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Identity document

An identity document is a piece of documentation designed to prove the identity of the person carrying it. Unlike other forms of documentation, which only have a single purpose such as authorizing bank transactions, or proving membership of a library, an identity document simply asserts the bearer's identity. If an identity document is in the form of a small standard-sized card, such as an ISO 7810 card, it is called an identity card.

Where the identity card is issued by the State, it asserts a unique single civil identity for a person, thus defining that person's identity purely in relation to the State. Recent technologies allow identity cards to contain biometric information, such as face, hand or iris measurements, or fingerprints.

In many cases, other forms of documentation such as a driver's license, passport, or medicare card serve a similar function, identifying the bearer in a variety of contexts. However, possession of these documents is typically optional.

Table of contents
1 Arguments for and against identity cards
2 Identity cards in Britain
3 Identity cards in the United States
4 Identity cards worldwide
5 External links

Arguments for and against identity cards

State-issued identity cards are a source of great controversy. Some people regard them as a gross infringement of privacy and civil liberties, whilst others regard them as uncontroversial.

Opponents of identity cards point out that totalitarian governments issue identity cards to their populations, and that they have been used oppressively by many governments. They point out that the issuing of unique biometric identities was taken to its logical conclusion within living memory by the Nazis, when they tattooed unique KZ- numbers on the arms of people taken to be processed by the Final Solution. (see ka-tzetnik). More recently, the apartheid-era government of South Africa used identity cards as internal passports to oppress that country's population.

Proponents of identity cards regard these criticisms as paranoid, and regard identity cards to be a useful administrative tool that will increase government efficiency and cut down on crime. They use an argument which is often deployed against privacy advocates: "if you are against it, then you must have something to hide".

Some opponents have characterised vocal proponents of identity cards as social conservatives who wish to control the population tightly. They point out that extensive lobbying for identity cards has been undertaken in countries without compulsory identity cards by IT companies who will be likely to reap rich rewards in the event of an identity card scheme being implemented.

Economic liberals generally regard identity cards as a bad thing, on the principle that if society already works adequately without them, they should not be imposed by government, on the principle that "the government that governs best, governs least".

Identity cards in Britain

Compulsory identity cards were first issued in the United Kingdom during World War I, and abandoned in 1919. They were re-introduced in World War II, but were abandoned seven years after the end of that war in 1952, due to widespread public resentment.

Nevertheless, in 2003 the Home Secretary David Blunkett has recently stated that the British government intends to introduce a national identity card scheme based on biometric technology, to be made compulsory by 2013. This has met with significant opposition, as this followed a public consultation where the government ignored the overwhelming majority of those replying had stated that they did not want the government to issue identity cards. The government claimed that negitive online responses represented one lobby group so clamed them as one reply.

Identity cards in the United States

Identity cards worldwide

According to Privacy International, as of 1996, around 100 countries had compulsory identity cards. They also stated that "virtually no common law country has a card".

Countries with compulsory identity cards:

Countries without compulsory identity cards: See also: passport, pass book, visa, Social security number.

External links