Cast Off Your SINs
by Chuck Walbourn, © 2002
SINs and Shadowrunners
In the world of Shadowrun, every legal citizen has a SIN, a System Identification Number. A SIN is a complete digital identity for a person, including work history, medical history, resume, references, personal information, credit and purchase history, driver's license, and passport. When a credstick is checked and verified with some piece of biometric data from the bearer, databanks throughout the world are checked and cross-checked to ensure the identity of the bearer. The fabric of society in the Sixth World depends on the belief that a SIN is a foolproof digital identity.
Still, there are those who don't possess SINs. Some are born without a SIN because they weren't born in a standard hospital and their parents never registered them, most likely because they were not registered themselves. If these individuals are ever caught in a criminal act or are discovered in a corporate or government security check-point, they are assumed to be criminals and are treated as such, with no official existence and no civil rights. Without a SIN, you cannot get a legal job, purchase goods at a corner store, get medical treatment at a hospital, rent or buy property, or even leave the country. You don't exist, and are at best an annoyance.
Others purposely erase their SIN, choosing to live in the shadows. Mega-corporations have very long arms, and if an individual really wants to be free from their influence, they cannot have a SIN or they will be found no matter where they go. A SIN could tie a runner to a dark and dangerous past, powerful enemies, or just make them easier to find and anonymity can be its own reward. Some choose to live in the shadows to be their own masters, others to hide from their past.
Without a SIN, an individual is unknown to the corps and governments of the world. They can go anywhere unseen and no one knows what they own, where they live, or what skills and talents they possess. Of course, freedom comes at a price. Being without a SIN is a criminal act in most countries, and with no legal recourse or civil rights, they can do anything they want. Lone Star will probably just assume you are a criminal and "disappear" you. A corporation may just be looking for a subject in their latest "black" research project, and if you don't exist, they can't be breaking any laws.
Shadowrunners without a SIN are the perfect deniable asset, and the privacy that goes with that status is greatly valued by fixers. All Shadowrun Missions characters are SINless - a select few may opt to have fictional backgrounds and forged credsticks created. Most make do with certified credsticks, or temporary forgeries supplied as needed by a fixer. As such, you don't have legal employment and can't spend too much time in highly patrol areas or corporate enclaves. You don't want to be caught and branded with a criminal SIN, something much harder to erase than even a SIN you were born with. At some point you might be able to acquire a permanent forged credstick, but remember that when living in the shadows anything permanent can be a liability.
How you ended up SINless is up to you. The Sprawl has large uncontrolled areas of the city where the poor and SINless live, ignored by Lone Star and outside the concern of the corps. Perhaps you escaped into the shadows to escape your past, and paid to have your SIN "erased", or maybe you just got tired of life as a wage-slave and the shadows were your only real option. Officially, you may have died or your identity could have been discovered to be a 'forgery' and tagged as invalid. Your photo, your DNA, your fingerprint, all the things that could tie your real SIN to you have been destroyed for better or worse.
There is only so far you can get with certified credsticks. In the rougher parts of the Sprawl, the local Stuffer Shack or landlord will take whatever payment you can provide. Fixers will insist on non-traceable currency for purchasing black-market goods and your contacts won't want sizeable chunks of credit in any traceable form either. Still, using certified credsticks will get you noticed in some parts of town. In the more luxurious (and highly controlled) parts of the 'plex, nuyen won't be enough. A certified credstick isn't ID, and in a corporate arcology using a certified credstick to buy anything will get you noticed, and quick. Certified credsticks can be used for some Matrix transactions, but you might require a valid ID to go with the money. And to leave the country, take a flight, or pass through many security check-points, you'll need an ID with permits for gear, being magically active, or many kinds of cyber- and bioware.
Your fixer can sometimes arrange for temporary IDs if given enough time, but they aren't likely to stand up to a lot of scrutiny over a long period of time. Permanent forged credsticks can be obtained through scenarios or black market contacts with various transaction limits and ratings. Remember that a forged credstick must have a valid SIN (or at least appear to have a valid SIN) to pass the validation test. Creating a complete digital history of a person with all the detail required is a Herculean task for any individual, so shadowrunners will normally have to live with something less than perfect - unless they are lucky enough to hook up with one of the few organizations in town that specialize in such projects. Often that means "borrowing" the SIN of another, with the decker making key changes in the history to match the biometric details of the bearer. The SIN may really belong to a person who is already deceased, someone who is out of circulation, or maybe someone just on vacation for a few days. The more you use a forged credstick the more likely it is to be noticed as fake, and each transaction you make with it goes into the purchase history and will be noticed by someone, somewhere, eventually.
Remember that good, hard-to-notice, forged ID is a runner's best friend, but it isn't going to stand up to a full inspection by a Lone Star team if they bring you in and do a full body scan, medical workup, DNA profile, fingerprint and voice print analysis, and take the time to run down all the details on that credstick you are carrying. You are still gone, chummer, unless a corp decides to bail you out. Of course, a corporation can usually arrange whatever forged documents are required for their purposes to stand up to most any inquiry, but you'll have to give them a lot of personal and permanent biometric information in the process.