Identity Cards and Identity Romanticism

I just posted Identity Cards and Identity Romanticism to SSRN. A slightly modified version will appear as a chapter in Ian Kerr's edited collection “Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Here's the abstract:

This book chapter for “Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) — a forthcoming comparative examination of approaches to the regulation of anonymity edited by Ian Kerr — discusses the sources of hostility to National ID Cards in common law countries. It traces that hostility in the United States to a romantic vision of free movement and in England to an equally romantic vision of the 'rights of Englishmen'.

Governments in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and other countries are responding to perceived security threats by introducing various forms of mandatory or nearly mandatory domestic civilian national identity documents. This chapter argues that these ID cards pose threats to privacy and freedom, especially in countries without strong data protection rules. The threats created by weak data protection in these new identification schemes differ significantly from previous threats, making the romantic vision a poor basis from which to critique (highly flawed) contemporary proposals.

Although the length limits for the book made me cut the paper in half from its original size, I enjoyed working on the project; there are some real issues here and I don't think I've gotten to the bottom of them yet.

ID cards remain one of my main scholarly interests at present, and I expect to write much more about them. I would blog more about it, but I haven't figured out how to blog about my works in progress without the blog time cutting into work time. I find if I blog about non-work stuff it feels like a break; it's my hobby, it's a conversation (or howling into the wind, as the case may be). If I blog about work stuff, I feel a greater need to be scholarly and precise, it takes a long time, and it ends up sucking energy from what I see as my main job.

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5 Responses to Identity Cards and Identity Romanticism

  1. Couldn’t see a way to download the chapter … but I’m wondering if you’ve given any consideration to the increasing difficulty of getting ID if you don’t have one? I spend many, many hours helping homeless people get IDs. With the stricter requirements (Florida law changed 10.1.08), getting ID is becoming impossible for some people.

  2. michael says:

    I’ve written to SSRN to find out why the paper isn’t there (I uploaded it, but they don’t seem to have noticed).

    As to your substantive question, I don’t discuss that in this paper — but I recognize it’s a very serious issue, and intend to write about it in the future. I would love to talk to you more about this, if you are willing.

  3. I would love to tell you some of my stories from the front lines, and also my efforts to navigate the various laws to obtain IDs for people who just don’t have them. You can see my e-mail even though it doesn’t display, right?

  4. Michael W. says:

    FYI, PBS recently did a mini-series called “The Last Enemy” about a just-slightly-futuristic surveillance society. In it, everyone is required to have a national ID card, video surveillance is everywhere, and electronic implantable chips are being introduced. Politics meets paranoia.

  5. David Blanco says:

    I’m part of the team behind Tractis [1] and the author of one of the sources [2] you cite in your paper.

    Yours is one of the few voices from the US that I have found to give a serious rational thought to the ID cards issue instead of an emotional one. We, at Tractis, are far from being in love with ID/eID cards. In fact, our vision is to provide multiple authentication methods and let the user choose. However, that doesn’t mean that ID/eID cards are not an ever growing reality that should be considered. I find surprising that almost nobody in common-law countries seems interested about the massive deployment of eID cards worldwide phenomenon (not only in Europe) and its implications for anonimity, privacy and ecommerce on the internet.

    If you need more information about the current status of deployment of national ID cards [3], whether electronic or not, feel free to contact me [4]. I would be happy to talk to you.


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