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Are National ID Cards a Good Idea? 746

Dracophile asks: "The Sydney Morning Herald recently ran a front-page article about a 'smart card' to access government services and that it would double as a national identity card. The article points out that the current Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, who fiercely opposed from opposition the Australia Card idea in 1985, is now a supporter. The article goes on to say that about 100 nations have some form of ID card. Is your country one of them? What concerns were raised? How were they addressed? Have welfare fraud and other identity-related crimes decreased? Have National ID cards improved or deteriorated conditions where you live?"
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Are National ID Cards a Good Idea?

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  • Re:One word: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudsonNO@SPAMbarbara-hudson.com> on Thursday April 27, 2006 @07:56PM (#15217173) Journal

    In Canada we have identity cards for various services, such as our national medicare plan, but we don't "mix-n-match" the data too much.

    when it was found that HRDC (Human Resources Development Canada) HAD created a sort of "master database", the newspapers were quick to jump on it, and one of them printed up directions and a form to request your complete file. 29,000 people responded. Rather than comply within the 30 day limit, they destroyed the database.

    Score one for the little guys.

  • by Macondo ( 836066 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @07:58PM (#15217182)
    The politicians in this country are reticient to use the word id. They prefer access card. Also we do have a choice of whether to get one. Of course if you don't then you can't access government medical and welfare services. Funnily enough this was announced on the same day that the government said it wants an Australian Citizenship test to make sure you're Australian enough before entering the country. Yep we're really laid back over here.
  • Depends (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @08:02PM (#15217240) Homepage
    Absent any other factors, I think most slashdotters would say that not having a country-wide ID card is greatly preferable to having one.

    But there are other factors. Some recent debates in the US highlights these well: the need for identification to fly, and the need for identification for voter registration. In other words, ID is already necessary to fully participate in the society.

    But when ID is necessary in practice, the question shifts to one of access - can all citizens gain access to valid ID equally? And from the debates (especially regarding voting), it seems that perhaps not. A national ID card - issued for everyone, and presumably for free or at a very, very low cost, since it is mandatory - would equalize access to something that is already neccessary.

    Make sure you're protesting the right thing.
  • by JPriest ( 547211 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @08:12PM (#15217320) Homepage
    I live on the NY/PA border and I have met people who get in trouble with the law (are wanted by the police) and they move 5 MILES SOUTH and are never picked up by the police. If they get in trouble in PA the NY warrants don't even show up on their record. People complain about the ability to keep correct records and track illegal's but regular citizens beat the system all the time just by moving state to state.

    Also, if I have a fak NY ID many NY police would spot it in a second, if I hand them a fake Iowa drivers license it would slip right by.

    I am mostly libertarian and even I support having a national ID system.

  • Re:Yes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ebuilder ( 209792 ) <eric AT e-builders DOT com> on Thursday April 27, 2006 @08:22PM (#15217405) Homepage
    So, we just throw our hands up and cross over completely? Are you willing to have an RFID chip implanted as well? I don't believe the government or anyone in particular is out to get me, but I hate the idea, privacy is good thing we are giving it away by the fist full lately. They may as well just scrap the social security cards anyway, it is a system that will inevitably fail, I don't plan on getting any benefits. Lets move in the right direction instead of shoveling away our individuality and freedom.
  • Re:Absolutely not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shelled ( 81123 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @08:30PM (#15217466)
    There are many examples of goverment programs and statutues which quickly morphed well beyond the original intent. Income tax was a temporary measure to fund World War 1. The 65 mph speed limit began as another temporary measure to reduce gas consumption during an oil embargo by Middle East producers in the 1970's. Now it's a major law enforcement revenue stream under the rubric 'safety' and some countries are even contemplating permamently tracking all vehicles for compliance to speed limits. The RICO statutes were passed to regulate intersate commerce and are now the foundations of a mass of laws the American Founders would never have dreamed. Copyright, distorted immeasurably beyond it's origins into a means to regulate the flow of information (wake up if you don't believe that's what DRM not only is, but requires.) The laws created to support the war on drugs alone should be more than enough to convince anyone that, for whatever reasons, government continually strive to expand its power. You don't think something as powerful a single, mandatory way to track an individual's history won't be abused? We're 'utilitarianing' ourselves straight to hell.
  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Thursday April 27, 2006 @08:30PM (#15217468)
    The GP obviously does NOT understand what a "national" ID is.

    In California there are lots and lots of illegal immigrants who seem to have no problem getting a job, living quarters and such despite the fact that they shouldn't be able to get a CA drivers license.

    So, having one item that can be used for identification purposes is not the same as having one item that DOES identify you.
  • Re:Absolutely not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ottothecow ( 600101 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @08:42PM (#15217560) Homepage
    bar's clubs and stores however can't demand your ID. They wont serve you if you dont show them, but that is your choice. Same with driving, you dont have to have a drivers license but you cant drive without one.

    You can still walk around with empty pockets in this country without having to worry about a "papers please"

  • I vote "no" (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 27, 2006 @08:53PM (#15217638)
    All systems will be imperfect. By having different ones, we limit the total damage that any single-point failure causes. What we ought to do is assign more liability for identity theft issues to custodians like credit rating firms and card issuers, not to mention merchants. Make them liable for the things they do that make identity theft easier and they will work harder to prevent it.
  • Pros and cons (IMHO) (Score:3, Interesting)

    by morto ( 525092 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @09:19PM (#15217789)
    First, let me apologize to the poster.
    I know you asked for people who lived in places where this has been implemented but I took the liberty to put in my 2 cents too.

    In Brazil we do not have a national ID. We have one document called R.G. (Registro Geral) but despite the name it is a regional controlled ID and it is not guaranteed to be unique nationally.

    P1. Unique ID has its advantages.
    I recently worked on a national children oncology system and uniquely identifying a patient was and is a problem. It is very cumbersome to guarantee uniqueness, safety, precision and portability and a unique identifier provided by a national ID card would be very nice. And we all REALLY want to be sure the right treatment is being provided to a child with cancer.

    P2. Less bureaucracy.
    Less documents to be issued, less fields to fill in forms, less redundancy.

    P3. Less mistakes.
    Identity theft apart we have still honest mistakes. What a pain in the neck was to prove that my dishonest homonym (I meant to say a person with the same name as mine, I am not sure if that's the right word) was not me when I was buying my first apartment.

    P4. Easier to track the bad guys.
    The good side of the big brother / privacy issue.


    C1. Easier to track the good guys too.
    Privacy, civil liberties, etc may suffer abuses having an instrument that would make it easier to track everyone.

    Did you watch "V" ? I liked it.

    Any other cons ?

    Considering these points I would say YES, let's go for it.

    Best regards to all,

  • Re:Absolutely not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slashname3 ( 739398 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @09:32PM (#15217845)
    Further Drivers licences are often used for things that have nothing to do with driving.

    Boarding commercial airliners....

  • Re:Absolutely not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kraada ( 300650 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @09:37PM (#15217876)
    Only three modded up posts and 21 minutes until Godwin's Law [wikipedia.org] was shown to be true. A new slashdot record!
  • Re:Absolutely not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chowderbags ( 847952 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @09:56PM (#15217959)
    Because generally individual states don't have the resources to set up anything close to the level of surveilance programs that the feds can (and are getting more aggressive about) managing. True, states can be just as bad at enacting laws as Congress, but usually don't have the teeth, and even if the state tries to bring you to court, you've got more layers of appeals.

    Although I suppose it also doesn't hurt that in most states it's only a few hours drive to the capital of the state, so a angry mob can assemble faster...
  • Wrong view point. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MisterQ ( 60710 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @10:18PM (#15218065)
    As a security geek, and an aussie, they are, as can be expected barking up the wrong tree. The issue is not whether we have identity cards, or how they are tracked in government databases, but are.

    a) are they of benefit to the general population. i.e. will it be possible to include say, bank account, or medical details onto the card.

    b) does the government protect us, from abuse internal to the government in relation to them. Trust me, it happens, The TAX Office (aka IRS) has had several instances of employees doing the "wrong thing" with peoples tax records. I personally was working in a government department (not even the police) who looked after police records - They were kept in boxes stacked in a spare office. I have also worked in the State Health System - there is ZERO security within their systems.

    While the Govt geeks get excited about smart cards, the real solution is a) governance within the government (there is a strange concept), and b) not storing "data" on the smart cards, but simply storing a range (hierarchical or other wise) of access keys... i.e. Medical Records - the information that a paramedic needs, versus a GP (MD) versus a Health Fund (HMO) are different, and access to one's "data" should be very specific to the requirements at hand.

    Personally, I think that this is just a step along the way. If some of the above could be guaranteed, then I would gladly have a subcutaneous ID implant, to replace all of my credit cards, driver's license, passport etc.

    Given the popularity of tattoos nowadays, maybe we should consider tattooing barcodes on the back of our necks instead...

  • by Simon Garlick ( 104721 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @10:55PM (#15218217)
    That's the crazy thing about the current Administration. They're called Republicans, but as far as policies go, they might as well be called the Big Business Democrats. Republican administrations have tended to be those which least interfered with citizens' day-to-day lives. Not this one.
  • Re:Absolutely not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by heli0 ( 659560 ) on Friday April 28, 2006 @12:20AM (#15218609)
    I think he meant to refer to withholding, which was implemented during WW2, but not repealed as had been done previously at the end of wars.

    http://www.ustreas.gov/education/fact-sheets/taxes /ustax.shtml [ustreas.gov]

    "Another important feature of the income tax that changed[during WW2] was the return to income tax withholding as had been done during the Civil War. This greatly eased the collection of the tax for both the taxpayer and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. However, it also greatly reduced the taxpayer's awareness of the amount of tax being collected, i.e. it reduced the transparency of the tax, which made it easier to raise taxes in the future."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 28, 2006 @12:27AM (#15218642)
    So you want to know what it's like in a country with National IDs? Well, the issue is, as already suggested, not the card itself, but the possible matching of your various personal data when there's a common key to register them to.

    I was born in Sweden and therefore recieved a personal identity number [wikipedia.org] and was instantly registered in the Swedish Population Register. Later my parents submitted a name to go with that number. My PIdN is my identity, everything else can be changed.

    I wasn't required to carry a ID as a child, but as soon as I wanted to do business on my own, I had to get an ID-card to prove that the guy standing in front of them really was Mr. 790812-9012. When i got my driver's license, it was awarded to 790812-9012 (and also carried my pronouncable name for convenience), so I could scrap my old ID-card.

    The PIdN is fairly public, it's not listed in the telephone directories, but any cashier who ever have recieved a card payment from me has seen mine. Any video renter who as ever made business with me... and so on. I've memorized the PIdN of my family and some close friends for convenience. The PIdN is also the first thing out of my mouth after "Hello" when dealing with health care, banks, authorities, etc. Since Sweden's passport registry is public, anyone can order a photograph of me from the police (even without knowing my PIdN).

    Sound scary? I'm fine with this. In fact I prefer it over the UKs ID practices, which i feel is neither secure or convenient ("What's your mother's maiden name?"). As you probably know, security by obscurity really isn't.

    "select * from citizens where id_number = '790812-9012'" makes your skin crawl? How about "select * from citizens where name = 'Douglas Douglasson'"? I am scared of RFIDs, fingerprint registrys and such, but not of disambiguating your name.

    On the other hand, Sweden does not have a DHS, so maybe IDs aren't for the US.
  • Re:Absolutely not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Archangel_Azazel ( 707030 ) on Friday April 28, 2006 @12:35AM (#15218674) Homepage Journal
    "Once we all have ID cards, shame not to use them, right? Wasteful not to have you not required to carry them."

    Clue... it comes in this form : xxx-xx-xxxx and you were given it at birth. The old cards said "Not to be used as a form of identification" Newer cards have that little tidbit removed. You should have been scared years ago ;-)

    I still think a "National ID Card" is redundant and stupid, and a waste of money.

    My 2cents

  • by Archangel_Azazel ( 707030 ) on Friday April 28, 2006 @01:23AM (#15218840) Homepage Journal
    Something to think about :

    There are a large amount of 'consensual' crimes on the books. As far as I can tell, these involve acts which a certain segment of the population finds distasteful but in the end, harms nobody. Examples of this are things such as prostitution, drug use (using the drug in and of istelf only harms arguably yourself, ergo it's consentual), gambling, and the laws that forbid certain sexual acts.

    Freedom, in my opinion, is at its core the ability to do whatever you wish with your person or property. This can be extended since we live in a society to also mean that you can do whatever you want with a consenting person's body or property (since they consented to whatever it was). To me, this idea seems pretty simple. However apparently somewhere long before I was born, the idea that certain actions were distasteful took hold. People started worrying that maybe, just maybe... someone might be visiting a prostitute, or drinking alcohol. Look back at the United States' history folks. There's a line of laws a mile long about what can and cannot be done, regardless of consent. In most places, prostitution is illegal. Not because it harms someone, but because people found the idea repulsive...especially when they thought that perhaps their spouce or significant other could be going to one. Speaking of significant others, can someone PLEASE tell me the harm in homosexuality? There are so many laws, for example... the recently amended Ohio State Constitution that basically screws everyone who's not straight out of ever being considered 'married' for the purposes of insurance, taxes and death benefits. Funny, last I checked marriage was between two people who loved each other.

    --"Be it Resolved by the People of the State of Ohio:

    That the Constitution of the State of Ohio be amended by adopting a section to be designated as Section 11 of Article XV thereof, to read as follows:

    Article XV

    Section 11. Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage." http://www.smartvoter.org/2004/11/02/oh/state/issu e/1/ [smartvoter.org] --

    How does this relate you may ask? You mentioned "I was doing something wrong (in this case adultery) and I got caught because of some entirely unrelated event." Adultry should not have ever become an issue for the government to step into. Yes, you could argue that the courts would need to sort out a divorce if one were to happen because of it, but adultery in and of itself isn't a 'crime'. Neither are prostitution or gambling. These are crimes simply because some people say they should be.

    To further expand on this, consider the fact that reading 1984 isn't illegal right now, but if a law was passed banning it (for the sake of arguement.) then you have just become a criminal, just for reading a book. You can insert any 'bad' behaviour in this scenario... it all depends on who is determining what 'bad' means, and some of the people out there right now scare me a lot when it comes to what they think is good and bad.

    I say we should leave the personal matters to people. Leave the actual CRIMINAL matters to the gov't or some other *elected* official.

    For the record, an interesting book on the subject can be found here:
    http://www.mcmillian.com/ [mcmillian.com]
    The book is called "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do", look in the back for a chart (somewhat dated, I'll admit) that outlines sexual laws in the states. I'm amused that I've broken at least one quite a few times in Ohio (According to that chart oral sex is illegal here.)

    My 2 cents.

  • Re:Absolutely not (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jadavis ( 473492 ) on Friday April 28, 2006 @01:44AM (#15218892)
    Gun ownership is a civil right.

    You could make the argument that censorship reduces the incidence of offensive language, but that's a small benefit to receive in exchange for a civil right.

    It's very difficult to really tell conclusively what long term effect gun control has on the incidence of violent crime in general. But regardless, I stand for the civil right for law-abiding citizens to produce, own, transport, and trade firearms. I believe that this right is an important deterrent for oppressive government.

  • by Chess Cardigan ( 66841 ) on Friday April 28, 2006 @02:17AM (#15218977)
    This is why national ID cards are scary (no matter what Newspeak euphemism it is called.) The government has a database of every citizen. Initially the database contains just basic details, such as name, date of birth, address, etc and maybe tax information. Over time more and more pieces of information become linked with this database, for example passports, travel history, perhaps even police records, medical records and transaction history.

    This gives extreme power to the government in two ways. Firstly, whenever you present your ID card to a governemnt official, he/she can instantly bring up an incredible amount of personal information about you. i.e. The government now knows more about you than many of your friends. Secondly, the government security agencies (i.e. the secret police) can now easily generate lists of people that match any given profile. For example I've noticed that a lot of the recent terrorist bombings were carried out by engineers. Bring up the complete list of all single male engineers aged 18-35 with an ethnic background. Bam! I've got a list of 50,000 potential terrorists, better keep a closer eye on those guys.

    My grandparents lived in Holland during the second world war. Holland had a very detailed and complete national registry of its citizens, which included personal details such as religion. The Dutch government had used this registry to assist in social planning, etc. However, when the Nazis took power, they of course used it to identify all the Jews to be rounded up and killed. Dutch Jews had the lowest survival rate of any occupied country, and this was because the national registry provided them with the complete list of Jews.

    This piece of history illustrates that a national registry containing personal details is a very powerful and dangerous tool. While it can of course be used to benefit the population, it fundamentally entrusts the government with a lot of power over its citizens. The citizens must trust not only the current governemnt, but also all future governments, (and we don't know who they will be) to never abuse that power.
  • by Crayon Kid ( 700279 ) on Friday April 28, 2006 @03:28AM (#15219177)
    The difference between "good" and "bad" National ID's is made by the Government. And it strikes me, from the reactions I've seen here, that Americans fear their Government a lot more than people who have lived for 50 years under a communist dictatorship.

    What the parent told about Span is pretty much the norm for many countries in Europe, especially Eastern Europe. It's mostly bureaucracy, but there are good sides to it. Identity theft is almost unheard of, and even if attempted it cracks down as some point along the way without liability for the victim. I don't have to shred and examine my trash for things that could compromise my identity. Many things and transactions of all kinds are safer, because it's not trivial to assume some else's identity.

    I'm equally as bewildered by the Americans running around without ID's in the US as you are probably about having an ID on you at all times and using it for many daily tasks.

    But think about it, what difference does it really make? I've outlined some advantages above. And the downside? You already leave a lot of traces everywhere as you interact with society and all kinds of services. If you think you are or can become some kind of stealth ninja, you are deluding yourself. This is real life, not a Dean R. Koontz novel.

    Having a national ID doesn't prevent really determined criminals, but the lack of it makes trivial crime easy. In some respects, it's silly. I've heard that in the US you cannot prove you're not married. I mean, come on.
  • by robzster1977 ( 518768 ) * <robzster1977@yahoo.co.uk> on Friday April 28, 2006 @05:23AM (#15219433) Homepage
    The UK Government is planning to introduce a national identity card scheme, which is coupled with a database called the National Identity Register. What a lot of people don't know is that the cards themselves aren't the problem - the database is the problem.

    It's been billed as the answer to terrorism/benefit fraud/identity theft/god knows what else at various points in its life, and at one point was even called an 'Entitlement Card'. They've more or less admitted that it won't make a blind bit of difference to any of those, but have still decided to press on.

    They plan to start shortly by issuing identity cards to people who apply for a passport, at a combined (planned) cost of £93. The Government claimed that the scheme was voluntary, because, hey, you don't *need* to get a passport. Eventually they climbed down somewhat, and now you don't have to get an ID card with a passport. But - and it's a big but - you still get entered on the NIR and you still pay £93. So you're essentially paying for something and then not getting it.

    Eventually the scheme will become compulsory, at which point a whole lot of fun ensues. The Government plans to summon every adult to a processing centre to they can be fingerprinted, photographed and iris scanned. Oh, and interviewed. Don't turn up? That's a £1,000 fine for you. For *every time* you don't turn up. Need to amend your details on your nice shiny new card? You pay the Government. Lose your card? You pay the Government. The list goes on.

    Coupled with the fact that the UK Government never seems to get its IT systems quite right, we're heading for a nightmare. I certainly don't want somebody, possibly with a grudge or who could be bribed to have access to a multitude of information on me [no2id.net]. There's no security from the perspective of the card either - the possibility of them cards using some sort of PKI certificates or such was ignored.

    The UK Government constantly tries to remind us that the majority of the countries in the EU have an identity card scheme, but what they fail to mention is that most of these are just that - an identity card, in many cases without a central database. Indeed, the UK scheme would be illegal in Germany.

    There's a non-partisan pressure group that was set up in the UK called No2ID [no2id.net] (disclaimer: I'm a local co-ordinator [doncaster-no2id.org.uk]). If you're in the UK, no matter what your views are on ID cards, I urge you to check them out and see what the scheme really means for you.

  • Re:A terrible idea. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pete ( 2228 ) on Friday April 28, 2006 @07:53AM (#15219815)
    When I opened my first bank account, I had to provide a whole stack of different documents to prove my identity. It would be much more convenient to be able to do that with a single card.

    And it'd be even more convenient to be able to open a bank account without having to provide any documentation at all!

    Why on earth shouldn't we be able to have anonymous bank accounts? Seriously, why?

  • Re:One word: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AGMW ( 594303 ) on Friday April 28, 2006 @08:17AM (#15219887) Homepage
    How, exactly, do you think will it make "identity theft and creating fake IDs a lot easier?" It's currently trivial, since there's no consistent ID nation-wide. How can it get worse?

    OK, at the moment someone might have to fake/forge a number of documents (in the UK at least) such as a recent utilities bill in their name, driving licence, passport, etc but even having done so, the people looking at these document know there's a chance that they may be forged and are (hopefully!) keeping an eye out for anything suspicous.

    Fast forward to "2084" (as 1984 has already passed!) and you rock up with a forged ID Card. The bozo looking at this card is going to "know" that it is genuine (because our wonderful leaders have told us it will be!) and not bother looking any further. Indeed, if someone has a card with their face/iris/fingerprint on it and your name (and id number), he is, to all intents and purposes, you! You will now have to prove that you are you ... and how will you do that?

    It sucks ....

    Just say no [no2id.net] and Renew your passport now! [renewforfreedom.org]

  • ..In Soviet Sweden (Score:2, Interesting)

    by denoir ( 960304 ) on Friday April 28, 2006 @09:22AM (#15220204)
    In Sweden we've had one for or another of a national ID card for over 100 years, so it is not a controversial issue here. It's not mandatory to carry it and basically contains one relevant piece of information: your personal ID number. While this number is used as a key in virtually every government database available we generally don't have any identity theft problems.

    The ID cards themselves are pretty well made and their authenticity can be verified in a number of ways (ranging from features that appear under UV light to the ability to check the validity of the serial number of the card both electronically (stored on the chip) or simply by calling a number. The main part of the security comes from the fact that everything is centralized and few businesses are not hooked up to the verification servers. Next year they'll be uploading fingerprints and possibly some more biometric data on the chip. I have not heard of a single case of counterfeit ID cards (at least not the current generation).

    The ID card is valid throughout the rest of the EU as well.

    As for privacy implications, well we have constitutional protection against aggregating databases. In general one government agency can't access the databases of another. For companies the restrictions are pretty severe - they are for instance not allowed to store personal information about you, unless you give them explicit permission to do so. (with personal information they mean information that can be used to individually identify you - for instance storing IP numbers is generally not allowed). In many cases even a permission is not enough - for instance the rules for storing the personal ID number are very restrictive.

    So, if you trust the system then you can assume that your privacy is well-protected. Of course the centralized infrastructure makes it easy for all privacy to go away should the laws change.

    Incidentally, that has been partially happening in the last year, since the London tube attacks.

    Basically, national IDs and other such centralized data control/gathering schemes are based on the assumption that you can trust your government. In Sweden people do that - to a fault. But that's the consequence of having 200 years of not-terrible governments. Since we have not been seriously screwed over by a government in modern history, people become complacent.

    So for now it's just very convenient. Centralization allows me to use the same national digital ID to declare my taxes, pay my bills and buy stuff. E-government is a breeze and the bureaucracy is basically non-existent. However, should we one day get a terrible government, then we're thoroughly screwed.

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments