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Executive Summary


Without any doubt, modern democratic states need to be able to identify their citizens and inhabitants. This is not an easy task in an increasingly polycentric and mobile society. Identification is needed to ensure the citizen’s equality with respect to benefits and grants the state offers, but also because of their duties. In the first context it is important for fraud prevention in social insurance systems, in the second for the equality and equity of taxes.  


To facilitate citizen identification, citizen registers and ID documents were introduced as early as the late medieval times. In the 20th century the need for rationalization of administration  led to the introduction of ID numbers. Since the introduction of electronic data processing in the 1980s, the use of ID numbers seems to have increased.


ID numbers are introduced and used by organisations (a) to name objects, (b) to identify them (use as identifiers) and (c) to address them in the context of operations (business or governmental procedures) and communication. Besides individuals, objects can also be groups of individuals (e.g. project teams), organisations, organisational structures within organisations (e.g. departments) and functions carried out and services offered by organisations (e.g. a help desk and corresponding support). ID numbers are also used as indices for data sets and thus enable the linkability of objects and related data. As a result, data and transactions of members and clients of organisations become potentially transparent, once access to stored data has been made possible. Linked data may be further explored using profiling techniques such as data mining or Knowledge Discovery in Databases (KDD).  


ID numbers have been discussed intensely within constitutional democratic states. The benefits of ID numbers for an efficient administration are largely accepted. This became even more understandable when concepts for e-government were discussed at the beginning in the late 1990s. ID numbers and their linkability also play an important role in the security of national states. Profiling is used extensively to fight crime and terrorism by e.g. mining travellers’ data and money transactions.  


On the other hand, there has also been much discussion concerning the impact of ID numbers and their linkability on the shift between opacity and transparency. As a result, there is a potential shift in the balance of power in favour of the state. All Visegrad countries investigated in Part II of this deliverable experienced totalitarian systems abusing linkability for surveillance purposes, political and religious oppression, discrimination of parts of the population or violation of international law including genocide. Also the right for informational self-determination and privacy have been taken into consideration.  


Taking into account the above-mentioned factors, national political strategies and existing infrastructures four different basic concepts on how to deal with ID numbers can be determined from the studies as reported in the deliverable. They are: 

  1. Introduction of sector spanning ID numbers with a large area of use inside and outside the public sector mainly based on mutual transparency of use (example: The Netherlands) 

  2. Introduction of sector spanning ID numbers with regulations how they may be used (examples: Switzerland, Czech Republic and Slovakia) 

  3. Introduction of sector specific ID numbers and organisational enforcement of borders of sectors (examples: Hungary, France, Germany) 

  4. Introduction of sector specific ID numbers and organisational as well as technical enforcement of borders of sectors (example: Austria) 


In more general terms, these four concepts may be characterised as illustrating a shift in balance of opacity and transparency towards more transparency. Opacity should be understood in this context as measures by which the individual is not easily recognisable e.g. by applying encrypting measures. Transparency naturally makes it easier to identify an individual.  In this context different approaches are discussed.


One approach is to ask citizens to be more transparent by introducing cross context or sector spanning and unique ID numbers while, at the same time, attempts are also made to make the state and its actions more transparent. In the Netherlands, for example, they have introduced the National Trust Function to log the use of the national ID number. In Germany they have introduced the Freedom of Information Acts allowing citizens to access their own data files maintained by the state. Unfortunately, these attempts often do not achieve the objective of creating the desired mutual transparency.  


In addition to limitations for citizens to access secret data, which can be understood and could be alleviated by trust based models, the use of profiling creates additional limitations for transparency. Certain types of profiles are not linked with the data they were derived from, so there are no personal data any more and they may be used to the disadvantage of the citizen in a non-transparent way. Owing to the complexity of the underlying profiling processes, regulatory attempts to increase transparency fall short. Transparency Enhancing Technologies (TETs) have only a limited effectiveness or are still non-existent.  


Another approach is to introduce additional opacity functions and tools. This generally involves developing and implementing different methods to restrict and control the linkability facilitated by ID numbers. 


The authors believe that an appropriate balance of transparency and opacity should be aimed for. This target can be best achieved  by using multiple identifiers in combination with the appropriate organisational or technically enforced rules for linkability such as is the case in Austria.


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