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Identifying Citizens: ID Cards as Surveillance

ISBN: 978-0-7456-4156-0
192 pages
June 2009, Polity
Identifying Citizens: ID Cards as Surveillance  (0745641563) cover image


New ID card systems are proliferating around the world. These may use digitized fingerprints or photos, may be contactless, using a scanner, and above all, may rely on computerized registries of personal information. In this timely new contribution, David Lyon argues that such IDs represent a fresh phase in the long-term attempts of modern states to find stable ways of identifying citizens.

New ID systems are “new” because they are high-tech. But their newness is also seen crucially in the ways that they contribute to new means of governance. The rise of e-Government and global mobility along with the aftermath of 9/11 and fears of identity theft are propelling the trend towards new ID systems. This is further lubricated by high technology companies seeking lucrative procurements, giving stakes in identification practices to agencies additional to nation-states, particularly technical and commercial ones. While the claims made for new IDs focus on security, efficiency and convenience, each proposal is also controversial. Fears of privacy-loss, limits to liberty, government control, and even of totalitarian tendencies are expressed by critics.

This book takes an historical, comparative and sociological look at citizen-identification, and new ID cards in particular. It concludes that their widespread use is both likely and, without some strong safeguards, troublesome, though not necessarily for the reasons most popularly proposed. Arguing that new IDs demand new approaches to identification practices given their potential for undermining trust and contributing to social exclusion, David Lyon provides the clearest overview of this topical area to date.

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Table of Contents


1. Demanding Documents
2. Sorting Systems
3. Card Cartel
4. Stretched Screens
5. Body Badges
6. Cyber-Citizens



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Author Information

David Lyon, Professor of Sociology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario
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"Lyon's view is nuanced and he is conscious of the multiple expressions of citizenship beyond identification. He carefully details the increasingly interoperable databases which sustain identification cards, reiterating throughout that the card itself is only the tip of the iceberg."
Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Lyon brilliantly mixes precise distinctions with experimental inferences to make legible the current status of technology-driven identification systems and their future potential for sorting citizens."
Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, and author of Territory, Authority, Rights

"ID cards are an issue of growing concern in many countries. David Lyon provides fresh perspectives and many new insights into the way these systems work and the consequences they have for individuals and society. The clear, compelling and informative writing makes the book attractive to both specialists and the general reader."
Charles Raab, University of Edinburgh

"With an admirably lucid and clear style David Lyon shows how new technologies of identification govern new divisions of citizens and their others (strangers, outsiders, aliens) by decoding (biometric) and sorting (categorical) bodies. It also brilliantly illustrates how struggles for citizenship must now be also fought through databases (increasingly owned and controlled by 'card cartels') that make such technologies possible."
Engin Isin, Open University

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