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ID-numbers: Symbols of Bureaucracy  Title:
 ID-Number Policies and Profiling Practices


Summary of the sociological approaches


Martin Meints (ICPP) 


Based upon two different theories, social systems theories and a theory on the role of bureaucracy in national states, the functions of ID numbers have been investigated.  


Social systems theories take a general perspective on society, allowing the analysis of the function of ID numbers in private and public organisations. 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. In addition to individuals, objects in this context also can be groups of individuals (e.g. project teams), organisations themselves, 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 aim at identifying objects uniquely in the context of operations run by an organisation. In many cases ID numbers are introduced and used by governmental institutions. Because of their uniqueness they allow linking up database entries, transactions or partial operations across data sources or borders of institutions. Linkability enabled by the use of ID numbers may lead to information asymmetry and thus reduce the autonomy of individuals resulting in a shift in power in favour of organisations. In the context of States in many cases it is difficult to decide whether citizens overall take benefit from this development or not. The reason is that citizens typically take over two roles with respect to the State. On one hand they are members and thus take benefit from a strong state able to protect them, on the other hand as clients of the state they suffer from reduced autonomy.  


The second social analysis focuses on the role of ID numbers in national states. Bureaucracy can be understood as the result of rationalization of governmental procedures. A necessary prerequisite for this rationalization is unique identification of citizens. ID numbers, by themselves in most cases meaningless, are used as symbols for an individual. This use automatically implies that not the ID numbers themselves are relevant, but the information, organised in files, and linked to them is. Their main purpose is creating linkability among these files. From the perspective of the citizens ID-numbers don’t create a notion of unity as citizens of a nation, but they create a notion of alienation and privacy loss instead. So, ID-numbers are not only symbols in the bureaucracy, but also symbols of bureaucracy. 



ID-numbers: Symbols of Bureaucracy  fidis-wp13-del13_3_number_policies_final.sxw  ID-Number Policies and Profiling Practices
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