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Conclusion  Identification versus anonymity in e-government
 Identification infrastructures and the need for further research


A minor increase in identity knowledge

A brief roll-call of the case studies provides the following conclusion:  

  1. In the Netherlands, new technologies change the identification process, but this does not necessarily lead to more identity knowledge. One case (tree-felling permits) showed no shift on the anonymity-identifiability continuum, while the other case (Privium border control) shows that individuals are more identified than they are in traditional border passage. The identity knowledge capacity of the royal military police increases, albeit in a relatively minor way. 

  2. In Germany, if a service requires an advanced electronic signature, the certificate shows more data than are often necessary (citizen registration number, date of birth). Pseudonymous certificates are allowed by the law, but half-heartedly, and particularly in governmental procedures, explicitly outlawed for use by citizens. As a result, the identity knowledge of the government grows somewhat through the transition from paper-based to electronic signatures.  

  3. In Belgium, an identity management infrastructure for e-government is being created, with much attention to interoperability and efficient information management. The federal government has decided to use one common global identifier to identify all citizens across several contexts (the National Registry number). Although use of this number is regulated by law and subject to prior authorisation by a committee of the Privacy Commission, it is clear that the government has valued government-centred interoperability and efficiency over user-centred, anonymous or pseudonymous communication with citizens. This creates significant opportunities for increasing the knowledge capacity of the government in future.

  4. In Switzerland, the case study of medical statistical data showed that technology can facilitate non-identifiability in patients’ records in central medical databases, while still allowing the same patient to be followed through different treatments in time or space. Linkability can be effected without identifiability, through cryptography-generated pseudonyms. Some caution is warranted, as the current practice of anonymisation may be extended with a recovery authority who has the power to effect identification if necessary.  


Now, what do the case studies suggest in relation to our research question: does the citizen become more known by the government when digital identification technologies are applied in the process of public service provision? This can be answered in the affirmative, if only moderately so. The case studies by and large point in the same direction: the knowledge capacity of governments grows in the transition from paper-based to electronic communications, although currently only to a minor extent. The identity knowledge increases with some more personal data of citizens, such as birth date or a photograph. There may be some cause for concern in this, since the overcollection as well as the move towards sharing of data is contrary to the data-limitation principle of data-protection law, but we should not exaggerate the threat to privacy that this relatively small increase in knowledge capacity poses. At the same time, we should welcome more – and more systematic – research in this area, in order to see whether our tentative conclusion can be affirmed if a wider range of e-government services across Europe are studied.


Conclusion  fidis-wp5.del5.4-anonymity-egov_01.sxw  Identification infrastructures and the need for further research
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