National IDs are offered to those who are citizens of a given state. Even the more limited forms of biometric ID such as enhanced driver’s licenses contain or connect with citizenship data. National citizenship is undoubtedly prized by some, but what is meant by that phrase varies from place to place and is also undergoing historic transformations. Citizenship means of warding off the vagaries of arbitrary rule and of holding governments accountable appears to have such capacities attenuated. Indeed, new border ID practices seem to many to foster a sense of insecurity and arbitrariness and opportunities to hold the government accountable recede as secrecy and surveillance by policy rule.
Unlike booklet-style passports or single-fold ID papers, the national card follows the now common format for credit cards and other commercial-use IDs as well as licenses and access cards such as for health-care. In many Western countries, neo-liberal restructuring has been entrenched due to this the citizen-consumer has been in the ascendancy for some time. Consumer behaviour is successfully eclipsing older forms of citizenship. This is symbolically expressed in the shape and feel of new national IDs. Some new Ids such as the Malaysian MyKad have built-in commercial applications and others which have been developed with such multiple uses in mind. Such IDs typically offer access to places or privileges from which others will necessarily be excluded. This in itself is a by-product of bureaucratic organization. Thus, these ID systems tend to maintain existing marginalities and to reinforce cumulative disadvantage. They do this by having six features. They are (1) remote rather than face-to-face; (2) interoperable and thus based on cognate categories internationally; (3) categorical; (4) tending to conflate risky categories; (5) focused on behavioural and bodily criteria, seen especially in the use of biometrics; and, of course, (6) exclusionary. New IDs are key players in new modes of citizenship emerging in many countries around the world in the twenty-first century. These IDs reflect changing priorities. But citizenship also has an active dimension relating to political involvement and democratic direction. But How may citizens who believe that such active dimensions are significant respond to governance by identification in general?
One important banner that has been raised is the word “privacy.” A focus on privacy may help to maintain civil liberties and through Privacy Impact Assessments contribute to greater care with personal data handling. At the same time it has to be said that privacy as a concept is a very limited weapon to wield against encroaching surveillance by national IDs. When national ID regimes are used to govern or to secure mobility, it makes little difference that some data are anonymized or that trivial “private” data are maintained as such. As Amoore says, “[i]t is not so much a lack of privacy that is the political problematic, but rather a lack of social space in which we can see and be seen, engage with the differences and difficulties of our world. The international survey carried out at Queen’s University in Canada. It had shown clearly that the more people understand the nature of surveillance in general, the more they resist. This survey also given some indication of how popular opinion plays out when the implications of the national registry came into focus. When asked about the desirability of holding national IDs one finds a fair degree of cautious assent. But when asked how far the same respondents believe governments would protect their personal information within departmental data-bases and the national registry? There was a marked drop in confidence.
Much political concern has coalesced around new national ID systems, not just in Western Europe and North America but also in Japan and else-where. This clearly indicates how NGOs, technical and academic coalitions, and civil liberties and privacy groups might yet make a difference within some modes of active citizenship. The question of national IDs and their surrogates is just one of several issues that concern new uses of personal information in the twenty-first century, but it is a crucial one if one considers the opportunities and constraints on individual life chances that hang upon it. Like those other issues, unless serious attention is paid to the ways in which personal data are so deeply consequential for life and liberty, already marginalized and disadvantaged groups will continue to bear the brunt of the negative impacts associated with access to such data. Days are dark but some cracks that admit light are evident.
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