In particular, I worry about people who wear ID cards on lanyards in the street.
I always hated wearing a lanyard. They're an encumbrance. They dangle round your neck and get in the way. They emblazon your identity in front of all and sundry. They tend to have the name of the organisation which provided them plastered all over the fabric. They're like a uniform, because you only wear one when you have to. And I never wanted to have to wear one, because the benefits were all for someone else.
I got my first workplace ID card in 2001. The office entrance had electronic gates to swipe through, then there were further readers beside doors into secure areas, so a card was obviously necessary. But I didn't get a lanyard. I'm not even sure if lanyards were a thing back then.
The ID card came with a plastic holder and a metal clip for attaching it to an item of clothing like a pocket or a belthole. You could choose to hang it fairly unobtrusively if you wanted. But you had to unclip it every time you wanted to swipe through a door or gate, so it wasn't entirely practical.
Everyone was supposed to wear their ID card at all times to enable us to spot intruders, but not everybody did. We all knew each other anyway, and assumed anyone who shouldn't be in the building would have been stopped by the gates at the entrance. As soon as I noticed nobody was policing the wearing of ID cards, mine ended up in my pocket most of the time, and nobody complained.
I got my first lanyard in 2007, as a kind and thoughtful gift from work. Here, they said, this wonderful device will allow you to swipe through doors and gates more easily. Just lean over and wave your lanyard, and you won't have to do any of that annoying unclipping any more. Later they gave us a springy lanyard which extended, so even leaning over was no longer required.
I never used my lanyard, I carried on using my plastic clip. The lanyard solved a problem I didn't have, because my ID card wasn't attached to my clothing, because I was an insubordinate employee. Most importantly I didn't want my name flapping round my neck everywhere I went, especially with that awful photo of me alongside.
I think I decided lanyards were stupid when I realised there was only a 50/50 chance a person's name was actually visible. Half the time the holder flipped round and the name/photo combination faced your chest, which meant you could have been anyone. Any keen intruder could have ensured their lanyard always faced the wrong way, and wandered around the building with impunity.
Everyone was supposed to wear their lanyard/ID combo at all times, and now it was much more obvious if you didn't. Compliant employees were plainly visible with a bright strip of branded fabric around their neck. The rest of us walked around without, but still weren't challenged, except in occasional emails from top management. So my ID card remained in my pocket where I had access to it at all times, my lanyard lay unused in my desk, and all was fine.
I no longer have a job, or an ID card, or a lanyard. But I see a lot more lanyards than I ever used to, out and about in the street, around the necks of people I really shouldn't know the names of.
Becky Penhallick and Tajram Ahuja walked past me on the way to lunch. She's a systems analyst, he's in marketing support, because it said so round their necks. I know the company they work for too, because the lanyard branding was a dead giveaway. The pair of them were unwittingly revealing unique tracking data as they headed off in search of food, because their employer makes them wear a lanyard and they never think to take it off.
Toby Blacknall and Esme Leech were on their way home from school. Their uniform didn't include an identifying crest, but the lanyard round their neck told me which academy they're from, as well as who they are, should I be interested. There's no telling who might be interested. It was only the 50/50 dangle of their classmates' lanyards which prevented their identity from being similarly exposed.
We never wore lanyards when I was in school. A teacher took a register twice a day, and that was it. But times change, and risks heighten, and schools resemble fortresses more than they ever needed to before. It makes sense that only adults with ID can gain entry, but somehow that now stretches to technological confirmation of pupil attendance, and suddenly it's lanyards for all.
What staggers me isn't the fact that lanyards are deemed necessary, but that office staff and schoolchildren continue to wear them in public. I'd whip mine off the minute I walked out the door, because they ought to be a solely internal tool. But more and more people seem perfectly happy to display their identity all the time, flapping randomly around their neck, as if personal privacy is no longer an important part of daily life.
The organisations that make us wear ID do it partly to protect us, but mostly to protect them. They sell the need to display our names and roles as a means to keep us safe, and as a key part of everyday routine, but we forget their jurisdiction ends once we're back in the outside world.
As a society we seem increasingly comfortable in compromising our identity in public without giving it a second thought. A rectangle of plastic designed for safeguarding in fact ends up exposing us to additional potential risk.
So take your lanyard off when you leave the building, for security's sake, and stop letting it all hang out.