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The benefits and risks of national identification programmes

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Image: ID cardTechnology is constantly growing, modernizing and revolutionizing the way people conduct their daily lives. From complicated to even the simplest of tasks, technology is being designed to make life simpler, faster and more efficient. Owing to the constant use of new technology, companies and managers have taken matters into their own hands and began working with customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

Ultimately, for better or worst, in such a society where an individual's personal identity has the potential to be electronically tied to their product and service histories for each transaction; each individual's accumulated personal identifiers for such intangible and tangible services will be captured for better management and customer support. These critical customer support identifiers are an integral part of any fully functional CRM system.

Such multiple personal identifiers may take the form debit/credit cards, retail advantage cards, driving licenses, passports, library cards, college campus identification cards, automatic toll road identification, to name a few. The movement to the adoption of a government-based identification card has especially sparked debate in the USA, although there are a number of successful applications in the military and or enterprises that command certain levels of security.

Unfortunately, along with the many positive aspects of increasing knowledge and technology that can be put to good use, there are a number of individuals who use it for destructive purposes, such as identity theft, invasion of privacy, providing fake identification documents to minors, and promoting illegal immigration for a profit, etc.

The manipulation of unsuspecting members of society, coupled with the power of CRM's impressive information technology capabilities must and can be prevented by allowing technological advancements to be utilized to their full extent in the form of a safer, more secure, National Identification Card Programme (NICP).

Promoting acceptability of NICP

National identity as public service

In general, a NICP will allow the appropriate governmental authorities to appropriately monitor the movements and transactions of every registered citizen. Identification cards are essentially devices that would probably incorporate an individual driver's licenses, social security cards, birth certificates, and bank cards all into one.

Furthermore, many believe that implementing a NICP could deter terrorism and other related societal crimes through proper pre-screening and tracking capabilities of its citizens.

Owing to the important and private information that could possibly be retrieved from these cards, having some sort of biometric security and authentication protocols would probably be linked to the cards.

Biometric-technological concerns

Biometric technology includes the verification of an individual's identity using unique personal characteristics. The different types of biometric identifiers may be placed in two separate groups. These two groups are physical and behavioural technologies. Some examples of biometrics using physical technology are retina or iris scans, face scans, and most commonly finger and/or hand prints. Examples of behavioural biometrics are voice recognition and handwritten signatures, and dynamic signatures or keystroke dynamics.

“With the help of biometrics and related automatic identification and data capture technologies; the actual use of a NICP would be less likely to be manipulated in order to be used for harmful purposes.”

By implementing the most advanced and reliable security measures to the potential NICP, such as read/write microchip with authentication protocols, a convenient and powerful pairing with appropriate biometric technologies may provide a possible solution to the complex problem of providing an identity card that the public will accept and use.

Smart card-related technologies

Smart cards, unlike magnetic stripe cards, can carry all necessary functions and information on the card. Therefore, they do not require access to remote databases at the time of the transaction. Currently, there are at least three separate types of smart cards, which are all evolving and becoming more common in routine transactions. The IC microprocessor card can be used for a variety of applications, especially those that have cryptography built in, which requires manipulation of large numbers.

Another type of smart card is the integrated circuit memory card. This card also has a microchip attached to its surface but can only be used for memory space. This type of chip is most commonly found in cell phones and pre-paid phone cards. The third type of smart card is the optical memory card. This type of card is probably the least advanced when it comes to authentication technology. Data can be written on this card, but once it has been written, it can no longer be changed or be moved. The optical memory card is good for storing long-term memory, such as medical records and background information.

Benefits of a NICP

Breakthroughs in identification technologies should provide civilians with considerably more security in the use of wireless communication, such as teleconferencing, mobile television, and iPods. As time changes, technology changes as well, and the USA cannot afford to be left behind. Such cards would be beneficial to everyone from consumers, to managers and corporations, as well as government agencies, who strive to ensure the protection of its citizenry, medical and emergency personnel, and even local authorities, including police and fire departments.


Identity theft, fraud, and fake IDs are a growing problem in the global economy, and a NICP may provide an avenue to enhance security and privacy of personal information when dealing with transactions. With the help of biometrics and related automatic identification and data capture technologies; the actual use of a NICP would be less likely to be manipulated in order to be used for harmful purposes. Passwords, keys, and cryptograms are commonly compromised, but it is extremely difficult to forge another individual's fingerprint or other biometric information.


Convenience plays a major factor in CRM strategies and must play an important role in a NICP. Imagine, for example, getting hurt in an auto accident and having to be rushed to the hospital. Instead of taking time to be questioned by the paramedics in order to give medical information, paramedics can just swipe the identity card and retrieve the medical history as well as financial payment information. This would save time, confusion, and possibly even save lives by being able to address problems faster and more efficiently.

“Many of the risks and concerns involved with implementing a NICP consist of privacy, tracking, costs and expenses, and the process of replacing the card if it is lost.”

Risks of a NICP

When new technologies and ideas are presented to the consuming public, the benefits may seem obvious and incredibly brilliant to the creators and those who are on board; unfortunately, most people seek out the glitches, problems and risks that would be associated with the innovative technologies presented. Many of the risks and concerns involved with implementing a NICP consist of privacy, tracking, costs and expenses, and the process of replacing the card if it is lost.

Big-brother society

A “big-brother society” concept is a common example of paranoia and primary fear of many US citizens. Many individuals may perceive a NICP as increasing government power and reducing individual rights and freedom. Many US citizens, for example, are frequently concerned with the problems that could branch off from just controlling illegal immigration, such as tracking people, conducting unnecessary background checks on individuals, and also enforcing the affirmative action laws and other governmental regulations.


Another main concern involved with implementing a NICP, is that many citizens are not willing to absorb the additional cost in the form of increased taxes. The expense would be very high to implement such a widespread programme. The technology would be extremely expensive, especially when considering the amount needed for every citizen and any re-issued cards. Also, the readers used to swipe the cards would be very costly, considering they have to be able to register what selective and relevant information is needed to be brought up when swiped.

Lost-prevention strategies

The experience of any typical citizen can testify that losing an individual's license, credit card, keys, and other valuable items that have personal identification and significance, are traumatic and disheartening. The consequence of losing one's card could potentially be a more serious problem, being that it could negatively impact virtually every aspect in a person's daily routine.

There needs to be a fast and efficient way of contacting someone for assistance and/or re-issuing a new card immediately, as well as having some sort of backup method to ensuring confidentially, security, and convenience while ensuring authentication procedures are in proper working order.

Before actually implementing such a programme, these issues all need addressing at the highest level.

September 2008.

This is a shortened version of “Exploring national identification programs among web-enabled professionals”, which originally appeared in Industrial Management & Data Systems, Volume 108 Number 4, 2008.

The author is Alan D. Smith.