Publication Details

This paper was originally published as: Michael, K & Michael, MG, The proliferation of identification techniques for citizens throughout the ages, in K. Michael and M.G. Michael (eds), The Social Implications of Information Security Measures on Citizens and Business, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia, 2006, 7-26.


Manual identification techniques date back to ancient times, however the need to identify individuals has heightened particularly since the Industrial Revolution. This paper traces the use of identification techniques throughout the ages and focuses on the growing importance of citizen identification (ID) by governments. The paper uses a historical approach beginning with manual techniques such as tattoos, through to more recent automatic identification (auto-ID) techniques such as smart cards and biometrics. Data was collected primarily through qualitative document analysis, and the paper contains thick description typical of a narrative. The findings indicate that identification techniques born for one purpose have gradually found their way into alternate applications, and in some instances have been misused altogether. There is also strong evidence to suggest that governments are moving away from localized identification schemes to more global systems based on universal lifetime identifiers (ULI).