This page provides access to resources under the following headings:

National Identification Schemes Generally

Very few common law countries have national identification schemes. Both Australia and the U.K. issued cards during the World Wars, while the threat of invasion, loyalty, and food-rationing, together made their imposition feasible.

A few countries have imposed national identification schemes quite expressly as an instrument of oppression:

A couple of countries with low standards of democracy and civil liberties have recently introduced modern, ‘high-tech’ schemes, notably Malaysia (MyKad) and Singapore.

Many European countries have identification cards and schemes of long standing, but their uses are specific. They have been ‘controlled multi-purpose inhabitant registration schemes’ rather than ‘general-purpose identity schemes’. But recent proposals in Europe have been far broader in scope, and extremist measures are being introduced in some countries, using acts of terrorism as the excuse.

Many other countries have failed in their attempts to get major schemes past variously the Parliament, the courts and the public, including (in alphabetical order) Australia, Hungary, Korea, Japan, The Philippines and Taiwan. In several cases, aspects of the proposed scheme have been held to be unconstitutional.

The following sections provide information on national id schemes in various parts of the world.

General Resources:

Elements of a National Identification Scheme (Roger Clarke, 2006)

A Description of Inhabitant Registration Schemes (Roger Clarke, 1994)

A National ID Card Wouldn’t Make Us Safer (Bruce Schneier, 2004)

Privacy International’s Identity Cards Frequently Asked Questions (PI, 1996)

Information Resource on Identity Cards (Justice, UK, 2004)

Identity Cards Worldwide (Wikipedia entry, 2005)

IDs and the illusion of security (Bruce Schneier, 2004)

‘The Loose Cannon: An overview of campaigns of opposition to National Identity Card proposals’ (Simon Davies, 2004)

‘Would Australia Card II be any better than Australia Card I?’ (Edward Mandla, 2004)

A background paper on ‘Have We Learnt To Love Big Brother?’ (Roger Clarke, 2005)

‘Good reasons to reject ID Cards’ (Alexander Deane, 2005)

ID Cards – the case against (SayNo2ID, 2005)

‘Exploring the Relationship Between National Identity Cards & the Prevention of Terrorism’ (Privacy International, 2004)

The ‘Australia Card’ Proposal, 1985-87

Information about the second attempt to create an Australia Card, commencing in 2005, is elsewhere. This section focusses only on the original 1985-87 campaign, which resoundingly defeated the proposal.

APF(2000) ‘History of the Australia Card Campaign’ (2000)

Caslon Analytics ‘Australia Card and beyond’ (2004, an interesting but incomplete analysis)

Clarke R. (1987) ‘Just Another Piece of Plastic for your Wallet: The ‘Australia Card’ Scheme’ Prometheus 5,1 (June 1987), republished in Computers & Society 18,1 (January 1988), with an Addendum in Computers & Society 18,3 (July 1988), including Elements of the Proposed Australia Card Scheme

Greenleaf G. (1987) ‘The Australia Card: Towards a National Surveillance System’ L. Soc. J. of N.S.W. 25,9 (October 1987)

Greenleaf G. (1988a) ‘No confidence in the Commonwealth Privacy Bill’ Austral. L. J. 62 78-81 (1988)

Greenleaf G. (1988b) ‘Lessons from the Australia Card – deus ex machina?’ Comp. L. & Sec. Rep. 3,6 (1988)

Greenleaf G.W. & Nolan J. (1986) ‘The deceptive history of the Australia Card’ Aust. Qtly 58,4 (Summer 1986) 407-425

Marshall A. (1986) ‘The “Australia Card”: a survey of the privacy problems arising from the proposed introduction of an Australian identity card’ Journal of Law and Information Science 2 (1986) 111

Graham P. (1990) ‘A Case Study of Computers in Public Administration: The Australia Card’ Austral. Comp. J. 22, 2 (1990: 51-58

More References

The U.K. ID Card Proposal, 2004-2006

‘ID cards are of ‘limited value’ (BBC News, 29 January 2006)’ “Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile said he had changed his mind on identity cards, which he had previously backed”

‘ID Cards – LSE declines to issue further costings because of ‘secrecy and contradictions’ (LSE Media Release, 15 January 2006)

SayNo2ID’s ‘Preliminary Briefing Paper for New MPs’ (July 2005)

LSE (2005) ‘The Identity Project: An Assessment of the UK Identity Cards Bill and Its Implications’ Media Release of 27 June 2005, Executive Summary (PDF, 68KB), and Full report (PDF, 2.5MB), pp. 56-68

Index of U.K. Government Documents (SayNo2ID Site)

Index of ID Opposition Documents (SayNo2ID Site)

Campaign Site: SayNo2ID and the Database State

‘History of ID Cards in the United Kingdom’, Privacy International, 1997


European Inhabitant Registration Schemes have historically been limited to a small number of applications. Wikipedia provides a brief description of the scheme in France.

Current proposals in at least The Netherlands, Germany, France (references 1 and 2), Finland and Estonia would extend the uses dramatically, at the same time as imposing biometrics.

In The Netherlands, pandemonium is reported to have followed the 1 Jan 2005 requirement that everyone above the age of 14 has to always carry an official ID (e.g. Ruyssenaars, Sep 2005, EDRI, October 2005).

The U.K. took the opportunity on 11 July 2005, while it held the Presidency of the E.U., to propose that all European Inhabitant Registration Systems should include a card with biometrics, using the ICAO (Customs) model. See:

Here is a brief report on the ID card in Spain (and for those who can read Spanish, its data protection agency).

The U.S.A.

The situation in the U.S.A. is very different.

There are many schemes in which identification plays a part. Some (such as drivers’ licences) are used for many purposes. A very widely used (but very low integrity) identifier is the Social Security Number (SSN). See the resources at EPIC and CPSR.

There is no national identification scheme, and little prospect of one. What there has been is a series of endeavours by the US Administration to tighten up on existing identification schemes. These have been at best only moderately successful. The most recent attempt is the so-called REAL ID Bill, passed in 2005. Its purpose is to combine the 51 State and Territory drivers’ licences into a national identification scheme: “the REAL ID Act of 2005 … [would mandate] federal requirements for driver’s licenses. Critics argue that it would make driver’s licenses into de facto national IDs”. It has met considerable resistance from the States. See the resources at EPIC.

‘National ID cards on the way?’ By Declan McCullagh, 14 February 2005, CNET
“A recent vote in Congress endorsing standardized, electronically readable driver’s licenses has raised fears about whether the proposal would usher in what amounts to a national ID card”

‘Nation’s Governors Warn That New Rules for Driver’s Licenses Will Cause Costs to Skyrocket’ The Conservative Voice, 18 July 2005

REAL ID Bill of 2005 (HR418)

Elsewhere in the World

An identification scheme was introduced in Hong Kong in the 1950s. The excuse was illegal immigration from China, which was an enormous problem. The technology used is currently being substantially upgraded. See Graham Greenleaf’s Resource’s on Hong Kong’s ‘smart’ ID card.

A couple of other countries with low standards of democracy and civil liberties have recently introduced modern, ‘high-tech’ schemes, notably:

The following resources provide information about ID Cards elsewhere in the world:

LSE (2005) ‘The Identity Project: An Assessment of the UK Identity Cards Bill and Its Implications’ Media Release of 27 June 2005, Executive Summary (PDF, 68KB), and Full report (PDF, 2.5MB), pp. 56-68

Justice (2004) ‘Information Resource on Identity Cards

Clarke R. (1994) A Description of Inhabitant Registration Schemes section of ‘Human Identification in Information Systems: Management Challenges and Public Policy Issues’ Information Technology & People 7,4 (December 1994) 6-37

Wikipedia entry on Countries with compulsory identity cards

Wikipedia entry on National identification numbers

Many further sources are available from Privacy International’s National ID Card Home-Page