ID Cards? What’s that all about?

The wind softly moaned around the Haslemere Costa Coffee, hurling fine raindrops at the window where I sat considering how life had changed, and sipping at a large Cappuccino coffee, watching the baristas preparing coffees.

Work culture has certainly changed. Especially security and access control. When I started work in 1975 as a communications engineering apprentice, I am reasonably sure that I was not subjected to any in depth security checks, other than me making a declaration that I had not been to prison. The fact that I was a sixteen year old schoolboy made it somewhat unlikely. However, I was not issued with any kind identity card or pass. That would not happen until I had completed my three year training.

Most of the office buildings that I needed to visit back then had a security desk rather than a reception, normally staffed by an ex-military retiree, who would control access to the building. There was no access control at all all of the local engineering centres where stock and equipment was held, vehicles parked and records kept. Some engineers were on call out, so would keep their yellow vans at home, but most other vehicles were left in the yard overnight and at weekends. Only a chain and padlock on the gate prevented their theft.

Pretty much every workplace transaction from requesting a replacement tool, to booking out equipment was done using a simple signature in a book, and the fact that the stores clerk knew your face. Need to get a copy? Wander over to the copier and fire off what you wanted. Need a pen or pencil? Open the stationery cabinet and take what you required.

Time control back then was a little informal. A sign-in book was provided. All duties officially started at 0800, and most of the technicians and engineers would arrive about a quarter of an hour early, to enjoy a tea or coffee before the day started.

At 0800 the supervisor would simply draw a red line under the last name signed. Anyone signing in after the line would be declared officially late.

Walls of the workshops and stores would be adorned with calendars displaying scantily clad, or naked women, and talk between colleagues was robust and at times profane – all without anyone taking offence. Even senior staff from the Telephone Manager’s Office accepted and indeed, appreciated those girlie calendars and posters.

When I made the transition to office working, access to the large engineering company where I was employed was controlled only by a middle aged lady who sat at the reception desk. Should anyone have entered the reception whilst she was distracted, or on the phone, they could have breezed past and through the doors to the ground floor offices, or made it quickly up the stairs to the executive offices without further challenge.

The threat of terrorism, and the development of digital technology changed all that virtually overnight.

Gone were the good old-school security officers. In many cases, receptionists also became a thing of the past.

Since leaving field sales in the mid nineteen eighties, with company procedures being little changed during the intervening decade, I started working for American Airlines. As my job involved working the other side of security and immigration, I was vetted and issued with an airside pass. This was in the wake of Pan Am 103 being destroyed and crashing at Lockerbie in Scotland in December 1988.

Since that time, I have spent my entire working life wearing an identity pass of type or another. Over the years, it has developed from being a simple card bearing my photograph, airline and job title, to a smart card that enables me to gain access to the car park, approved areas of the company, and access my computer terminal. It also enables me to send documents to the printer, which will only release them once I have offered my card to the sensor on the printer, and input my Personal Identification Number.

The card may also be used as a tracker, and could be used to oversee and enforce working times, break times, and internet access. Simply by interrogating the card’s history a company may be able to extract a huge amount of personal data about an individual, more than could ever be done forty years ago.

Brave new world?

Mark Charlwood©️ 2019