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nationals who have become permanent residents.

Privacy International, a non-profit organization that advocates civil liberties, categorizes three types of ID systems (see Table 1).

Table 1. Types of National Identification Systems

TYPE Stand Alone

Registration System

Integrated System

DESCRIPTION ID cards that are usually issued by governments undergoing political transitions such as military or emergency rule. The ID card contains information that is stored in a registration system managed by a government agency. A card number is usually assigned to an individual as a form of identifier. Several government agencies are part of the integrated system.

Source: Privacy International. Identity Cards Frequently Asked Questions. August 24, 1996

In countries that have stand-alone ID systems, citizens are required to present IDs to authorities as a form of an internal passport (Privacy International, 1996). Because of the information technology revolution that allows sharing of huge volumes of information among computer networks, it is the integrated systems that have become popular in recent years. As there are several agencies that are part of the system, the card holder can make several public and private transactions. For its part, the government issuing the card can use it for different purposes such as efficient public transaction and border control.

Group Classification

The concept of a national identification system was first instituted in countries with populations coming from diverse ethnic groups. The idea was to use the ID as a means of identifying people of a certain race, politics or religion. In the long run however, this mode of classification was used by oppressive regimes to discriminate against certain ethnicities or religion (Privacy International, 1996:2). It is for this reason that ID systems have long been resisted by human rights advocates mainly because some governments use it to identify particular groups for ethnic cleansing or genocide. For instance,


ID systems are said to have been used extensively in the Nazi regime and in Rwanda to carry out various crimes against humanity (Fussell, 2001).

Control of Illegal Migration

When illegal immigration became a huge concern for the United States, Australia and Europe in the 1990s, the use of ID systems to curb the onslaught of illegal immigrants was explored. The plan was to put up a national registry system which could be used by employers to verify the identity of a prospective employee through his/her national ID (Miller and Moore, 1995). These proposals were archived because they met stiff opposition from civil libertarians both within and outside the government.

Tax Evasion and Welfare Fraud

In Australia and New Zealand for example, plans for an ID system that were aimed to curb tax evasion and welfare fraud were pushed in the 1980s and 1990s. Proponents believed that it will expand the tax base and weaken the black market economy. However, the proposals were scuttled by campaigns launched by groups such as the Australian Privacy Foundation which fought the planned ID system on privacy issues (Scheeres, 2001).

Identification Purposes

At present, several countries, rich and poor alike, are implementing a national ID system (see Table 2). However, the type of card, its purpose

















Table 2. Selected Countries With National Identification Cards

Argentina Singapore Source: Tova Andrea Wang, “The Debate Over a National Identification Card,” The Century Foundation Issue Brief (no date provided)

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