Tomorrow I have to get my Identitetskort renewed at the Central Police Station in Stockholm. You need an Identity card, and a ‘Personnummer’, to do almost anything in Sweden. Years ago I used to object strongly to the very idea of people being obliged by governments to carry these, when they were mooted in Britain by – usually – the political Right. I associated them with Orwellian regimes (and Apartheid-era ‘passbooks’ in particular), and feared the use that authoritarian governments could make of them. I felt uneasy about public surveillance for the same reasons – security cameras, hacking, and the like.
All this stemmed, I suppose, from my immersion in the typically ‘freeborn English’ values of my youth: devotion to privacy, especially, and resistance to the authorities’ knowing more about us than we want to tell them. I always thought that the occupation of ‘espionage’ was a rather dirty one, against whomever and for whatever reason; and that was despite my having written books about the history of it, which – I have to say – did little to dispel my mistrust. I like openness and honesty; which is why I also greatly disapprove of ‘bloggers’ who post pseudonymously, unless they have really good reasons for it. I regard anonymous blog-posts rather like unsigned poison-pen letters: cowardly, basically, if someone won’t put a name to his or her hostile Amazon review of one of my books. I hope that none of my readers indulges in that.
Twenty-six years in Orwellian Sweden, however, has cured me of that. It may be because I trust Swedish governments not to abuse their control over me as much as I fear British governments might. This may be naïve of me; but there it is. It also has something to do with the fact that we can’t escape from surveillance and control any more, almost anywhere. Even in Britain you have to have a National Insurance Number, and a driving licence (which looks awfully like an Identitetskort), and a passport to travel abroad; and can’t order anything on line without your personal details and tastes immediately being spread far and wide – by Amazon, for example. So we freeborn Englishmen might as well throw in the towel. And the little bit of plastic I’ll get from the Polis tomorrow will come in terribly useful, after all.
So the only thing I’ll be worried about tomorrow is whether the photo on the card is not too unflattering. I can’t put my thumb over it every time I use it.
In the meantime I have no identitet. I am nothing.