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India’s biomarker-ID payments system and aid plan is pathbreaking in some ways, but I find it a bit scary. Some say national IDs are a necessary part of living in a modern society. Reluctantly, I’ll say maybe. Do they facilitate tyranny? Perhaps they could, but they certainly aren’t a necessary condition. Does the amount of personal information linked to an ID, including biomarkers or even biometric data, create additional danger to personal freedom? Quite possibly. Do the benefits of a system like India’s, which by many accounts are very high for the least fortunate, outweigh such concerns? Hmm, not so sure.

Individual privacy is of extremely high value. I believe it guarantees at least some degree of personal liberty. I appreciate the security concerns we have in the post 9/11 world, and I am sure that the vast majority of employees at agencies like NSA are honorable people who would not use information for any purpose not truly in the public interest. However, the trust we can place in granting extra-constitutional powers to government agencies is only as strong as the trust we have in current and future government regimes. In this light, allowing the government to warehouse the personal information of citizens is a major concern. To argue that government access to this information is necessary in a modern society strikes me as specious. Instead, that “need” indicates that government has grown beyond its appropriate role. A modern society will advance more effectively by relying on markets in which individuals can trade personal information as necessary under private contracts. Moreover, the security value of having the government warehouse personal information on a large scale has never been demonstrated.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.