National Identity Cards


National identity cards are identification documents issued by various governments and or their departments. Depending on the country national identification cards carry different information, but there is some common information that will be found in almost all identification documents.

This information may include the name of the person, place of birth, nationality, age, family lineage among other necessary information.


American citizens have rejected the introduction of a national identity card system. Different advisory committees and task forces have from time to time rejected the introduction of the national identity card. In addition, many organizations and individuals are against the expansion of the social security number, which was introduced in 1936, in to a fully recognized identity card.

Issues of the type of card to be issued, the functions of the card as well as security measures associated with the card have for a long time been very elusive. In analyzing this paper I will seek to examine the types and functions of identity cards in various countries and their merits and demerits. In addition, I will try to look at some of its possible use within the United States.


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National Identity Cards

Issues of a national card for identification purposes started long time ago after the introduction of the social security number. The social security number was introduced in 1936 and it was introduced with the purposes of acting as an individual account of the social security system for administration purposes.

Over the years, the social security number has been expanded to cover other areas including having the number indicated on driver’s licenses.

Over the last four decades issues of the introduction of a national identification system have become more pertinent especially in the wake of terrorism and organized crime and most importantly in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.


In many countries across the globe national identification cards are widely used. In most parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America identification cards are widely used and most importantly in former British colonies. National identification cards are widely used, and they have for a very long time now been advocated as a tool or means to promote and enhance territorial or national security. They have been effectively used to unmask potential terrorists as well as guarding against illegal immigration.

National identification cards have been effectively used in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Kenya and Nigeria. Currently debate is still going on within the United States on the possible advantages and or demerits of introducing the card system.

In 1971 there was set a task force on the social security number. The task force set up by the

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social security administration, rejected a proposal that had been setup to consider ways of advancing the social security number in to a national identification card.

On the same issue in 1973, there was another rejection of the introduction of a national identity card by the health, education and welfare advisory committee set up on automated personal data systems.

In the year 1976, a federal advisory committee set up on the issue of false identification also rejected the idea of introducing a national identification card system.

The jimmy carter administration in 1977 reiterated the fact that the social security number was not to be substituted for a national identification card.

Ronald Reagan’s administration in 1981 explicitly stated that it was highly opposed to the creation or introduction of a national wide identity card system.

In 1993, the bill Clinton administration decided that there was need to introduce a “healthy security card” but in addition to this, the administration also assured the American public that the card, which was to be issued to every American, would have full protection for privacy and confidentiality. Regardless of this fact the healthy card was never introduced.

In the year 1999, Congress repealed a contentious provision in the ‘Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act’ of 1996. This repeal gave an authorization to include ‘Social Security Numbers’ on driver’s licenses.


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National Identity Cards

In the year 2005 the federal government introduced the real id act of 2005.the real id act is the B division of the federal “emergency supplemental appropriations act for defense, global war on terror, and tsunami relief of 2005. The act creates a de facto national identification card system.

According to the act, the national ID card will be initially voluntary but with time, the card was to be made mandatory. In essence, the card would create two classes of people within the United States. The first class would be of those who have the card while the rest would be those without he cards whom would un-officially be looked upon with extra suspicion.

The real id act of 2005 introduced provisions and appropriations that were to regulate the intelligence reform and terrorism prevention act. The act was intended to deter terrorism through the following ways:

1. The introduction of nationwide standards, for state-issued driving licenses and non-drivers identification cards.

2. Waiving of laws that reject the idea of construction of physical barriers at the borders.

3. Modernizing and tightening laws on application of asylum or exile status and deportation of non-immigrants for terrorist activities.

4. Funding reports and pilot projects related to border security. Among these, there is also the issue of changing visa limits for temporary workers, Australian citizens and nurses.

After the act was signed into law by president bush on 11, May 2005, there was made a new provision on March 2, 2007 that restricted the bill being enforced until December 2007.

When the act comes into effect, the ID card will consist of the following information for federal identification purposes. Firstly, the card will contain the holder’s full legally acceptable name, the holders sex/gender and official birthdates, license or identification number as well as the official signature of the holder. In addition to this, the cards will also contain holders’ photos, and the

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official physical principal address of the holder

The ‘national conference on state legislatures’ estimated that the initial cost for the fist five years will cost the states around eleven billion dollars. On the other side, the department of homeland security estimates that the cost will be in the range of 23 billion dollars within the first ten years.


According to the real ID act, driver’s licenses will be upgraded to a level that they can be used as a federal document for private identification. For those who do not have the driver’s licenses national identity cards will be issued that will be supposed to act as identification documents.

Each of these two documents will have at least a minimum of the basic information I have identified earlier on.

Since the real ID act is a federal legislation all states will have to comply with the terms of the act. This however, does not mean that the states will be restricted from adopting or implementing their own systems of identification. Regardless of this fact there will be penalties imposed on citizens and states for non-compliance with the terms of the Real ID act. Among these penalties will include loss of federal funding, the inability of international travel since the federal government overseas airport and other international travel gateways.


According to the real ID act, the national id should be machine-readable. Under the set draft guidelines, the identification card will include a 2D barcode. This barcode will act as the cards

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machine-readable technology. To ensure protection of sensitive private information then the department of homeland security has suggested that the information be limited depending on the user or if not so then the information should be encrypted.


The real ID card system has its own advantages and disadvantages. Among the advantages is the fact that the process of determining the identity of a person is made easier. In addition, in cases of accidents or other disasters the process of identifying bodies and or victims is made much easier. On top of this if, a person commits a crime it is much easier to track them through their fingerprints to their exact locations of residence.

On the other side of the story, the card system has its shortcomings. Among these, include the fact that electronic cards can easily be tampered with to give confidential information to unauthorized third parties thereby putting the owners of the cards at risk.


Laurie, Ekstrand . Border Security. DIANE,2004.

National Conference of State Legislatures (September 19, 2006). The REAL ID Act: National Impact Analysis (PDF).

Rotenberg, Marc.Real ID, Real Trouble? (PDF). EPIC , 2006.

Real ID: Big Brother Could Cost Big Money (PDF). Citizens against Government Waste (October 17, 2005).

Sobel, Richard. The Degradation of Political Identity under a National Identification System (PDF). Boston University, 2002.

Miller, John & Moore, Stephen. A National ID System: Big Brother’s Solution to Illegal

Immigration                                                                             ,Cato Institute Report, September 7, 1995.

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