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


Identification infrastructures and the need for further research

The minor increase in identity knowledge that can be observed in several cases is only part of the answer, however. What also emerges from the case studies, is that e-government is very much in development, and that identification infrastructures are slowly being built. Many of these centre on identifying numbers, and it seems significant that at least two of the countries studied here – the Netherlands and Belgium – have opted for single global identifying numbers, rather than sector-specific numbers. The same tendency of citizen-identification desire is voiced in the German federal government’s statement that pseudonyms may be used by the public administration but not by the citizen, in order to avoid “abuse of governmental services”.

These identification infrastructures with single identifiers facilitate the merging of data bases, data mining, and profiling, to an extent previously unknown. Currently, these kinds of data processing are not happening on a wide scale in e-government, but often, technological possibilities gradually but surely tend to be exploited, and there is a substantial risk that privacy is gradually being eroded as a result. The tendency of governments to call citizens ‘customers’ and to stress personalisation, and the German prohibition of pseudonymous communication in official government procedures, are signs of the times to come. Perhaps these signs will be contradicted by future developments, but this is at least another important field to research in the coming years.

What should be part of this future research, is to study technological and organisational means to counterbalance the increased identity knowledge of governments. Legislation, including data-protection legislation, will not be a primary tool to keep the knowledge capacity of governments in check, since practice shows that the e-government developments in this context are backed up by legislation. A more useful direction to look for checks and balances is technology itself.  

Several chapters in this report have stressed the potential of privacy-by-design, by fostering the development of (if necessary reversible) anonymisation techniques, of credentials rather than identifiers, and of smart pseudonym systems, for example. The vision outlined in chapter 6 of privacy-friendly identity management in e-government, using the potential of technology not only to increase knowledge capacity of governments but also to enhance privacy of citizens, is worth elaborating.



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