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Bibliography  Identification versus anonymity in e-government
 A minor increase in identity knowledge



Context, research question, and approach

Government needs information to govern. Particularly in direct relations with citizens, they need information from citizens in order to do their job, for example, decide upon a request, grant a permit, tell them to remove their illegally built shed, allow them to pass customs, etcetera. In many of these situations, governments want to know exactly which citizen they are dealing with, and hence, they require identification.  

This is in certain cases, perhaps even fairly often, not strictly necessary, but understandable. As is illustrated by Jeremy Bentham’s theories of social control and identification, identification of citizens is a mode of control that may benefit society at large. But for the obstacle of ‘the state of public opinion nowadays’, Bentham would suggest every citizen to have his name tattooed on his wrist, as an extreme measure for crime prevention and control. 

Whereas Bentham’s discourse largely focuses on criminal law and law and order, and hence the citizen is largely viewed in the context of crime and control, government today increasingly is also viewing citizens as ‘customers’ in the context of service provision. Public organisations are developing personalised ways of interacting with citizens, for example, for efficiency and convenience reasons. This interaction is also a driver of demands for identification and personal information. Technology is a prime facilitator of this process, as it allows speedy and massive personalised data exchange. The transition from a paper-based and brick-and-mortar economy to the information society goes hand in hand with increasing possibilities, in an ever wider variety and depth, of government-citizen interaction.  

All this leads to the assumption that citizens are nowadays more and more identified by the government through electronic provision of public services. It is this assumption that is being tested in this deliverable:  

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

‘Identity knowledge’ is the collection of descriptive information that is connectable to an individual; it is a bipolar continuum with identifiability at one end and anonymity at the other. In our view, it is more interesting to consider identifiability-anonymity as a continuum than as an either/or issue. The five concentric circles of identity information that Marx has distinguished, of core, unique, sensitive, private, and individual information, can be used to assess the degree to which someone’s identity is known. The identity knowledge capacity of an organisation (i.e., the amount of data, the centralisation of those data, the speed of information flows, and the number of points of contact between organisation and subject) is another concept that can be used when answering our question whether e-government leads to increasing identification of citizens.

In this report, we have tried to give a first, tentative answer to this question by analysing various case studies. The case studies 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 did not allow for a systematic, comparative approach; rather, we have used a heuristic combination of cases. This does not allow for definitive answers, but as mentioned, the objective of this report is to give a tentative first answer, which subsequent research can refine and adapt.  


Bibliography  fidis-wp5.del5.4-anonymity-egov_01.sxw  A minor increase in identity knowledge
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