You are here: Resources > FIDIS Deliverables > Forensic Implications > D5.4: Anonymity in electronic government: a case-study analysis of governments? identity knowledge > 
previous  Identification versus anonymity in e-government
 Bentham on human rights and liberty



With the introduction of e-government, the importance of digital identification assumes ever greater proportions. Whereas in the past the citizen and the public service provider got into contact with each other in the front office, e-government concepts attribute an increasingly crucial role to the back office. ICT is an essential part of this service. Standards like efficiency and effectiveness are introduced. Also, the citizen is more and more seen as a client of public organisations. To resolve the question of the lack of identifiability of the citizen in the backoffice, organisations increasingly gather as much personal information as possible to ensure they are dealing with the right person. This development suggests the assumption that citizens are more and more identified by the government through electronic provision of public services. But is the difficult balancing act between being anonymous and being identified as a citizen in the government-citizen relationship really changing, when compared to the traditional physical world? And if so, to what extent?

This leads us to the following question which we hope to answer in this deliverable:  

Does the citizen become more known by the government when digital identification and authentication technologies are applied in the process of public service provisions? In other words, is the identity knowledge of the government growing through the development of e-government? 

The first two chapters provide a tentative theoretical foundation for the discussion that follows. First, in Chapter 2, a historical-philosophical approach to the question of the relationship between liberty and identifiability is explored in the utilitarian philosophical school which Jeremy Bentham developed. He provided a philosophical backing to a tradition of identification and control. Bentham tries to argue that the increased control that the state got over its citizens by using more and more identification techniques (the tattoo on the wrist!) actually enhanced his personal liberty: early or preventive identification of crimes and criminals would make law enforcement less intrusive and therefore make society more liberal. Second, in order to provide a basis for answering the question of this deliverable, and zooming in on the public-service delivery part of government, in Chapter 3, the sociological concept of identity knowledge is introduced. Identity knowledge refers to the descriptive information that is connectable to an individual. Furthermore, this chapter describes a methodology which allows some form of measuring of the identity knowledge capacity of an organisation. 

The second part of the deliverable presents several case studies, in Chapters 4 to 7. These have been selected to illustrate the broad range of e-government and public services in Europe: different sectors (e.g., environmental planning, border control, health care), from small-scale (tree-felling permit) to large-scale (identity management in general), and across a range of technological mechanisms (password protection, biometrics, identity cards, cryptography), in different countries (Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland). Some cases are more descriptive of current, concrete processes (such as the Dutch cases), while others (such as the Belgian case) focus more on an analysis of more abstract problems in public service provision and how technology could be used to overcome these. The scope of this study does not allow for a systematic, comparative approach; rather, we have used a heuristic combination of cases. Together, they provide a caleidoscopic – fragmented but illuminating – view of anonymity and identification in e-government that needs to be extended in future research. 

Two case studies from the Netherlands use the sociological methodology of Marx and Rule to show how arguments can be drawn from recent Dutch e-government developments to determine whether the citizen becomes more or less anonymous during the process of identification in an e-government setting versus a traditional paper-based setting. Another approach is a description of the transition from paper-based signatures to electronic signatures and the resulting identifiability and digital linkability of (trans-)actions through or via signature certificates, illustrated in the German context. It turns out that privacy enhancing measures are not easily at hand to prevent possible security leaks in the case of unauthorised linkability. In a more extensive discussion of the Belgian identity and data-management building blocks of federal e-government, a contribution is made to the documentation of the idea of what is possible in IDM for e-government. It turns out that a ready and easy answer is not yet available, but that the choice for a single global identifier for all citizens is not without risk. Finally, the use of statistical information in the Swiss health sector is discussed, especially data on treatments of patients at hospitals. If data are collected and stored in their original form by a central governmental agency, privacy problems arise due to the sensitivity of these data that typically carry uniquely identifying content. This chapter shows that identification data need not necessarily be processed even when exploiting new opportunities of electronic data processing to generate statistical data throughout patients’ lifetimes. It is argued that data must be anonymized before being used for statistical procedures either by the agency itself or external entities (like statistical offices, research labs, etc. which are authorized to use these data). 

As the scope of this study does not allow for a systematic, comparative approach, our limited combination of cases does not allow for definitive answers, but the objective of this report is to give a tentative first answer to the research question, which is done in the concluding chapter. It is hoped that subsequent research can refine and adapt this answer. 


Part I. Theoretical backgrounds 

Jeremy Bentham on the need for identification by governments

“Personal liberty would be enhanced by rendering it possible to relax the rigor of criminal proceedings. Such imprisonment as was directed merely to securing the presence of the prisoner during the pendency of process would become rare, when the man was known to be detained, so to speak, by an invisible chain."
(BENTHAM, J., ‘Principles of the Penal Code’, Part IV (Chapter LIV), 259)


In this chapter, an introduction is provided to a philosophical, utilitarian foundation for the concept of identification by governments. Jeremy Bentham has argued that identification by governments actually adds to individuals’ liberty. Even though this may seem a contradictio in terminis, Bentham’s arguments for this view on identification are refreshing and remarkably modern, which make it worthwhile to present his views as a general background for this report.


previous  fidis-wp5.del5.4-anonymity-egov_01.sxw  Bentham on human rights and liberty
2 / 45