Identity Cards: Social Sorting by Database
14 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2009 Last revised: 13 Jul 2014
Date Written: November 1, 2004
Identity (ID) cards connected with large-scale databases are a key item for political debate in the twenty-first century. An increasing number of countries have started to use, or are considering, national ID card systems. The attack on the USA on September 11, 2001 has prompted more to draw up such plans, for example the UK and Canada. Although not all proposals will succeed, this indicates a strong trend towards monopolizing the means of legitimate identification and regulating mobility. ID cards mark certain persons as members of a nation state and are usually intended to combat fraud and 'terrorism'. While they may contribute to law enforcement in minor ways, such as visa infractions and petty crime, it is far from proven that they can actually prevent determined violence against civilians or fraudulent activity such as identity theft. At the same time, the association of ID cards with databases means that these are systems for social sorting, permitting extensive discrimination between different populations through modes of classification that may include ethnicity and religion. The pressing challenge is to establish systems that avoid exclusionary bias and in which accountability for handling personal data is paramount. This Issue Brief gives an overview of the main social and technical issues raised by ID cards, particularly in their modern form as electronic systems linked to computer databases. It explains the nature of ID cards and answers key questions about why they are needed, whether they work and who is affected by them, before concluding with an analysis of their likely broad national and global impacts as systems of social sorting.
Keywords: internet, digital identity management, data sharing, privacy, authentication, personal data, government, policy, risk management, identity cards
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