In a story in today’s Guardian about the slow progress the Red Cross has made in distributing Hurricane Fiona support payments to Islanders is a rather creepy revelation that the organization is using surveillance capitalism to verify citizen’s identities:
Lawlor said the Red Cross relies on open source data services to confirm the identity of applicants.
These services include what is known as a ‘soft credit check’ – a service used often by financial institutions to match against existing consumer data.
Lawlor said these checks have no impact on credit scores of individuals.
“For example, people who do a lot of online shopping, they have a footprint, right? Your data — whether it be in your mobile device or your computer at home — that does inevitably leave a footprint,” Lawlor said.
But Lawlor said there was an unusually high number of Island residents whose data profile simply required additional verification.
Some elderly residents, whose homes or cars are paid off, do not regularly use credit, he said. Other residents simply may not frequently shop online, or may simply not use internet tools frequently.
“Their data might be a little bit more stale, for lack of a better word, than someone who is more of a frequent user of credit,” Lawlor said.
First, this seems a misuse of the term “open source data services” — there’s no such thing (I hope!) as open data that establishes personal identity like this: the data that’s described sounds like proprietary commercial data scraped surreptitiously and aggregated by creepy warehousers.
Second, it is not okay for government to distribute public money to citizens via a third-party non-profit organization that uses surveillance data to verify identity, a system that inequitably disadvantages many people who need the funds most — people without a digital footprint or a credit score.