Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Australian Passport Application vs Swedish Personal Numbers

Makaila's application has been submitted! Finally!Not the easiest of tasks that is for sure.

Apart from the photos having to be exactly the right way (they show all sorts of sample photos that have been rejected and we now have tons of little photos of M), they have to have a copy of my passport, her father's, an extract from the population registry (in English), a copy of her citizenship document, and someone to vouch for her identity. That person must either be an Australian citizen or a teacher, doctor, chemist, accountant and the list goes on. You have to laugh - I mean are these people more reliable that the average citizen??

Now I know that the Swedish personal identity number can be an absolute XXX. Swedes also hand over their number here and there without realising or thinking just how much someone else can do with that number. It is expected in the most ludicrous times and places - try renting a movie or getting an bonus card at one of the chain stores without disclosing it!!

There are however times when it just makes more common sense than anything else, and it is efficient and convenient!! One of those times is for passport applications (or nenewals), done through the police. You show some ID, no need for a print-out from the population registry (the info is in their system) and they even do the photos their on the spot, so they are done right the first time! After all, the police are experienced mug-shot takers, right? It is all very speedy and easy.

What really bugs me (and many others!!) with the personal identity number system is that you don't exist without one, and the locals just don't cope so well without it. Many times I have been asked for my number and said - you don't need it - I can tell you it throws people into a tizz. I've even lied and told people I don't have one. Tell me why the butterfly house needs my number just because I buy a year's membership - I can show my ID card with it if I must - but my number doesn't need to go into their system.

When you buy a TV you have to give your personal number so they can register it and the government can makes sure you are paying your broadcasting tax. What really gets me is you give them your number, they put it into the system and they then tell you your address and phone number!! If you know someone's personal number you know how old they are (protected information in many parts of the world), their birthday and the worst of it - you can ring the tax office and find out how much money they earn!! How's that for privacy??

Another downside is that they generally don't want to know your name. Ring any government office and they won't even ask you - what is your personal number? is their first question. I think it is SO rude! I am a person not a number!!

While it is possible to disappear in this country - (just read about that in a story covering the abduction of the two boys) - it is more difficult to do it. Almost impossible for the average person. Yet if you lose contact with someone in Australia - it can be impossible to ever track them down.

All in all, there are pros and cons with any system. But it would be nice if there could be some sort of meeting in the middle. The Australians could afford a more systematic approach and the Swedes could afford to learn to live with a few less numbers.


  1. I hate the awful process for getting an Australian passport renewed overseas. My problem was that I married here and thus needed it in a new name. These days, they don't accept Swedish documents as proof of marriage. I have to register it in "my home state" - you know - that place I last lived EIGHT YEARS ago and to which I never intend returning. And at the SA births, deaths and marriages register, they will only accept that change if I send them ID which conforms to their strict code (it must have a photo, name and address on it). No such Swedish ID exists because we have name and ID number, not address. The people in SA demand address on that ID card as well or no registering of my marriage, which means no passport.

    The embassy here tried to reason with them and offered to look at my ID and vouch for my identity, but that was not good enough, either. Tossers! So the only thing I can do is have an Australian passport in my old name (even though that is no longer my name) and a Swedish passport in my new name. Which should make booking a ticket to Australia interesting - which name to use?

    I believe the long touted Australia Card is now going to become reality whether people like it or not, so Aussies will get a taste of Big Brother.

    Like you, I'm split over the whole thing. It is convenient and easy at times (as with passport applications) but I worry about privacy issues and I can't help thinking that it's going to be really easy in future to link all sorts of information about you; all they need is your person number. What with computer systems being hacked all of the time and government institutions often being careless with confidential information, I'm just not convinced that my information is be safe.

    I've also refused to hand over my number at times when I consider it none of their business (must be the Aussie in me) but mostly I do these days. it gets to be habit.

    Swedes seem to be cavalier about privacy. I can look up your birthdate for example at just using your name and if I register there, I can see your address as well and a handy map to your home. It's a bit scary, really.

  2. What a nightmare - I think I'd be dangerous if this happened to me!! Frustrating beyond words....

  3. I agree with you and Marie.. it IS SCARY that someone can look you up, your address, phone number, a map to your house, how much you earn, what colour socks you wear (ok maybe not the last one....)
    I was really shocked after living in the UK where every little thing is protected by the data protection act, that you can be annonymous and no one has the right to your information unless it's a government department.. and even between them they are not allowed to have access to everything willy nilly...
    I know that the personal number is meant to protect.. but if you really want someones personal number it can be found on a range of documents and letters from government or official agencies.. I already know my sambos, his dad etc... if I wanted to I could buy things online with their personal number, so fraud can still be commited! (I wouldn't...)
    I personally don't like if you call someone they can look up your phone number online and find out who you are and where you are.
    But, hey, this is Sweden!

  4. Rochj I think most foreigners are SHOCKED that so much information is public and accessible - but few Swedes question it - it has always been that way.

    I HATE being a sole trader and having my personal number as my organisation number for the business - I think it is an insult to my integrity and to entrepreneurialism!! As soon as I can set up an AB I will - just to get rid of my personal number!!

  5. Interesting read!

    Strange how one doesn't care a lot about this when it's, like you say, "always" been this way. On the one hand IDcards and person-numbers are so convenient, on the other hand it can of course be overused and abused.

    I've never thought about it as integrity insulting, probably because I think there are worse examples of that, but when I read views like these on the matter I suppose it might be in a way.

    If one thinks the telephone number presenter/cell phone display is a problem, which isn't an in Sweden only thing of course, one can always get an unlisted number.

    Looking up someone's telephone number online is as far as I know something you can do in several countries, convenient if you don't have a telephone directory...