National Identity Card

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National Identity Card


By: Dave Caulkin

Date: November 17, 2004

Source: AP Images.

About the Photographer: The Associated Press is a worldwide news agency based in New York. Dave Caulkin is its chief photographer in London. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999.


National identity cards are not creations of the twenty-first century. The Nazis used them, and under apartheid, the South African government required blacks and "coloureds" to carry them at all times. In both cases, the cards listed name, residence, and work information; if found in an area to which the bearer was denied access, they were subject to arrest. Accordingly, national ID cards inspire distrust and fear among many. In an age of terrorism and identity fraud, however, some countries are considering them. Identity fraud alone cost countries like the United Kingdom about 1.7 pounds (three million dollars) a year.

Many countries currently use national identity cards, including most European nations. As technology has progressed, their functions have evolved as well. Taiwan, a country that has used national ID cards since 1947, continued their use from the Japanese colonial government. Taiwan's cards also act as a police record, and the law mandates that they be carried at all times. In 2005, the government proposed storing fingerprint data in the cards. This issue is still being debated because many citizens fear that fingerprint data will be used to violate their human rights.

In the summer of 2005, shortly after the terrorists attacks on the London, England subway system, the British Parliament reopened the debate on national identity. During World War II, the United Kingdom implemented a national ID card system, but it ended the program in 1952. Proponents believe that the cards would help thwart terrorism because every person entering, working in, or living in the country would be required to have one. They would increase the possibility of identifying terrorists before an attack could be carried out. Opponents argue that they cannot guarantee to stop terrorism and could facilitate the quarantining of individuals based on family lineage, ethnic background, or country of origin.

On November 17, 2004, protestors burned a mock identity card of Prime Minister Tony Blair in central London, a throwback to Vietnam-era protests in the United States when protestors burned their draft cards. The message of British protestors is clear: They do not want their personal data compiled into a database that could possibly be seen by a computer hacker, nor do they want the government to have large files of their personal information. Also, individuals fear that the cards could make their movements and financial transactions too easy to track.



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The idea of national identity cards has stirred international debate. The United States has examined the idea of national ID cards, although in 1971 the Social Security Administration rejected using Social Security Numbers as a universal ID, and in 1973 and 1976 the idea was thwarted by two other federal agencies.

Public concern increased in February 2006 when the British Parliament passed the Identity Cards Act. Currently, the British government is streamlining proposals for the card's database, on how to get biometric readers to banks, post offices, police stations, and others places of interest. Registry will be mandatory when applying for documents like a passport, but individuals will not have to carry them at all times. Additionally, the cards will be recognized travel documents in the European Union, and they will contain a microchip holding a set of fingerprints as well as facial and iris scans to increase security and prevent card fraud. The United Kingdom will begin issuing national ID cards in 2008.



Thomas, Philip A. "Identity Cards." Modern Law Review. 58.5 (September 1995): 702-713.

Web sites

Privacy International. "Identity Cards: Frequently Asked Questions." August 24, 1996. 〈〉 (accessed May 1, 2006).

CNN. "Private Eyes." September 25, 2001. 〈〉 (accessed May 1, 2006).

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National Identity Card

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National Identity Card