I drafted and sent the following to the editor of the Irish Times on the 4th April, 2018. By today, the 18th, it hadn't been published, so I'm guessing it won't be. Here it is.
If you're unfamiliar, the Public Services Card is an initiative of the Irish Government, and has been credibly accused of being a national ID card being introduced by stealth. The proposal I discuss below is another piece of evidence supporting that position.
Minister Jim Daly wants to tie our online identities to the Public Services Card. To progress this plan, he has written to the EU Commission asking for this to be EU policy, and has met with Facebook to get support for the measure.
Leaving aside the clear violation of Article 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the proposal opens up a question that I rarely see discussed by those proposing such measures.
Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. are not the only online social networking platforms. They're just the biggest. At the moment. There are, perhaps, thousands of such services around the world, each as easy to access as the other. For example, I run two similar services from a server in my home. Technically, they are not hard to set up, and as more and more come online, it can only become easier.
Does Minister Daly's plan cover all social networking platforms? and has he a plan to meet with the operators of each? How does Minister Daly propose to require each service, no matter the country it is located in, to connect to the Public Services Card servers to validate a user's identity? Will the servers be able to manage such a load? Under such a regime, what controls will be in place to prevent bad actors from getting identity information on millions of Irish people, making it available for sale to the highest bidders? In the certain event that the vast majority of such social networking services will ignore Minister Daly's requirements, simply because they fall outside the country's jurisdiction, what measures has he prepared to deal with the large number of people from Ireland who will use those services rather than the services that will agree to perform surveillance for him?
For as long as the internet has been in existence, there have been popular platforms that are the best at providing services, but they have never been the only such platforms. Over the same period of time we have seen many of these popular services supplanted by new-comers. Remember USENET and bulletin boards from the 1980s? Remember when Yahoo! and Jeeves were the best search engines?
By forcing the current popular services to ignore Irish internet users' privacy, Mr. Daly will drive those users to other services out of his reach, ultimately destroying his plan. As we've seen recently, in the absence of such state-mandated spying, this is something that even the richest, and most technically savvy, commercial organisations struggle to balance. Mr. Daly, as with all other politicians seeking to control online behaviour, would do well to become familiar with the landscape and conduct proper research prior to making such proposals.
Éibhear Ó hAnluain, etc.