| Documents please
There was considerable discussion in the United States of America in introducing ...a national identity card scheme but no formal policy was introduced. Meanwhile noncitizens may already be tracked at border entry points and as they move within the country. A system called student and exchange visitor information system keeps track of foreign students to ensure that they are still registered and maintains a log of their addresses.
The United Kingdom is proposing the implementation of “entitlement cards” in an effort to deal with immigration and illegal work, identity theft, but also supported by the fight against terrorism. Similarly, Hong Kong is planning to introduce a biometric chip identity card to verify fingerprints to authenticate travellers into China.
None of the above trends are necessarily new; the novelty is the speed with which these policies gained acceptance, and in many cases, became law.
ID cards are in use in one form or another in virtually all countries of the world. The type of card, its functions, and integrity vary enormously. While a number of countries have official, compulsory, national ID cards that are used for a variety of purposes, many countries do not. These include Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, the US and the Nordic countries. Those that do have such a card include Belgium, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and South Africa.
Nationwide ID systems are established for a variety of reasons. Race, politics and religion often drive the deployment of ID cards. The fear of insurgence, religious differences, immigration, or political extremism have been all too common motivators for the establishment of ID systems that aim to force undesirables in a state to register with the government, or make them vulnerable in the open without proper documents.
In recent years technology has rapidly evolved to enable electronic record creation and the construction of large commercial and state databases. A national identifier contained in an ID card enables disparate information about a person that is stored in different databases to be easily linked and analyzed through data mining techniques. ID cards are also becoming “smarter” — the technology to build microprocessors the size of postage stamps and put them on wallet sized cards has become more affordable.
This technology enables multiple applications such as a credit card, library card, health care card, driver’s licence and government benefit programme information to be all stored on the same national ID along with a password or a biometric identifier. Governments in Finland, Malaysia, and Singapore have experimented with such “Smart” ID cards. In July 2002, the Labor government in the United Kingdom launched a six-month public consultation process on whether the United Kingdom should adopt an “entitlem-ent card” with similar features.
Critics contend that such cards, especially when combined with information contained in databases, enable intrusive profiling of individuals and create a misplaced reliance on a single document, which enables precisely the type of fraud the cards are meant to eliminate.
In a number of countries, these systems have been successfully challenged on constitutional privacy grounds. In 1998, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that a national ID system violated the constitutional right to privacy.