992.

When I was 11 years old, I saw my mother's passport for the first time. This seemingly inconsequential event was, in fact, a really big deal: up until that moment, I had no idea how old she was. An extremely private person, my mother had made a point of never disclosing her age to anyone, and that included her children. Looking back, I now realize she may have been the last of a dying breed: a generation of women who believed that revealing your age was as inappropriate as, say, discussing religion or politics in public.

Today, of course, religion is politics, and it's all public. And while privacy itself may be more casually discussed in public, it's no less imperiled. With the very real possibility of a new, National ID Card looming, the question of what actually constitutes privacy — in other words, what personal information is revealed to the public on a routine basis — raises serious questions for all of us.

Civil libertarians, human rights activists, even State-run organizations have opposed the advent of the Real ID, which was initially introduced by Congress as an attachment to a funding measure for the war in Iraq. It has been conceived as part of an anti-terrorism law creating a national standard for drivers licenses, and it is, as yet, unclear how much of the financial burden (estimated in the millions) will be shouldered by the Federal government. While its supporters argue that cracking down on identity theft and terrorism are all necessary in the interest of national security, many Americans disagree, arguing that such benefits are dwarfed by the implications of compromised privacy. And given our country's unclear policies on domestic surveillance (read "wiretapping") we may, indeed, have reason to be concerned.

Once the new-and-improved driver's license is under way, how soon can we expect to see the introduction of a National ID Card? Two weeks ago, a plan to introduce mandatory National ID Cards in Britain was approved in the House of Commons. Despite a rebellion by about 20 members of Mr. Blair's own Labor Party, the government voted 310 to 279 in favor of biometric information (including fingerprinting and iris scans) being added to both passports and the new IDs. American ID Card advocates are likely to propose similar improvements, and biometrics offer a plausible compromise. (Your privacy is protected but your public information is encrypted.) This doesn't solve the question of what information is being shared or shielded from public scrutiny. But it does raise more fractious and far-reaching issues — among them, whether we are willing to be parsed into so much encrypted data in pursuit of the promise of enhanced security?

The public protection of private records is thwarted with complex legal and ethical questions. What makes the possibility of a National ID Card so additionally problematic is the fact that privacy is itself difficult to identify. Are you willing to disclose your eye color? How about your home address? Maybe the best solution is a sliding scale: but would sharing more information allow for more perks — in this case, greater or quicker access — like the benefits granted to platinum credit card holders? Some religious groups oppose the use of photographic portraiture: would an illustration offer a more abstract, yet still representative likeness? Others resist sharing medical records, employment histories, even owning up to parking tickets. And while it may seem comparatively weak as an argument, my mother, had she lived to see this moment, would likely have opposed revealing her age. (The point is: if it's private to you, why can't it just remain private?) And once you give in a little, where do you draw the line? What about addresses and signatures, codes and passwords, account numbers and membership data? How about prescription numbers? Social security numbers? Number of iTunes downloaded in the last six months? Boxers or briefs? Silly, yes: yet such data serve to collectively define your patterns of activity and offer, consequently, a kind of cryptic set of clues about Who You Are. Such lists, while coded and abstract, offer a kind of indexical portrait of spending activity and other consumer behaviors. (Paula Scher's illustration, above, part of a larger body of work that looked at the futility of a lot of the information we covet, said it all.) It is likely that the mandated ID Card information will be much more intrusive: blood type, sexual persuasion, religious affiliation, voting record. And of course, age. (My children already know mine, so I guess I'm safe where they're concerned.)

Safety, of course, is the ideological umbrella hanging over this entire debate. What does it mean to be safe? Moreover, what will it mean to define a person's most critical coordinates on a two-sided, piece of wallet-proportioned plastic? Inventing, constructing and maintaining the underlying system that supports this huge morass of delicate — and yes, perhaps disproportionately private — data might just be the biggest conceptual design problem facing the next decade. And, by all indications, it's likely to be the most expensive one, too. Meanwhile, the question of whether the Constitution protects privacy in ways not expressly provided in the Bill of Rights remains controversial. (Troublesome as the world has become, it is reassuring to know that not all Americans are losing sleep over this.) Would a National ID Card be consistent with the promise of American freedom or alien to the spirit of American liberty? Biometrics notwithstanding, the notion of a splintered selfhood is, to many, difficult to stomach, particularly if all that stands between you and getting on a plane is getting over it — that is, agreeing to be carded.
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Comments (65)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

What does this have to do with design?

If you have a political agenda please keep it to other pages. I am not sure of your leaning but I come here for design... hence the name of YOUR blog "design observer"....

It being YOUR blog you should post what you want... but then change the name to "observer"... and i'll go find a site where I don't waste my time reading a commentary with no real answers.
John
03.02.06 at 09:58

Please. The lines between our public and personal experiences have become more ambiguous than ever before. Wireless Internet, cell phones and a rabid media have made much of our personal lives quite public. It is a new kind of cultural intimacy, this mass exposure to experience and information. In our sharing, we have become a community without boundaries. Design is just one discipline that is impacted by this, and the connections are obvious.
debbie millman
03.02.06 at 10:05

" Two weeks ago, a plan to introduce mandatory National ID Cards in Britain was approved in the House of Commons. Narrowly defeating the Labor party, the government voted 310 to 279 in favor of biometric information (including fingerprinting and iris scans) being added to both passports and the new IDs."

Um, unless they called an election and Blair isn't the prime minister any more, the Labour Party *is* the current government in Britain. So did they defeat themselves to pass their own legislation?
aj
03.02.06 at 10:27

No agendas here, although I have corrected the language above in light of aj's comment.

And Thanks, Debbie, for helping to direct the conversation back the larger cultural question of the impact on design. Although I do think, as I wrote here, that the questions are more critical, at this point, at a conceptual level. (If we had to design one today, I suppose an ID Card with all the data written in four-point type would protect everyone's privacy.)
jessica helfand
03.02.06 at 10:41

.Then speak about how design has been impacted. There is an obvious connnection but the author was not speaking of the impact of design or how what effect it has had.. infact she only writes about design in two sentences of the last paragraph. And even that is ambiguous at best.

This could of went to alot of places but it really did nothing for me or what I was hoping it could do. It did not inform me or raise questions in my own mind about design. Information overload is why designers exist. We all know that.
John
03.02.06 at 10:48

Haha... true... but someone out there would have a loupe.
John
03.02.06 at 10:50

John, my window's title says "design & culture." There's no obvious implication it will always be both in combination.
Su
03.02.06 at 10:56

"But it does raise more fractious and far-reaching issues — among them, whether we are willing to be parsed into so much encrypted data in pursuit of the promise of enhanced security?"

Encryption sounds so scary—despite this mostly being nothing but a change in method—and almost nobody's information is even remotely as private as they delude themselves into believing.

Your Social Security Number can be easily parsed to determine the state in which it was issued, and if some other semi-related numbers are known, something like a guess at your year of birth can be made. I seem to recall a bit more determinable information being in there, but can't find details at the moment.
In some states, your car's license plates provide a clue to what city/county you live in(not just the plate itself, but the number).
Eye color, home address and a few more of your examples currently appear in plain view on my driver's license, on the back of which there is not only a traditional barcode, but a two-dimensional one, as well as place for me to write in blood type myself. There's also two lines for witnesses, so if someone wanted to stalk me, they'd also have the names of up to two people I'm possibly around if I'm not at home. There's a spot for my SSN#, though I declined to provide it. My driver's license number begins with the first letter of my family name. That sounds minor, but it'd be very helpful in a social engineering situation.
If someone owns an internet domain, it can take ten seconds to get their address and phone number, and back to social engineering, the actual content of said domain can be used to get further information.
(A further point being that while it looks like a list of basic statements, lack of agenda[if true] does not equal lack of slant.)

4pt type would be little more than an irritation to everybody involved, besides just a weak variation on security through obscurity.

Why would your mother have objected to revealing her age if it was already on her passport, and presumably on her driver's licence(or ID, though they seem an oddity now unless you just can't get an actual license), each of which she most likely would have had to present a birth certificate to acquire? This seems to be an arbitrarily inconsistent assumption on your part.

And come on: The link to the BBC fluff piece is a straw man. The Constitution is not broadcast on Fox twice daily(I remember it being three times not long ago.) Inability to recite something by rote does not equate to ignorance. The test here is the reaction when you try to actually deny someone their freedoms. Doesn't it seem that the BBC should instead concern itself with whether their citizens can name the characters on Eastenders as opposed to Robert's Rules of Order, or something?
Su
03.02.06 at 11:33

... "the promise of American freedom"? ..."the spirit of American liberty"?... I just assumed you guys all had carried things like this around for years anyway? To the rest of the world America has never really appeared to be particularly interested in 'freedom' and/or personal 'liberty'... while these words are often thrown around by your fundamentalist leader(s), your country has always had a rich history in oppressive politics. I do think it'd be an interesting project to look at how that was mediated through 'design' though. I was in Washington DC recently and I was quite shocked at how much of your governmental symbolism and imagery could have come straight from the Roman empire, Napoleon, or (it has to be said) Nazi Germany. It's the same, it's just got better spin doctors behind it?
Design Wolf
03.02.06 at 12:06

If you had known my mother, Su, you would know that an arbitrarily inconsistent assumption of any kind would be out of the question.

I suspect you're underestimating the BBC, too.

As I said: a generational thing. The culture of women not wanting to reveal their ages has a long and fascinating history. Ditto debates on issues of privacy: in this instance, I suspect they're being marginalized in the quest to quickly make sense of how to impose order at a macro level — potentially compromising the interests of certain individuals, at the micro level.

Mediating the relationship between public and private has always been of great concern to designers. As it should.
jessica helfand
03.02.06 at 12:29

Hey John, the AIGA called. Your prescription has expired. Design shmezign. It's refreshing to read about something more relevant to our daily lives other than work. E-mail an author directly if you don't care for their article.

I don't necessarily agree with the sense of paranoia, but then again, I didn't click on all of the links in your article. That being said, Su hit it right on the nose. Simply owning a domain name gives out your address. Our bank accounts are tied to our social security numbers, yet my social security card won't get me across the border. Thanks to Google, you can get a satelite image of my backyard.

I see no problem with having a national ID. I've been refused the right to buy liquor out of state because I didn't have an ID that was compatible with their system. A minor inconvenience, granted, but what if you were out of town at a design conference (or wedding, or whatever) and were denied access to a social mixer in a cocktail lounge because the bouncer wasn't familiar with your state's joke of an ID?

If you're really that worried, you better disconnect yourself from the grid and set up shop in the hills of Montana. Make sure your phone number is UN-listed, and for goodness sake, DON'T run a website! I for one, don't feel I have anything to hide. I'm under the assumption that the government already knows way more than they let on anyway.
Aaron
03.02.06 at 12:35

I see no problem with having a national ID.

Arron, you have not thought carefully enough about this subject.

In the UK the proposed ID card will be used to check your ID in real time agains the national register. Any shop that sells you alcohol will demand that you present this card to be swiped in the ID terminal, so that they can prove that every sale they make was made to a person over 18. This will mean that they can never be prosecuted for selling alcohol to a minor. Checking your ID in this way means that the national database is accessed, your age is verified, and then the record of your ID check is printed on your recipt.

Fine, you might say, this will stop underage drinking. It will also mean that every time that someone's card scanned and thier identity checked, a record is kept at the national identity register of which card was swiped, and where. That means that the government will have a record of every time you buy a bottle of wine.

Most people do not understand what this proposed scheme really means. It means that the government will know about your every movement, because you will be asked to swipe your card for literally everything. Just ask the americans how many times they are asked for thier social security number. It will be the same with UK Id cards, only much worse.

I don't know or care about anyone else; I will not allow anyone to keep a record of all my visits to the doctor, purchases of Jack Daniels, filled perscriptions, telephone calls, trips on the underground etc etc. I won't be signing up for this ID card under any circumstances.

Now that you know how it really works, would you?
Alexander De Large
03.02.06 at 01:13

Alexander. let's be perfectly clear: You are referring to the UK's take on this, correct?

Not that the potential doesn't exist in the US National ID, but do provide a proper reference if that's what you're claiming to talk about.

Also: I can't remember the last time I gave my SSN, and there's actually a fairly limited number of instances in which it is truly required. In many cases, you're perfectly within rights to refuse and offer some other piece of information.
Su
03.02.06 at 01:47

I'm going to step in here as one Design Observer editor.

We are 13 comments into this post, and only the last few have said anything about ID cards (AJ thanks for the correction). Further comments complaining about the political leanings of this site will be removed. As John notes, this is our blog. I want to encourage everyone to stay on topic.

The concern that Design Observer occasionally veers into the political realm is heard occasionally from our readers. While there is no monolithic or fixed agenda here (since we are a collaborative blog of numerous writers and contributors, all with different perspectives), I would hope that politics and culture will continue to raise their ugly heads. (Other blogs take different perspectives on this issue — our friends over at Be A Design Group have often said that politics and design should not be mixed. I encourage John to visit there more often.)

Here at Design Observer we will mix them as we see fit.

In the meantime, let's talk about ID cards.
William Drenttel
03.02.06 at 01:51

You are referring to the UK's take on this, correct?

Provide a reference? Look at the second sentence that I wrote. It is unambiguous that I am discussing the UK's proposed Identity Card; I would not be able to construct the sentence, "Just ask the americans..." had I been speaking as an American writing about the USA, where there is no proposed national ID card scheme.

As for the American Experience, I have personally witnessed an an American citizen being refused a store credit card because she refused to enter her SSN on the application form. If you want to recieve revenue from Google Adwords, CafePress or any other big service, you are required to supply your SSN (if you are American), for the purposes of collecting tax. Many states will not give you a driving licence without disclosing your SSN. There are many examples of this abuse; a simple Google search for "SSN abuse" will give you many pointers to the SSN abuse issue, and if you want to see it in action, look at the Google Ads that are pulled up in that search; when I ran the above query, all but one of the ads was for services that violate the privacy of all Americans with SSNs.

You say that you are perfectly within your rights to refuse to divulge your SSN. Of course, you are, but then you will have to do without the service that you are applying for. The same goes for the apalling state of internal air travel in the USA, where you cannot board an aircraft without showing ID. You are entitled to refuse to show ID, but then you are denied acesss to commercial flights inside your own country. I think the argument that 'you can always refuse' is not a very potent one.

The same goes for the UK. The ID card is being sold as non compulsory, but you will be forced to have your retina scan, photograph and fingerprints entered into the National Identity Register and an ID card issued to you when you renew your passport. You have the right to refuse to renew your passport, but you will be denied international travel as the price.

By any measure this is wrong. Thankfully there are people who can understand what this really means, like John Gilmore millionaire EFF founder, who is fighting for the rights of Americans, most of whom are not capable of paying attention.

As for the UK, there is a groundswell rising agiainst this scheme, and we are convinced that it will be thrown out, either by parliament, or by popular revolt as was the case with the Poll Tax, which brought down the Thatcher government. Once people find out what a centralized database backed ID card means (watching you buy alcohol cigaretts, and eggs at the supermarket or send FedEx packages) they turn against it completely.

Be assured, I am not a doom merchant. I simply have a complete understanding of databeses and how they can be used, as it is my profession, and have read the specification for this ID card. I am merely reporting the precise way in which it will be used, to bring clarity to these discussions, which normally lack any real facts OR clarity.
Alexander De Large
03.02.06 at 03:08

Being an effective designer means being an observer, and taking stock of patterns, trends, spikes, what have you. It's important that designers consider contentious personal and political issues and participate in their discourse - as was done here. As far as the issuance of national ID cards, I'm terrified at the prospect. Everyday, in drips and dribbles we sublimate our power to a phantom collective so much so, that one might think we ENJOY doing it. Really. Are we vicitms or are we fascinated, submissive and willing ones? I'm not necessarily a paranoid type per say, but I'd rather that my information be handed out at MY will, and that on occassion I can remain anonymous.
Jessica G.
03.02.06 at 04:30

Examples seem a bit muddled here.

Source:" Do I have to provide my Social Security number to private businesses?"
Not really, but if they want to require it, they can. Sorry, but credit has never been a right. You're signing a contract. Don't like the contract? go somewhere else, pay cash, or use one of your other three cards(since this is America.)

SSN is required for tax purposes. Google, et al. have to report tax earnings from your ads and t-shirts. Point?

Ibid: "Can a state use my SSN as my drivers' license number?"
In the four states I've held licenses in, there has never been a problem with getting a separate number rather than them using my SSN. The funny thing is it's easier for to get information—and more of it—from the DL# than the SSN(ref. my link above). The state can require SSN disclosure, however. (I can't recall whether I refused or just had them use another number.) I personally fail to see why this is objectionable, seeing as they get it on tax forms anyway. You work with databases; you know it'd be essentially trivial for them to bring these two pieces of information together if they'd bother.

"The same goes for the apalling state of internal air travel in the USA, where you cannot board an aircraft without showing ID"
Let's be careful here. It's completely possible to get on a plane without ID, and it has less to do with the government than might seem.
The airline can require identification. This is a function of the contract(there it is again) you consented to in buying a ticket; their plane, their rules. If you don't have ID(note you can't refuse to show it, though I suppose you could lie), you will be flagged for search, etc. The only time the government comes into this is if you then refuse to be searched by the TSA, who conversely have absolutely no power to make you show ID.
Su
03.02.06 at 05:34

i gotta say: last year my wallet was stolen the day i had my social security card in it. i had been at the passport office. it was apparently sold, and i had to spend a few frightening and expensive months watching credit bureaus' numbers to see what "i" had "applied for" or "bought" under "my" name. fortunately i reported it to the police immediately, and my social security number dropped out of the black market fairly quickly.

the real fear to me was in realizing that these numbers are indelibly tied to our identities, but there is no real way to protect them. you can tell the police it's been stolen, but very few merchants actually ask you to prove your identity.

i'm not sure which is more upsetting to me: a government which issues but doesn't adequately track/protect numbers which impact our identities -- or the capacity to be tracked. the current system of issuing a social security number is deeply and obviously flawed.

i have no coherent opinion on the subject yet, other than i think both options have clear dangers.
pk
03.02.06 at 05:59

I have lived a goodly amount of time and in all of the those years I have had very few requests for my SSN except where credit or insurance was involved. My college ID number was my SSN and it has been burned in to memory because of it -- until recently my health insurance carrier included my SSN as part of my account number. I think in reality information accumulates and follows us everywhere no matter how many numbers we have. Do I care whether somewhere, someone knows how many bottles of wine I purchase or what videos I rent or my age or the size of waist, the answer is no. I do think a national ID card is a good idea -- I do not think it will increase the amount of data collected about me -- my waist size is 38".
Dan Lewis
03.02.06 at 06:05

Back when I was studying politics, before I dropped it for Typography, I was considering the topic of whether the idea of a fundamental right to privacy was tenable. It never got beyond preliminary research, since by then I'd already decided to switch degrees. However, most arguments beyond the utilitarian seemed tenuous at best...

Anyway, the idea of someone knowing how often I buy alcohol and cigarettes doesn't bother me, now. What does bother me, however, is that we are given no real guarantees as to the future use of these systems. We'd be conceding an immense amount of power to the State, without having any safeguards concerning the potential use of that power against us. Just imagine a McCarthy with that kind of information gathering power--it doesn't take much effort.

Ms. Helfland's questioning of the notion of safety is in my opinion the most relevant part of the post. The people who are meant to be protecting me are also the people--or at least the institutions--who might later arbitrarily decide that I myself am a threat.
H4Achilles
03.02.06 at 07:24

I have lived a goodly amount of time and in all of the those years I have had very few requests for my SSN except where credit or insurance was involved.

the only reason i point out the SS# card bit is that whoever had my wallet had enough information to become me and actually take over my accounts. the wallet also contained credit cards and account cards.

by my own testing it's ridiculously easy to make a teleservice operator believe you are who you are by simply parroting the last four digits of your number. i noted that by doing so, i could gain access and change my PIN on my bank accounts, regain passwords from websites, and so on.

i am not speaking hypothetically -- whoever got my wallet tried actively to take control of my bank account; my bank called me twice to tell me someone had tried to access my funds.

if i hadn't immediately reported my theft and changed all my passwords, i would probably be in the deepest pits of credit debt imaginable right now.
pk
03.02.06 at 08:04

At the beginning of the Spanish civil war Franco's troops went village to village collecting the ballot boxes (for the election that sparked it all) and then executed everybody—EVERYBODY!—who voted for the Left. That said though I'd get on a plane buck naked if I could be sure I'd get off alive at my destination.
Design Wolf
03.02.06 at 08:04

Examples seem a bit muddled here.

Hardly.

Sorry, but credit has never been a right. You're signing a contract. Don't like the contract? go somewhere else, pay cash, or use one of your other three cards(since this is America.)

You are missing the central point again. This is not about private business and its requirements; this is about compulsion by central government. You are conflating two separate issues; private business requirements, which can always be whatever a business needs and that are subject to market forces (take your business elsewhere) and legally mandated numbering of people. The fact that private business can ask for a state issued number has nothing to do with the rightness of states issuing such numbers.

SSN is required for tax purposes. Google, et al. have to report tax earnings from your ads and t-shirts. Point?

Are you asking me if this is a point, or what my point was? I'll wager it is the latter. The 'point' is that your SSN is collected all the time and anywhere. Americans are so used to supplying it that they are inured to divulging it, rather like battery chickens that do not know the difference between inside and outside since they have always and only known caged life. People who have lived other types of life, ie, one without a universal government mandated identifying number, are like the same chickens, only in reverse; they cannot concieve of what it is like to live in a place where a single number ties all of your data together. This posture is the origin of the phrase "sleepwalking into a police state" which was used in the UK at the highest levels. We in the UK do not have numbers like this. We do not habitually divulge a number like this to do any sort of transaction, including but not limited to getting credit or opening a bank account. We have gotten along fine without it, and we do not want to suffer it.

I personally fail to see why this is objectionable, seeing as they get it on tax forms anyway. You work with databases; you know it'd be essentially trivial for them to bring these two pieces of information together if they'd bother.

So, "they are halfway up, so why not push it all the way in"? Is this really what you are advocating? Just because they can already do bad things does not mean that we should give them a licence to do even more of it with greater efficiency.

"The same goes for the apalling state of internal air travel in the USA, where you cannot board an aircraft without showing ID"
Let's be careful here. It's completely possible to get on a plane without ID, and it has less to do with the government than might seem.


This is simply wrong. The secret law mandating the presentation of ID or intensive search has everything to do with the government, and your palming off of responsibility for the infringement of our rights onto private business is, to say the least, rather curious. I wll leave it to the readers of this thread to look at the John Gilmore site that I linked to, and to determine which one of us is 'muddled' in our thinking.

It is clear that there is a real problem with certain Americans and their understanding of their rights and their relataionship with the US government. If you read that site, you will see that in the judgement handed down by the 9th circuit court it was, "... stated that if a citizen is unwilling to show ID at airports and is also unwilling to consent to an additional, arbitrary physical search, then that citizen is "free to leave" but not free to travel." By any standard, this is not freedom; in fact it is the sort of nonsense that the Soviet Union was derided for at the end of the twentieth century, and symbolic of everything we were against as free people at that time.

Now, for some reason, we have people who dont care if, "... someone knows how many bottles of wine I purchase or what videos I rent..." even though it is understood that it is everyone everywhere that will have the potential to know this, and that it can and will be used against you. We have people who are willing to simply lay down and accept anything that is put upon them, or who are willing to lay the blame for draconian law anywhere except at the clawed feet of legislators. We have people who are adept at doublethink, the ability to hold two contradicting ideas as true simultaneously - "the idea of someone knowing how often I buy alcohol and cigarettes doesn't bother me, now. What does bother me, however, is that we are given no real guarantees as to the future use of these systems." If you can imagine how McCarthy would use such a system, you most certainly would not want him to know how much Jack Daniels you have bought in a month or a year, or how many times you took a train to a small town where someone else in your industry lives who just happens to be under investigation. Bringing it closer to home, would you like a new client to whom you are trying to sell your design skills to know at what frequency you buy alcohol?

If you agree with all of that, and dissagree with me, then ID cards are certainly for you, but for heaven's sake don't complain about them when they are introduced and you become one of the victims, and society changes into somehing rather nasty.
Alexander De Large
03.02.06 at 08:29

Of course, the real danger, with compiled lists of data is that it exists without context. Say you bacame a wine collector and spent a year or two stocking your cellar. One night, after a dinner party, you drive home beleiving whole-heartedly that your blood-alcohol reading is below the legal limit. You get pulled over by the police, tested and land in court with a DUI charge. Suddenly, if the list of your recent alcohol purchases is available, you might go from being a wine collector who made an honest mistake, to an alcoholic with a paper trail and a stint in rehab...
Chris Dixon
03.02.06 at 08:49

Meanwhile, the question of whether the Constitution protects privacy in ways not expressly provided in the Bill of Rights remains controversial.

The problem (to some people) with the idea of explicitly defining a right to privacy is that it would in an instant undermine the right's most coherent legal arguments against Roe v. Wade. To many conservative activists, privacy=abortion. (How's that for bringing politics into Design Observer?)

On the other hand, with the explosive growth of identity theft and other privacy-related crimes, plus the immense popularity of the "do not call" lists, I wonder if a Privacy Amendment might be passable after all. This might be the perfect historical moment to actually get it done, before we all become utterly accustomed to not having it, happily letting corporations and the government have their way with our private lives.
Christopher Fahey
03.02.06 at 09:34

To many conservative activists, privacy=abortion.

what..?
pk
03.02.06 at 10:56

John asks the question, "What does this have to do with design?" What does liberty and thus privacy have to do with design?

Everything.

Civic life and our relationships with the state (small "s") are not separable from the rest of our lives such that they will not affect us if we ignore them.

Consider design as communication. Consider also empty space in a physical design and white space on the page. Consider the writer's liberty to leave some things unsaid and left to the reader's imagination.

Our ability to control what we communicate and, equally important, do not communicate is central to both design and our autonomy as persons.

Being prevented from expressing something and forced to express something are just the opposite sides of a single coin.

Of course design is political. The only question is whether it is expression within a free society in which individual liberty is valued and the individual may choose what to communicate and what not to communicate or within a society in which individuals, design and art serve the state.
John R
03.03.06 at 05:52

before reading comments,
i post this one.

people have secrets.
they make things interesting.
are secrets going to disappear?
i sure hope not.
i love interesting.
tjb
03.03.06 at 09:15

I'm not sure exactly what I think of a national ID card, as I'm pro-nationalized healthcare (which means all your medical data in the hands of the government) and in fact I'm pro-government, in general. I do think that we in the U.S. have amazing fears about "privacy" that don't cross the minds of our brethren in countries with more liberal social policy. You can't have it both ways. Also having lived in California (where such a "swipe" system is already in place to check the validity of your ID) I don't see where that is a problem either. Heck, it's good enough for 10% of the U.S. population.
I would like to think about some of the design implications. In the, gee isn't that cool mode. I recently saw over at Core77 a robot that greats students at elementary schools in Japan. They hold their ID card out. It reads it and then notifies the teacher that the student is present and on the way to the class. In a country, like Japan, with a dwindling population and almost zero immigration (by design) more and more of these functional roles -- caregiver, security guards, etc. -- will be handled by robots. And that is an opportunity that the government of Japan sees as a way to improve their knowledge in automation. By design.
DC1974
03.03.06 at 09:36

The thing is, biometry is just a drama. Do we really have to talk about how big brother should supervise us? Security is just a pretext to get more control, more power on people, despire democraty should be the power of the people (sic). How such an absurd system with increasing differences beetween riches and poores can stand: police, army, biometry. Look at g8 conferences... does the police really needs to hurt people? Are you a terrorist just because you care about your future and you don't accept the current situation?
Have you all forgot about 1984, then reed it again because it is so obvious, so actuall. We are in it...
Yes my talk is a bit naive, but i prefere to stay naive then to become some kind of alienate cynical robot.
And design has to care about politics, ideas and ideals, so this subject is just perfect here.

Sorry for my bad english.
Frigorifik
03.03.06 at 10:18

Part of the issue is the conflict between having a right and exercising it. Some people evidently don't care to exercise a right to privacy, as those who have said it wouldn't bother them if their government were fully aware of their alcohol habits. But many of us do want that right, and even if a majority sees no cause for alarm, the constitution protects the rights of the minority. The difficulty—and necessity—in protecting a right to privacy is that once it's lost, it's nearly impossible to replace.

On another note, I find ID cards particularly interesting for their inabilty to communicate. Communication is about a select and contextualized delivery of information. We communicate by telling some of the story, and then wrapping it in various cultural and political fabrics, so that what is said is meaningful on several different levels, depending on who's saying it and who's listening. But ID cards are flat and decontextualized. They give as much weight to the last bottle of Merlot you bought as to the place of your birth, or your unemployment benefits. Those of us who recoil at the thought of ID cards recognize that despite their name, their only real purpose is to strip one's identity down to the barest of codes. And that is anathema to the practice of design.

mandy
03.03.06 at 11:17

In the "Gee, isn't that cool" mode, I was also wondering if the resistance to adopting an ID Card might be flipped by spinning it into something hip: For example: if Apple introduced a white leather lanyard as a dangling "I-Card" holder, would it play off Ipods and become a status thing? (Come to think of it, an opaque holder would conceal the actual information most of the time, too.)
jessica helfand
03.03.06 at 11:20

i'm kinda fleshing out how i feel about this whole thing. i think right now i feel like i'd be okay with something that 1) protects my social security number and 2) ties it indelibly to me via a fingerprint (or something).

that said, su pointed out something not long ago that proved biometrics readers were currently easy to foil, and i can't remember off the top of my head what that was.

if Apple introduced a white leather lanyard as a dangling "I-Card" holder, would it play off Ipods and become a status thing?

decent marketing idea, but i think it actually flags the idea with even more danger. it feels like it's hiding the actual purpose with a fairly transparent candy-coating.

i think for such a thing to get off the ground, identity would require publicly asserted protection by a promise-keeper at a government level -- a greenspan-like figure who would be a trusted name for identity protection.
pk
03.03.06 at 12:06

I truly beleive that, given the current polital climate, the further intrusion into, and violation of, personal rights will continue to march forward. As far as design goes, I also beleive that the powers that be are far more culturally savvy and would absolutly launch a branding/clanhood campaign that would espouse how all "Upstanding Patriots" in America have an ID Card and how "only those with something to hide should be in fear" (a'la The Patriot Act).

I should also mention that the public will become more accustomed to the use of such devices. Micrsoft is currently developing an open source virtual id card system that will be launched on all operating systems and websites later this year, thus abandoning the need to usernames passwords. A cool idea, but just another step to the physical world?
James D Nesbitt
03.03.06 at 12:29

About the trend: the chip thing is another of these scarry biometric things. Some people find it so cool to have a chip under their skin to get in a discotheque so they don't need to get a bag with money and identity card...
If they want to, that's their problem, but when it become a global security question it means we all need to accept this. It's just scandalous. And you can be sure it will slowly come normal like "oh yeah get the chip it is usefull, i don't need keys anymore".

Here is a nice quote comming straight from the industry building up electronic and biometric thing... it is in french but you should try to get it in english on the net, it is really worth to see how they work on us:

""La sécurité est très souvent vécue dans nos sociétés démocratiques comme une atteinte aux libertés individuelles. Il faut donc faire accepter par la population les technologies utilisées et parmi celles-ci la biométrie, la vidéosurveillance et les contrôles. Plusieurs méthodes devront être développées par les pouvoirs publics et les industriels pour faire accepter la biométrie. Elles devront être accompagnées d'un effort de convivialité par une reconnaissance de la personne et par l'apport de fonctionnalités attrayantes : Éducation dès l'école maternelle, les enfants utilisent cette technologie pour rentrer dans l'école, en sortir, déjeuner à la cantine, et les parents ou leurs représentants s'identifieront pour aller chercher les enfants. Introduction dans des biens de consommation, de confort ou des jeux : téléphone portable, ordinateur, voiture, domotique, jeux vidéo Développer les services "cardless" à la banque, au supermarché, dans les transports, pour l'accès Internet, ... La même approche ne peut pas être prise pour faire accepter les technologies de surveillance et de contrôle, il faudra probablement recourir à la persuasion et à la réglementation en démontrant l'apport de ces technologies à la sérénité des populations et en minimisant la gêne occasionnée. Là encore, l'électronique et l'informatique peuvent contribuer largement à cette tâche.""

http://www.google.fr/language_tools?hl=en
Frigorifik
03.03.06 at 12:31

I recently needed to renew my passport and was worried to see a notice on the form announcing the planned introduction of RFID chips in 2006. I instantly began scouring the web; looking for ways to make a simple and inconspicuous Faraday shield. It's bad enough that EZ Pass knows where I drive, but something changes when you approach Passport control — perhaps it's the name: Passport control.

So the next time you see me, chances are good that I will have swapped out my pockets with ones made of wire mesh. And please try not to laugh at my tinfoil hat.
m. kingsley
03.03.06 at 01:14

pk
03.03.06 at 01:26

Those of us who recoil at the thought of ID cards recognize that despite their name, their only real purpose is to strip one's identity down to the barest of codes.

You shouldn't underestimate the rich amount of information available to someone who gets hold of your SSN, how much damage it can do to your life, or how little control over that information you actually have. My husband, like pk, had his identity stolen. We never found out how, and thank goodness, AT&T Mobile actually called to alert us to the fraud. We were lucky - the person bought a computer and got a couple of cell phones (each with one month of large international bills); he never tried to take possession of our accounts - and no one attempted to hold us liable for the several thousand dollars worth of stuff he'd stolen.

The system we have (in essence, a patchwork of SSN & driver's license numbers) doesn't protect us. It certainly took us a lot of work and almost a year to clean up what the police officer called a very small identity theft mess when we filed our police report. He also told us that people don't realize just how much of that information floats around.

In the end, I too have mixed feelings about a National ID. I really feel like there ought to be some better way to protect ourselves. I just don't have a lot of faith that an ID will be handled any differently than a SSN - in essence, another great way to mine data.
jenny
03.03.06 at 01:31

my question is this: do we have an identification problem in the US or UK? i mean, you could know all the stats on a person (eyes, hair, height, weight, age, employer, income, etc) and he/she could still be a terrorist, and they could be your next door neighbor. or classmate. or co-worker. i'm not trying to scare anybody, but c'mon, do we need another ID? i have my license, my key card for work, my timecard for work, my library card, two bank cards, a credit card, a business card, a social security card, birth registration, insurance card. gosh, how could someone NOT know who i am?
JMO
03.03.06 at 11:34

i have my license, my key card for work, my timecard for work, my library card, two bank cards, a credit card, a business card, a social security card, birth registration, insurance card. gosh, how could someone NOT know who i am?

the point of the ID card discussion is finding ways to definitively prove you is who you say you is, which is why biometrics keeps popping up in the thread. none of the ID devices in use right now can really do that.
pk
03.04.06 at 12:28

prove you is who you say you is

This is a supplied stock phrase, which if we are being serious, reads as 'you are who you say you are'. Google that phrase to see how it is entering into our language in relation to the ID debate.

Politicians roll this phrase out as a reason for introducing biometric ID, but the fact of the matter is there is absolutely no real need for this. You can do everything you need to do without biometric identifcation, which should be reserved only for violent criminals.

Your bank does not need this and has never needed it; in fact no institution needs this. A basket of identifiers selected by you is far preferable to a single, irrevocable state mandated identifier. You control how much you want to divulge, and at any time you can jettison any of your accounts and adjust your basket to suit your level of paranoia.

Everyone should be alert to the reflexive repeatigng of these phrases, which after thousands of repetitions, become part of the false assumptions that govern our thought.

This control of thought is designed deliberately by marketing professionals to influence peoples minds, and I am surprised that someone who reads this blog is not operating at a higher and more detached level; designers work with human perception as outsiders looking back...or as people looking at something from the inside. Reapeating stock phrases indicates that 'they got to you' with the well designed language.

In fact, I am astonished by the number of people on here who have not thought about this, who seem to be of no particular opinion either way when it comes to this critical and blatant power grab. It is almost as if they have never read any modern history, or heck, even watched the History Channel.

I fear there has been a sea change over the last two generations, where the new adults are the most clueless, groundless free of morals sheep ever born to this earth. This is why it has been possible for years of evil governments to do every bad thing that they have done; like a preying animal, they have sensed the weakness and distraction of this generation, and have pounced, the prey not even understanding that they are now being digested in the belly of a giant snake.

As designers, you should be at the forefront of the efforts to counterbalance the false arguments being put forward promoting ID cards. Look at the apalling but noble efforts of No2ID whose hearts are in the right place, but who have struggled terribly to convey the complex ideas behind centralized databases and unique irrevocable human identifiers. This is where you should all leap in to vividly clarify the arguments, provide crystal clear explainers, create high impact print material...

Why has this not happened?

Certainly the people referenced in the link in this post used effective design absolutely brilliantly; why is it now, when you are needed most, when it is your turn you simply 'dont care either way'?

Shame.
Alexander De Large
03.04.06 at 06:47

Alexander De Large's concerns about the gathering of data (by government and by private entities) should not be taken lightly and I don't dismiss it.. I'm not sure that it applies directly to the questions of national identification cards, uniform standards for state identification (such as driver's licenses), or security measures for such ID.

So much of any privacy discussion is based on the emotional reaction of feeling invaded that I wish people would be more dispassionate in such discussions so we could get to the bottom of the question of privacy rights.

Some rights may seem to be absolute. For instance, there is reasonable argument that the right to speech in a public place should be generally unrestricted. How many would agree that the same applies for unenumerated rights (in US con law terms) such as a right to privacy? Do I have a right to privacy that includes wearing a mask in all public places? Does this include the local public school? How does that combine with my (enumerated, thus presumably legally more secure) right to bear arms? Can I wear a mask and carry a gun in any public place? How about a crowd wearing masks and carrying guns during a public meeting or someone's court trial? Is that within their rights to privacy?

Some aspects of public life are called privileges rather than rights but the denial of a drivers' license is a serious abridgment of freedom in our society. Should a license be issued to everyone who insists they are of legal age but objects to proving it? Does the right to privacy overwhelm an insistence on proof of eligibility?

Privacy issues seem to center around the debatable and mutable notion of reasonable expectations. It seems odd that De Large bemoans "the appalling state of internal air travel in the USA, where you cannot board an aircraft without showing ID. You are entitled to refuse to show ID, but then you are denied access to commercial flights inside your own country." I remember when walking past metal detectors was first instituted in US airports. Many of us were outraged at such a seeming invasion. It wasn't something we expected. (We weren't, however, disturbed by having to show a driver's license to purchase the ticket.) Would any of us want to get on a plane with someone who refused to walk through detectors, submit to any sort of inspection, and to show any ID?

We are told by De Large that "[b]y any measure this is wrong" [emphasis his.] This is easy to dismiss as hyperbole. My question is: By what specific measure is what wrong? Clearly whatever is wrong with specific tracking of people's purchases without their permission is not the same as a demand that a recognized form of identification have the information it claims to represent be verified (which is not the same as a requirement to show said ID in particular circumstances.)

Speaking of emotional reactions, it would be helpful to examine what, precisely, is the "scary" part of certain measures. We are asked if we "are willing to be parsed into so much encrypted data." What part of that is the problem? Parsing?* I'm not even sure what that objection would mean. Encrypted? Is having information unencrypted a bolster to privacy?

*Is a lack of poetry the problem? Mandy Brown tells us that "[t]hose of us who recoil at the thought of ID cards recognize that despite their name, their only real purpose is to strip one's identity down to the barest of codes." Duh. What else would they do? And what, specifically, is the beef with that?

"Biometrics" seem to be the other boogeyman. My present driver's license has biometrics: It says I'm six feet tall and have hazel eyes. (Damn, I lost a bunch of weight just before I moved here but North Carolina doesn't include my mass in their biometrics.) I got my first driver's license in California over thirty-five years ago and it required my thumb print. Every driver's license I've had has a photo—another bit of biometric data.

Patrick King rightly points out that anything powerful (such as an ID that people trust) is dangerous and that said danger can come from private individuals as well as from governments.

This is off the topic but Design Wolf—hey, if he wants to avoid identification as a Design Dingo, that's fine with me as long as he stays off airplanes— says he "was quite shocked at how much of your governmental symbolism and imagery could have come straight from the Roman empire [and] Napoleon." Since a major political theme in the late 18th and early 19th century was regaining ideals of the Roman Republic and it (along with ancient Athens) were the strongest examples of government with some sort of justification other than the principles of monarchy—violence, inheritance, or claimed divine right enforced by violence—I'm a bit surprised that you are "shocked." What is it that you would have expected or desired?

Also off topic, Mark will always be forgiven for his headgear because his dog's will always more than compensate.
Gunnar Swanson
03.04.06 at 09:36

Comment by Jessica: In the "Gee, isn't that cool" mode, I was also wondering if the resistance to adopting an ID Card might be flipped by spinning it into something hip: For example: if Apple introduced a white leather lanyard as a dangling "I-Card" holder, would it play off Ipods and become a status thing? (Come to think of it, an opaque holder would conceal the actual information most of the time, too.)

This is exactly how our privacy rights will eventually disintegrate, I think: People in "isn't that cool" mode will accept privacy intrusions when they are wrapped up in a "gee whiz" factor. I think of the hackneyed theoretical model where public advertising caters itself to your interests based on a personal RFID broadcast wherever you go (as seen in Minority Report). Sure, it's fancy. But it's only a click away from being a full-on ransacking of your privacy.

Designers and people in the communications industries in particular are vulnerable to allowing their "gee whiz" selves overpower their ethical selves when it comes to privacy, and as such we should be attentive to this stuff. Every cool design and feature idea should have an equally compelling and available "i want privacy" option. Even better, privacy should be the design default.
Christopher Fahey
03.04.06 at 11:00

Can I wear a mask and carry a gun in any public place? How about a crowd wearing masks and carrying guns during a public meeting or someone's court trial? Is that within their rights to privacy?

This is a straw man argument.

Should a license be issued to everyone who insists they are of legal age but objects to proving it? Does the right to privacy overwhelm an insistence on proof of eligibility?

Driving licence eligibility has nothing to do with age or proof of age; it is only to do with your ability to control a vehicle. Once you have proved that you can drive safely on the roads you get a licence. Where you drive, what car you drive and everything else is your affair. That licence should also be used for nothing else but to prove that you are a proficient driver.

Would any of us want to get on a plane with someone who refused to walk through detectors, submit to any sort of inspection, and to show any ID?

Yes, I most certainly would, because I have an understanding of security based on reality, not irrational fear.

We must remember why metal detectors were introduced; to stop people carrying weapons or explosives onto aircraft for the purposes of hijacking. The truth is, there is no reason for metal detectors to prevent weapons being brought on board an aircraft if the door to the cockpit is secure. Metal detectors will not stop people bringing on small explosives broken down into parts for example. This is a part of what is called 'Security Theatre' by Bruce Shneier. It is put there to make people like you feel safer, and does nothing to actually prevent the determined attacker, and most certainly, being foced to show a piece of plastic before you board a plane will do nothing at all to keep you safer, so there is nothing illogical or 'odd' about my statement.

By what specific measure is what wrong?

Firstly we are being asked, in this case, to obey a secret law. Democracy does not operate on secret laws. Secondly, we are being asked to do this for no real benefit. We should not be compelled to do things for no real reason Thirdly, we are being refused the right to travel, if we will not comply with this secret law. We all have a right to travel. Those are the specific measures by which this is wrong.

I do not have to veryfy my identity to buy a ticket and travel on a vehicle. The only thing that needs to be verified is that my money and ticket is not counterfeit.

And what, specifically, is the beef with that?

We have been saying precisely what 'the beef' is with it. You need to carefully read the links provided. If you had, you would not ask this question, even rhetorically.

I will provide you with an example, since it is pretty much guaranteed that you will read this reply to your comment. People have been refused service at banks because their driving licences were expired. I am not saying that their documents were false. I am saying that they were simply 'out of date'. The tellers, by refusing to give them service, made them into 'non people', even thought the licenses showed that 'they were who they said they were'. It is clear that this sort of injustice will multiply by orders of magnitude if everyone is compelled to carry state ID, and in the case of the UK the Home Secretary can revoke your ID, meaning that you will not be able to travel, withdraw your own money from your bank account (read EAT), drive (does anyone really think that the national ID card and drivers licences will not be merged?) or do anything that requires you to sho ID including buying a bottle of Vodka to wash away your dismay with your last ten pounds of cash.

"Biometrics" seem to be the other boogeyman. My present driver's license has biometrics: It says I'm six feet tall and have hazel eyes....Every driver's license I've had has a photo—another bit of biometric data.

You have no understanding of the facts of this matter. Biometrics in this context has nothing to do with text descriptions of what you look like. The Biometrics we speak of when we discuss modern ID systems means a digitized hash of a unique biological aspect of youself; this means your retina scan, fingerprints, photograph or DNA turned into a unique number by an algorithm, which is used to index you in a central database. An analogue photograph laminated in plastic is not 'biometric data'; its not even data in the digital sense. Its very important to fully understand the technology behind the new crop of identity documents that are being rolled out before you try and flippantly dismiss them. Your thirty five year old driving license is vastly different to a biometric Natioal ID card attached to a government register. It is precisely this ignorance that is allowing the unchallenged adoption of these systems.

Patrick King rightly points out that anything powerful (such as an ID that people trust) is dangerous and that said danger can come from private individuals as well as from governments.

But this misses the point. Compulsory government ID is different to 'ID that people trust', and the dangers of these two distinct problems are only tangentially related. The former cannot come from private individuals, and is by far the greater.
Alexander De Large
03.04.06 at 11:32

Mandy Brown tells us that "[t]hose of us who recoil at the thought of ID cards recognize that despite their name, their only real purpose is to strip one's identity down to the barest of codes." Duh. What else would they do? And what, specifically, is the beef with that?

It's a matter of degrees. A hodgepodge of different and narrowly defined IDs permit participation in various elements of society with a minimal (though not unimportant) amount of reductionism. But a single, nationally issued, government ID that captures every statistic of a life in effect erases the uniqueness of that life. The American democracy is in part founded on the ideal of individuality—that we are each individual persons with inalienable rights to express ourselves. But statistics limit and reduce that uniqueness. ID cards are not the only way this happens, but by virtue of their centrality and forced adoption, they are one of the most egregious.

On a more practical level, ID cards are enormously ripe targets for abuse. Social Security fraud is already and many-million dollar a year problem in the US, and identity theft rises into the billions. If we couple the wealthy amount of information currently available about ourselves—like Social Security numbers, driver's license stats, credit card numbers, and the like—with things like our buying habits and medical records, we make ourselves into fatter targets. Whether we are more likely to be targeted by criminals or terrorists or our own government is up for grabs; but targets we will be.
Mandy
03.04.06 at 12:12

Alexander—Not a straw man argument. Not even an argument. You assume mine was a rhetorical question. It was a question: You and others assert the right to privacy but don't specify. What is this right? What does it give you the right to and what does it not? I really, truly, do not understand what people who say "the right to privacy" think they are saying.

Driving licence eligibility has nothing to do with age or proof of age;

I assume you mean that you think it should not. It certainly is the law.

I am not arguing that current policies or specific plans are wise, just, or prudent. I am questioning the specific objections to (a) national identification cards, (b) uniform standards for state identification, (c) assurance that those holding identification are, indeed, the people indicated by the ID, (d) the use of biometric methods as part of "d."

You deride my lack of understanding the specific problem with "strip[ing] one's identity down to the barest of codes." Certainly my six feet tall is the barest of codes, as is my photo. Is the problem not the barest of codes but the second barest of codes? My six feet, by the way, were turned into numbers by algorithm. The number is, as you imply, not unique. So is your argument against accuracy or specificity? Is the goal of identification that accurately identifies itself something you object to or is it subsequent use of that information that is wrong?

The problems you have rightly (at least when it comes to some of them) pointed out are problems of use of information. The issuance (or lack thereof) of a card will not cause or stop the amalgamation of information or its use (whether legitimate or illegitimate.)

Your position makes more sense to me than most such objections in that you seem to claim that the present situation is objectionable. I am puzzled by those who seem to be okay with inaccurate and ineffective ID issued by fifty-one agencies (ostensibly for specific purposes but used broadly) but somehow fear the issuance of a more accurate and effective ID in and of itself.

I do, BTW, believe that you underestimate the danger of information in the hands of non-governmental groups.

Mandy—Will you be more specific about what you mean by "statistics limit and reduce that uniqueness"? I think it important to separate arguments against certain forms of information collection and amalgamation and a centralized system for identification for a couple of reasons. One is that secure identification could solve some of the problems discussed here. Another is that blocking secure identification will not stop many of the problems discussed here. And a third is that a knee-jerk opposition to secure identification by those concerned with civil liberties will result in any planning ignoring legitimate civil liberties concerns.
Gunnar Swanson
03.04.06 at 12:46

In case it's not obvious. My objection to much of this discussion boils down to a questioning of boiling things down to binary: "Give me privacy or give me an ID card" is, ultimately, not the real choice but too often seems to be the subject up for debate.
Gunnar Swanson
03.04.06 at 12:50

You and others assert the right to privacy but don't specify. What is this right? What does it give you the right to and what does it not? I really, truly, do not understand what people who say "the right to privacy" think they are saying.

This smells like a troll, but ill bite.

Lets turn this around:

"You and others assert the right to free speech but don't specify. What is this right?"
"You and others assert the right to property but don't specify. What is this right?"
"You and others assert the right to liberty but don't specify. What is this right?"
"You and others assert the right to vote but don't specify. What is this right?"
"You and others assert the right to life itself but don't specify. What is this right?"

Do we really have to justify and dileneate every single one of our rights in order to make the most simple of arguments? Thats like schoolchildren in a debate specifying at the end of every sentence their opponent utters, "yes, but that's just your OPPINION". This is the same sort of nonsense that people used to prevent 'negroes' and females from getting the vote.

People in Finland are allowed to examine the tax records of their neighbors. This information is in the public domain, and anyone can get a hold of it for free. This system is fine for the Finns. I, living in the type of democracy that I do, with its own traditions and sets of rights could not live in Finland. They are free to live as they choose, and we should be free to live as we choose. The relationship between the British citizen and its elected government will be changed fundamentally should ID cards be introduced. We do have the right to privacy in the UK, along with the other rights outlined above, and thanks to EU legislation, this is enshrined in the law.

Driving licence eligibility has nothing to do with age or proof of age;
I assume you mean that you think it should not. It certainly is the law.


since you accept this, can we assume that you accept that we have the right to privacy within the EU? Perhaps, since it 'certainly is the law' you accept that females should have the vote?

Perhaps, perhaps not.

I am questioning the specific objections to (a) national identification cards,

This has been stated before; central database, state control of your access to everyting in your life, including your own property and your transactions with second parties, to which the state will become a third party.

(b) uniform standards for state identification,

see (a), and this is not the business of the state.

(c) assurance that those holding identification are, indeed, the people indicated by the ID,

once again, this has been covered in the above thread. This is a false requirement for most transactions, and certainly we have gotten along without it fine for over a century in the UK.

(d) the use of biometric methods as part of "d."

they are irrevocable making it impossible for you to escape from the ill effects of the database that your biometric data connects you to.

You deride my lack of understanding the specific problem with "strip[ing] one's identity down to the barest of codes." Certainly my six feet tall is the barest of codes, as is my photo.

No. As I said above, a plain photograph is harmless. A digital photograph, to which face recognition algorithms have been applied, combined with your fingerprints, retina scan and DNA is not. Many people are six feet tall. I am six feet two. Does this mean that we would be mistaken for each other? I think not. You must demonstrate that you understand what this is about....

Is the problem not the barest of codes but the second barest of codes? My six feet, by the way, were turned into numbers by algorithm. The number is, as you imply, not unique. So is your argument against accuracy or specificity?

...and that proves that you do not. The very center of this problem is the unique number that is created from the specifics of your body. Being six feet tall is an non unique aspect of yourself; as I said, we are both six feet tall, and this information alone is not enought to identify us; if you understood what Biometrics are all about, you could not have said that 'your height was turned into numbers by an algorithm'.

Is the goal of identification that accurately identifies itself something you object to or is it subsequent use of that information that is wrong?

I think that its completely obvious that technology is neutral, and that all of us that are against this are against the misuse of it. Once again, this is a pretty fundamental assumption in a debate like this, that we should not have to cover. The goal is also a totally false one, since such molecular accuracy is far beyond what is needed for commerce or travel.

The issuance (or lack thereof) of a card will not cause or stop the amalgamation of information or its use (whether legitimate or illegitimate.)

But a single irrevocable, universally trusted number will make it infinitely easier for business and individuals to collate information on you. This is part of what we object to. Also, this argument has been addressed above, "they are half way upp your *ss, so why not push it all the way in"; that is not a reason to give the state such overreaching access to every aspect of your life.

Your position makes more sense to me than most such objections in that you seem to claim that the present situation is objectionable.

You are totally wrong. The current situation is very good. You are able to control how you identify yourself to another person or business, and there is no unique number identifying you so that it is a simple task for someone to build a dossier of your every movement and transaction. The current situation is that the consumer has control over how much of her data gets to be aggregated, and what that data actually says. For example, I get junk mail in several names, because I use several names to control who sends mail to me. I can also see who sells my 'name' to other people. That simple example is how it should be; people in control of their identity, and the market devising its own checks and balances so that robust, organic systems are developed, without any risk of Orwellian Overdrive.

I can pay in cash for my London Underground Oyster card, so that I get the discount of Oyster (one third off of bus travel) witout someone being able to see where I have been by looking at my credit card number and seeing that I used that credit card to purchase journeys on the underground, thus connecting all my travel to my name.

Ill leave it to you and the readers to make up their own examples.

I am puzzled by those who seem to be okay with inaccurate and ineffective ID issued by fifty-one agencies (ostensibly for specific purposes but used broadly) but somehow fear the issuance of a more accurate and effective ID in and of itself.

First of all, current ID systems are niether innacurate or innefective. In their current forms, ID has worked for over one hundred years, very effectively. Secondly you don't really understand what it means to have a centrally issued ID card with a unique number attached to your very body. You would probably understand it if something went horribly wrong and you were accused of a crime, cleared, and then found that this information was now forever attached to your name for all to see. Right now, criminal records are separate from other records. In a centralized database, all this information will be kept in one place, under one identifier, making it trivial for someone (anyone) to look up your misdemeanors, guilty or not.

I do, BTW, believe that you underestimate the danger of information in the hands of non-governmental groups.

I certainly do not, and If you have a healty apprehension of information in the hands of non governmental groups, you should be weak in the knees at the prospect of a national ID card, where the problem will be exascerbated by orders of magnitude.

I am making links to web pages. I cannot stress how important it is to read them carefully.
Alexander De Large
03.04.06 at 02:59

Alexander—Some of our misunderstanding seems to be that I had mistakenly assumed that you were American so I was writing in terms of the current US situation. Sorry. In the US we do have ID issued by states and it is used generally and not just for driving. (Motor vehicle departments issue ID cards to non-drivers, too.) And driving privileges are, in fact, limited by age (both as a minimum age and because age is used to determine aspects of license renewal.)

And once again, I should state for clarity that I do not support any particular ID plan and that I do have serious problems with the recent British proposal. I also wish to make it clear that I am questioning categorical assumptions about ID rather than any specific data gathering plan.

I am still in the dark about the nature of a stated right to privacy. The right to freedom of speech is, at the risk of tautology, the right to speak without interference. We can talk about what limits there are or should be to this right but other than the question of what actions do or don't constitute symbolic speech, there isn't much basic question of what that means.

Unlike voting or life itself, I don't know what aspects of privacy are included in this right. Seriously, does that mean that I have a right to sitting alone on a bus seat? Do I have a right to be anonymous when I vote? Do I have a right to hide my identity in public? Do I have a right to hide a criminal record from potential employers? From government entities? I am not trolling. I am not being a generalized smart ass. I am trying to find out what you (or anyone else in this discussion) mean by the phrase "right to privacy." I am also not asserting that no such right exists. I am saying that I don't know what you mean when you say it, that the phrase is not self-evidently clear as you imply.

I would, by the way, have the same problem with an assertion of a general right to liberty. Although asserted in our Declaration of Independence, as a law it would raise a range of questions. I know people who think liberty just means not being enslaved. I know others who claim that rights to liberty and property absolve them from paying taxes. There has been, at least in US law, a couple of hundred years of discussion of just what a right to liberty (and the pursuit of happiness) means. The discussion of the (unenumerated in the US Constitution) general right to privacy is more recent.
Gunnar Swanson
03.04.06 at 03:50

The right to privacy, at the risk of further tautologies, is the right to keep one's life private to the extent that you wish. There are limits, of course, and any constitutional amendment that enumerated the right to privacy would gradually and incrementally be further defined, as have all the other amendments in the Bill of Rights. You do not have a right to speak without interference; you have a right to express yourself in as much as you do not committ libel or slander, or lie to a court of law, or any number of other limitations.

It's been 300 years since we enumerated the right to freedom of religion, and there are still court cases every year which test what exactly that means. We cannot clearly and explicitly define today what a "right to provacy" would entail without putting it through the same judicial and legislative fires.

That said, here's what I believe is entailed in a right to privacy: the right to prevent others, especially the government, from accessing my medical records, or knowing which books I check out from the library, or which blogs I read, or how frequently I drink, or where I went out to dinner last week, or how much I spent on my last haircut. In the US, a national ID card would centralize that information, so that whereas my bank knows what my salary is, they do not know what I charge to my credit card, and my credit card company has no idea whether I use birth control or am in psychotherapy. A criminal or government agent who mines this information will not get a complete picture.

And I believe strongly that a government is much more dangerous that any nongovernmental intruders, without underestimating the latter. A criminal identity theif is out for money. They can—and do—cause enormous difficulties and expenses. But they can't send you to jail or refuse your other rights. A government can. And many of them have expressed not only a willingness but a desire to do so. Consider that probably more than two-thirds of the men at Guantanamo were imprisoned merely because their geographical location overlapped with the Taliban. These same men were treated by psychologists who used their therapy sessions to determine the best torture methods. Give a government more information about you and they will abuse it.

Regarding my comments about statistics, I was speaking a bit more philosophically. All of us currently have various statistics attached to us. I am 5' 10", need glasses, and was born in Japan. All of this is easily read off my passport. (I no longer have a driver's license having moved to Brooklyn some time ago and no longer in need of the ability to drive.) These stats about me are reductive in nature, but they don't provide enough information for someone else to believe they have the full picture. However, if they were combined with a lot of other information, say my medical records, my credit card statements, my reading habits, who I voted for on America Idol, etc., they begin to fill out and create the illusion of telling my story. A narrative develops about me, over which I have no control, and cannot keep secret. Having an identity is as much about the information you do not reveal, as it is about the information you do. If every time I step out of my house I am identified as a white female, 27, designer, member of the ACLU, frequent consumer of Spanish wine, employee at a publisher, owner of a dog, etc., how am I to construct my own identity, with this glut of information? How am I to excape the inevitable labels? It allows assumptions to be made about me that I cannot refute, because a variety of information has been raised to the standard of absolute fact.

Statistics are frequently misunderstood. They are only meaningful when sliced across a broad spectrum. There are probable, not local or specific. Meaning, if I am diagnosed with a rare form of cancer of which only 20% of similiarly stricken people survive, that does not mean I have only a 20% chance of survival. The statistic says something about the group of people with this disease; it says nothing about the individual. Similiarly, statistics collected about the people of a country may say many things about the people, but they should never be used to say something about the individuals. It may be that many students who wear black and listen to Marilyn Manson have committed crimes at their schools. That does not mean that the kid who lives on my block who wears black and listens to Marilyn Manson will murder his fellow classmates. But the information that would accompany a national ID card would almost certainly be used to predict such things. That is far too perilous an event to allow.
mandy
03.04.06 at 04:58

the right to prevent others, especially the government, from accessing my medical records, or knowing which books I check out from the library, or which blogs I read, or how frequently I drink, or where I went out to dinner last week, or how much I spent on my last haircut.

A reasonable list that I would support.

In the US, a national ID card would centralize that information

But that is my point. The card would not centralize anything. Such centralization is possible (and happening) without a card. A card could exist without a comprehensive database. More importantly, limits could be placed on databases that would require warrants to access individual identities or the people who correspond to data, allowing some of the benefits of comprehensive databases yet guarding against some of the costs.
Gunnar Swanson
03.04.06 at 05:20

But that is my point. The card would not centralize anything.

Certainly in the case of UK ID cards, this is false. The UK ID card will be used to check your identiy in real time, as I said above, leaving a record of where your identity was checked, and when. In the case of buying alcohol, this means that if stores compel you to prove that you are over 18, it means that a record will be kept of every time you buy alcohol, or anything else that requires you to show ID.

The USA does not currently have a national ID card proposal on the table, but all the equipment being tested in the UK for our proposed scheme is manufactured in the USA. If you were ever to get a card, you can guarantee that it would work similarly to what is planned for the UK. That being said, if you support that reasonable list that mandy gave, the the debate is over, and you understand what the right to privacy means, since presumably, you expect that list to apply to yourself.

Such centralization is possible (and happening) without a card.

but is not in the hands of government, and once again, just because it is already being done, this does not mean that it should be expanded on. When I say 'the hands of government' I mean every local council, every police man, and of course, every journalist with backdoor access.

A card could exist without a comprehensive database.

Yes, it could be done with ease, but what government is going to throw away the chance to monitor every citizen in an extremely fine grained manner?

More importantly, limits could be placed on databases that would require warrants to access individual identities or the people who correspond to data, allowing some of the benefits of comprehensive databases yet guarding against some of the costs.

You are joking right?

Don't you know that the NSA is currently embroiled in a domestic spying scandal? And even if the Bush regime could be trusted absolutely, there is no guarantee that two administrations down the line we would not have a maniac in charge (like the famous governor MacArthy and his witch hunt, which destroyed the lives of many people) who could turn this system into a powerful tool of repression. This particular argument, the 'uncertain future' argument, is a key principle when we argue against ID cards. Once the system is put in place, it is like a huge trap waiting to be sprung.
Alexander De Large
03.04.06 at 05:49

As I understand it, the discussion surrounding a national ID card has included discussion of a database. The Bush administration's efforts to require hospitals and insurance carriers to standarize their electronic record keeping is but one step towards a comprehensive identity database. And we have recently seen how easy it is to get information without a warrent.

And if the purpose of the cards is only to prove "we are who we say we are," then why do we need any identification beyond what we already have? Every one of the hijackers entered this country with legal identification, and several of them lived and worked here for years before 9/11. A card that confirmed their names, birthdates, and eye colors would have made no difference.

I have worked for many years on 42nd St and Fifth Ave in Manhattan, equidistant from the Chrysler building, the Empire State Building, and Times Square. In the weeks after 9/11, with bomb scares every hour, the building instituted an identification program so that every worker must swipe a card upon entering. Visitors are guided to a desk where they state their name and where they are going, and have their face and voice recorded by a hidden camera. There are no metal detectors or bag searches. The only purpose of this "security" is to identify everyone who enters the building. So, presumably, if or when a terrorist enters the building with a backpack full of explosives and detonates himself on the 32nd floor, we will know who he was. When this system was adopted, one of my colleagues remarked, "At last! We are safe from the unidentified." Indeed.
mandy
03.04.06 at 06:02

And if the purpose of the cards is only to prove "we are who we say we are," then why do we need any identification beyond what we already have?

Yes. It does a great job of that.

BTW, an identity card that actually identifies people would also fail to cure cancer or improve the quality of sitcoms. Must be a bad idea.
Gunnar Swanson
03.04.06 at 08:01

The point being that we already have ample forms of ID. And they seem to work just fine. So why the expense of another?
mandy
03.05.06 at 10:39

So why the expense of another?

Because companies like Axalto and Schlumberger stand to make billions off of the ignorant sheeple who are allowing themselvs to be fleeced.

This is the real motivation for this Biometric net that they are attempting to throw over everyone, and you will be forced to pay for the privilegde, both in terms of your tax dollars/pounds and your freedom.

Sadly it seems like some people, when they are confronted with the facts, shrink away instead of getting mad.

I note with astonishment Gunnar, that on your website the 'info' link is a FINGERPRINT, and that after you click that link, the animated logo on the left is the symbol of the illuminati, the all seeing eye at the top of a pyramid!!

Ironic?!
Alexander De Large
03.05.06 at 02:00

Ironic? No. I'm just heavily invested in surveillance company stocks. Next lesson—the benefits of land mines and large-scale pig farming.
Gunnar Swanson
03.05.06 at 03:15

No doubt Gunnar, you are also an inverstor in AT&T, who have a database of 1.9 Trillion phone calls going back decades. If you ever made a call in the USA, or into the USA, a record of your call, who it was to and its duration has been kept, even if that call was in 1970.

Now multiply this by a factor of One Trillion. When your every action is recorded by your ID card, the government will have a database not only of all the calls you ever made, but of every drop of alcohol you ever bought, every car journey you ever made etc etc.

Thats all bad.
Alexander De Large
03.05.06 at 07:44

But seemingly impossible to ever go through too!
Design Wolf
03.06.06 at 01:57

Don't be befuddled by the huge size of this database. Just because it is big that doesnt mean that it isnt instantly searchable. It can pull up the records of all your telephone calls and all of the calls coming from all the numbers you called in a matter of seconds. If Google can do a similar job with billions of web pages containing trillions of words, don't you think that AT&T can do the same thing in a completely closed system?

Project Daytona is an extraordinary thing, and is a perfect example of how far this technology has come. We all need to adjust our thinking to take this incredible power into accounte before we use the word 'impossible' or the phrase 'too big'.

Daytona's largest database table has 743 billion rows, and the system can handle more than 1.924 trillion rows it currently hosts; they boast that it, "...could easily manage more but we ran out of data."

Once again, the scale of these systems is beyond the comprehension of most people, even people who work with computers, because the types of system available to AT&T are many orders of magnitude greater in power than any computer you are likely to experience...outside of the peerless power of your own brain.

This is why it is most important that designers get across the big picture about why these systems are so bad; once they are in place, it will be very difficult to explain just how powerful they are to the layman.

I write this comment on the eve of some very good news; the House of Lords has REJECTED the part of the ID bill that would require all applicants for new passports to be forced to register at the NIR.

This is a serious blow to the plans of the Bliar regime; they hoped that all people renewing their passports could be forced to register - eventually they would capture everyone's data, and the ID card scheme would be a done deal by stealth.

Thankfully the House of Lords is populated by people who remember the fact that millions of men gave their lives for our freedom in two gruesome world wars, and that we cannot abandon our principles and our hard earned liberty because a few people are killed by 'terrorists'.
Alexander De Large
03.06.06 at 04:48

This is a fascinating discussion; I spent almost an hour sifting through these posts until I started to get deja vu.
The most interesting point to me is one that seems to bring the original question of where design meets politics full circle, made by Alexander:

"As designers, you should be at the forefront of the efforts to counterbalance the false arguments being put forward promoting ID cards. . . . This is where you should all leap in to vividly clarify the arguments, provide crystal clear explainers, create high impact print material"

Jessica warned against being pacified by the "gee whiz" factor; why not turn it on its head, use design to put another view into the public eye? Before I read this post I was only dimly aware of the prospect of a National ID card. There are thousands more out there just like me. I am not a designer but I understand the potential. The more informed we are the better we're able to decide what privacy means to us.

Erin
03.07.06 at 01:38

Our personal information is very valuable to many people with potentially bad intentions. That is why I keep my social security card locked in a safe. The question then becomes: how do we control a valuable commodity that belongs to us—not to society? Or when do the needs of the government to track our every move become more important than our personal need for privacy? This then becomes an information design issue because access is really design.
leslie
03.07.06 at 03:09

I do not agree with having an ID card, but have had one since I born. In Spain is compulsory to bring the ID card with you all the time and if the police stop you without it, you probably will be arrested till you can prove who you are. I think that the ID card is just an excuse to control everyone, terrorist or non terrorist. As you know Spain has the same problem as UK and US about terrorism and nothing has change while we got an ID card. The only difference is that we have to pay extra to have a passport plus the ID card, in total 35€ every ten years, well and every time you lost it.

Soon this world is going to became like in futuristic films, we are going to be controlled by cameras (actually we are already controlled by CCTV cameras that never cough the man who mugged me and stole all my documentations, including my Spanish ID card, and of course I had to pay to have a new one even if the robbery wasn't my fault) and we probably will have chips under our skin controlling us even when we are in the toilet. So I can be glad that this moment has not arrive yet, and I have to accept having a ID card.

But, I would like to know who is the designer of the horrendous passport and ID cards, if there is one. I get a new passport last year and I can confirm that is worst than the old one. If the ID card is something that we have to bring with us all the time I think that at least have to be well design and agreeable for the human eye. As a graphic designer I would think in a personalize card, a card that we weren't be shy of show, even if it says how old am I.
aritza
03.12.06 at 06:09

A passport has always been acceptable in the US and elsewhere to prove one's identity. Why bother putting together another system that just duplicates the passport system? And, as far as identity document forgeries and other breeches are concerned, if someone wants to get around the system, they will. ID cards and passports do not protect anyone from people who want to do harm or be fraudulent.
RitaSue Siegel
05.03.06 at 05:37

If we have ever seen further, it was never by stamping on a human face

Before departing, let us ask a few questions: Why are identities stolen in the first place? Who was it that determined the identity we are? Who does it benefit when we remain these identities? What is the benefit of being 'Peter' when I am 'Paul'? Clearly the identity 'Peter' must have a value that being 'Paul' does not. What is that value? What created the distinction between these two identities? or, What is the UK, what defines it as such? or, Where does the USA begin and where does it end?

Now let us depart with these questions (For designers concerned with design this may be unfamiliar terrain, but one in which your input will be of value. For those who remain convinced that this is a journey not worth taking, we leave you task of tidying up the history we will write).

One of the interesting aspects of car design is the implementation and demand for ever advancing safety features (seat-belt, airbag, side impact bars etc.). This progress in safety has allowed drivers to take a correlative increase in risk. If there is a '90%' chance that you'll die in a crash in a car not fitted with a seat-belt, then this harsh reality becomes the concern of anyone approaching that speed. But if design solutions can collude to increase your chances of surviving a collision at that speed, then the danger is offset. Imminent danger to the self is placed directly onto the technology. We are 'freed' from a constraint and can now drive in excess of the original limit. Bizarrely that which sought to make us safer has only made us more reckless, less directly concerned for ourselves but also of others. And every time it fails (which it must do) the unreflexive answer is always the same; "It wasn't us that failed, it was the technology. We need to improve the technology".

We can switch analogy, to demonstrate how imbedded this thinking is, and look at globalised production. In this situation the dispossessed are (further) reduced to objects (treated as a technological commodity) so that the true cost (risk) of our lives remain hidden in a game in which no-one can possibly win other than the abstract economic system and the egos attached to it. This offsetting has been a dominant feature of our history. During what we could call the very worst atrocities of the slave trade, the lives of those being transported via ship were counted against their economic value as determined by insurance policies/companies and the associated market. All too often the expected value of a human life, was outweighed by that promised by an insurance policy. The consequence of this was that, it was more 'cost effective' to throw slaves (people) overboard to drown in the sea and claim on the insurance. As we are all to aware, this practice continues today, albeit under different names.

What has all this to do with identity?
Well for a start we can understand the history of slavery as the ability to designate identity. This 'naming' is crucial in creating divisions that allow the designator to slip into the shadows. Secondly, by blindly accepting the idea that there is an identity deflates the possible discussion. That is when technological solutions come to the fore, obfuscating the political questions. Indeed, many of today's identity battles are fought because we are convinced that our name has been bestowed upon us from on high (i.e. it has value), rather than a manipulative device that atomises and restricts common concerns. Our identities are placeholders that restrict our movement and potential. Defence of an identity is flawed as it supposes there is an identity that needs defending. What are these identities other than assurances? Whose well-being are these assurances serving?

But before we reject our names we would do well to remember that 'transgression' is also on the list of identities, one that has been accounted for by the limit markers. These mutually assured relations of imposition and transgression are contained in the larger (albeit much more indistinct, allusive, if not invisible) order that imposes the limit. We have continued to witness the abhorrent behaviour of delusional paranoid identities and their aggression and violence. Wars in the name of a people that did not support it, against a people that did not deserve it. Those that place themselves in lofty positions are right to be wary of ill-feeling. We need to remain vigilant to their weaponry of choice. It is not the overt displays of military might - but the gossip mongering promotion of fear, stories that seek to divide and splinter the emergence of mutual concerns - of radically alternative identities.

To counter this containment we will need to encounter the political. But before we do that it we need to reinvest in that signifier, away from a Fordist assembly line of box-ticking and the accompanying managerial procedures, but also from a Post-Fordist understanding of supply and demand. Indeed, above all else, it is the political that the limitators always seek to name, determine, limit, and, identify. That is a task that urgently requires our creativity. Retaining identity 'as is' denounces all that is possible of our identity 'to come'. Moreover, when we accept, defend, and impose our identity, we are doing the work of another; another who is not our friend; another who promises to fulfil our desires, but fails to even fulfil our needs.
MLA
10.04.07 at 10:23


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Jessica Helfand, a founding editor of Design Observer, is an award-winning graphic designer and writer and a former contributing editor and columnist for Print, Communications Arts and Eye magazines. A member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale and a recent laureate of the Art Director's Hall of Fame, Helfand received her B.A. and her M.F.A. from Yale University where she has taught since 1994.
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BOOKS BY Jessica Helfand

Scrapbooks: An American History
Yale University Press, 2008

Reinventing the Wheel
Winterhouse Editions, 2002

Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture
Winterhouse Editions, 2001

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

Paul Rand: American Modernist
winterhouse Editions, 1998

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