The Auto-ID Trajectory - Chapter Four Historical Background: From Manual to Auto-ID


4.    Historical Background: From Manual to Auto-ID


4.1.   Manual Identification

4.1.1.      Identification Techniques Throughout the Ages

Before the introduction of computer technology the various means of external identification[1] were greatly limited. The most commonly used method was relying on one’s memory to identify the distinguishing features and characteristics of other humans, such as their outward appearance or the sound of their voice.[2] However, relying solely on one’s memory had many pitfalls and thus other methods of identification were introduced. These included marks, stamps, brands, cuts or imprints engraved directly onto the skin, which were to be later collectively referred to as tattooing.[3] Historical records date the first tattoo about 2000BC to Ancient Egypt, though there is evidence to suggest that tattooing was introduced by the Egyptians as early as 4000BC (Cohen, T. 1994, p. 25). Tattoos on humans were considered both disapprovingly and in some instances (which were not lacking) quite acceptable (see exhibit 4.1 on the following page). An example of the former is in the Old Testament in the Book of Leviticus 19:28, where God commands Moses: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you”.[4] An example of the latter, is in classical literature where tattooing served to identify the bearer’s rank, status or membership in a group or profession. The historian, Herodotus (c. 484 - c. 425 BC) writes concerning the Thracians, “[t]hey consider branding a mark of high birth, the lack of it a mark of low birth...” (Herodotus 1972, p. 282).[5] The mark was usually visible for others to recognise.

Exhibit 4.1   Different Types of Tattoos


4.1.2.      The Misuse of Manual ID

Branding as a method of identification (especially of minority groups) continued throughout history.[6] Even until 1852, the French penal system would identify thieves by “...a V tattooed on the right shoulder, and galley slaves by the three letters GAL” (Grognard 1994, p. 25). United States convicts and British Army deserters were similarly treated. In recent times however, society has become intolerant of tattooing as a means of enforced segregation where the act is committed without the permission of the bearer, with dubious intent.[7] Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in his planned genocide of the Jewish people during World War II (1939-1945) enforced various methods of identification to separate them from the rest of the population (see exhibit 4.2).[8] On September of 1941, an order was issued that all Jews were to “...wear a Star of David badge” (Kitchen 1995, p. 202).[9] Those who did not comply with such orders were sent to Nazi extermination camps immediately where they were “...branded like animals. A registration number, corresponding to the camp, was stamped on the left forearm. This was preceded with a “D” if the person was Jewish...” (Grognard 1994, p. 21).[10] In the Drowned and the Saved, Primo Levi (1986, p. 118f), an Auschwitz survivor, writes of the mandatory tattooing of individuals that occurred in the concentration camp:

 ...a true and proper code soon began to take shape: men were tattooed on the outside of the arm and women on the inside; the numbers of the Zigeuner, the gypsies, had to be preceded by a Z. The number of a Jew, starting in May 1944... had to be preceded by an A, which shortly after was replaced by a B... After this date, [September 1944] there began to arrive entire families of Poles... all of them were tattooed, including newborn babies.


Exhibit 4.2   The Jewish People Ordered to Wear the Star of David Badge

In this case both the character and the number were used for identification. The character indicated the group the individual was linked to and the number uniquely identified the individual. One can see that the early identification techniques, while primitive in nature, could be hideously misused against minority groups in helpless situations. Plainly, when a technique[11] becomes available it is applied wherever it is required, “without distinction of good or evil”[12] by whomever has the capability and authority (Ellul 1964, pp. 98-100).[13]


4.2.   Advances in Record Keeping

As manual record keeping procedures evolved, identification became an integral part of the data collection process. Widespread branding of people was unacceptable and thus other means had to be developed to allow authorities to keep track of individuals. These means varied drastically throughout the ages but increased in sophistication especially after the Industrial Revolution. When computerisation occurred most of the manual techniques were ported into an electronic environment. This part of the chapter is meant to shed light on some of the incremental innovations that led to the development of automatic identification.


4.2.1.      The Census- Registering the Population

The registering of people dates back to ancient times. “Now go throughout all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and count the people, that I may know the number of the people” (2 Samuel 24:2).[14] And the Romans were particularly advanced in their data collection requirements, wishing not only to count but to gather additional information about their citizens (Scullard 1981, pp. 232f):[15]

A periodic census of Roman citizens was held… every four years, but from 209 BC onwards… every five years…  This was a reflection of the mustering of the army into centuries, and it was these men, grouped in the five classes, that were the chief concern of the censors who had to register them in their tribes and assess their property in order to assign them to the correct classes for purposes of both taxation and military services. The head of each family had to answer questions about the property and age of all its members…

Censors had to rely on manual identification techniques to ensure the accuracy of inventories. This was a very difficult and time-consuming task, especially since “…houses had no numbers, and many streets were nameless. The ancients had not discovered the countless practical advantages of numbers” (Paoli 1990, p. 138). An error made by the censor could impact the life of a citizen since “early inventories were made to control particular individuals- for example, to identify who should be taxed, inducted into military service, or forced to work” (Britannica Encyclopaedia 1983, p. 679). Over time however, newer more advanced techniques were developed which ultimately served to change the purpose of the population census.[16] More automated means of identification and data collection made it possible for census surveys to be extended.[17] Of course, this does not mean that errors in the data collection of personal information are no longer incurred.


4.2.2.      The Notion of a Personal Document File

The overall intent of a census was to determine the aggregate profile of people residing within a defined geographic region so that authorities could address their needs appropriately.[18] However with advances in social welfare, authorities required to know more specific details about their citizens and their individual circumstances. In establishing an official relationship with the citizen, identification and specialised record keeping practices became important from the perspective of the state.[19] A variety of paper-based documentation was instituted; in some cases special seals or ink-based stamps were used to indicate legality. Examples of official documentation included land title deeds, birth certificates and bank account records.[20] These were among the most common proofs of identity but this varied dependent on the state in question and period of history. The importance of the church in the evolution of record-keeping should also be highlighted. In many parts of the world the local church was a thorough documenter of events and very much an integral part of government until about the Middle Ages.[21] The interaction of the church and state led to developments in the centralisation of government and bureaucracy.[22] With the centralisation of power came a need for the centralisation of citizen information which led to the creation of personal files. Churches also provided proofs of identity, such as marriage and baptismal certificates. Some churches even kept records of disputes or wrong-doings and how victims had been recompensed. Given that the size of towns was relatively small compared to today, names could be used to identify individuals.[23] But the Industrial Revolution was set to change things dramatically, especially as mass production drew large groups of people (in most cases from surrounding towns) closer towards employment opportunities in factories.

One of the earliest modern day responses to improved identification techniques and record keeping standards came in 1829. In that year, British Parliament made a decision to enact the reforms of Prime Minister Robert Peel who wanted more emphasis to be placed on printed police records. In this manner relevant data could be stored in a personal document file and linked back to individuals using a unique value. In many ways these records were forerunners to government databases that were linked to ID cards. During this same period, photographic technology was invented but it was not until 1840 that amateur scientist William Henry Fox Talbot developed the negative-positive photographic system which eventually became a useful police identification tool.[24] In the meantime, signatures were about the most unique method of cross-checking someone’s identity between original and duplicate copies.[25] By the late 1870s, a significant breakthrough in identification came about in India. Sir William Herschel (a British ‘Magistrate and Collector’) had made a defendant’s fingerprint part of court records. Ron Benrey also reported that Herschel used fingerprints as manual signatures on wills and deeds.[26] For the first time, a biometric had officially become a means of precise identification. In 1901, police technology had advanced so much that Scotland Yard had introduced the Galton-Henry system of fingerprint classification (Lee & Gaensslen 1994). Till today, fingerprints have been associated with crime for this reason (see exhibit 4.3). The system did not become widespread because the practicality of taking fingerprints of all citizens and cross-matching records for individual transactions was not viable.

Exhibit 4.3 Prisons in New York in 1913 Required Fingerprint Records


4.3.   The Evolution of the Citizen ID Number

Unique citizen identification numbers[27] were adopted by numerous countries around the period of the Great Depression. The majority of these nation-wide numbering schemes have been maintained, relatively unchanged, till today.[28] For the purpose of showing the evolution of the citizen ID number, one of the oldest schemes, the United States social security number (SSN), will be exemplified below.


4.3.1.      Case: The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA)

By the 1920s, countries like Britain, Germany and France were using personal document files[29] to administer specific government assistance schemes for unemployment, worker’s compensation, health, pensions and child endowment (Clark 1943, p. 9). In observing the processes of the European governments, the United States (U.S.) sought even more efficient methods of identification. Thus the Social Security Administration (SSA) was formed, a centrally managed scheme, supported by an official Act in 1935.[30] Setting up the program was a daunting task. The U.S. government was dealing with a large group of people (five million elderly people alone), each personal record attached to several applications (pension, medicare, family allowance etc.), and individuals were geographically dispersed. Since money and benefits were being distributed at a cost to taxpayers, the government was obligated to establish guidelines as to eligibility, proof of identity and citizenship to keep track of funds.      The SSN Gathers Momentum – More than Just a Number

As government policies became more sophisticated, administrators required a mechanism for the unique identification of individuals to improve the efficiency of operations. In 1938 the social security number (SSN) was introduced. The SSN was phased in to reduce the incidence of duplicate records, allow for more accurate updates and ensure that entitlements were received by the bona fide. With the introduction of the SSN came the social security card (see exhibit 4.4). Each card contained the nine digit SSN and the cardholder’s name.[31] The card also acted as a proof of identity. This deterred many people from making fraudulent claims, yet the quality of the paper card was  poor  and  susceptible  to  damage.[32]   By  1943,  President  Roosevelt   had  signed “...Executive Order 9397 (EO9397) which required federal agencies to use the number [SSN] when creating new record-keeping systems” (Hibbert 1996, p. 693). In the early fifties the insurance and banking sector also adopted the SSN and requested it from each individual who wanted to open a bank account and make monetary transactions. By 1961, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was also using the SSN as a taxpayer identification number (TIN).[33] It can be seen that knowledge gained from the improved administration of government services was applied to other sectors, such as finance.[34] Thus the ID number itself, had two important uses when the computer age arrived. First it could be used as a primary key[35] for storing personal information in databases. Second it could be linked with any identification technique for authentication or verification.[36] What should be observed is that even without advanced machinery and automatic identification techniques, the underlying information systems concept had been born.[37]

Exhibit 4.4   The Original Social Security Card      The Computerisation of Records

The proportion of recorded transactions was now reaching new limits in the United States. Written records had served their purpose but could no longer effectively support the collection, storage and processing of data. Government agencies were plagued by such problems as limited physical storage space for paper documentation; slow response times to personal inquiries; inaccurate information stored in personal records; difficulties in making updates to records; duplicate information existing for a single person; and illegal and fraudulent claims for benefits by persons. By 1970 the SSA had set up its headquarters in Baltimore. The basic data stored there included the “ security status of every citizen with a social security registration... and equivalent records on all phases of the Medicare program.”[38] Thus, the emergence of the microprocessor and the development of electronic storage devices enabled the invention of information technologies that could automate the process of identifying living and non-living things (Yoffie et al. 1997, pp. 41-110).[39]      Problems with Some Government Citizen Identifiers

The U.S. social security number ultimately became a multi-purpose identifier though originally it was only meant to be used for social security purposes. As paper records were transferred into a machine-readable format and simple searches performed it became apparent that there were duplicate SSNs.[40] The problem arose because the identifier’s composition was not unique; neither was it randomly or sequentially generated. The nine digit SSN was broken up into three sections: area number assigned to states on a population basis, group number (2 digits), serial number assigned sequentially (4 digits) which was controlled by the first six letters of the person’s surname (New Zealand Computer Society 1972, p. 28). When the regional-based ID numbers were pooled together to form a central population register (CPR) the IDs were found not to be unique.[41] In addition to this, the SSA itself was forced to admit that more than four million people had two or more SSNs (Westin & Baker 1972, pp. 396-400). This immediately posed a problem for both authorities and citizens. The computer system could not handle cases adequately whereby there were more than 999 persons with a surname beginning with the exact same 6 letters living in the same area (as defined by the SSA). While this may sound impossible to achieve some names are very common and a lot of surnames are shorter than 6 characters in length. In other cases the problems that some citizens have endured after their SSN has been stolen, have been well-documented on current affairs programs. The call for some other means of identification, automatic in nature, was heeded and many states more recently have acted to implement state-of-the-art biometric and smart card-based systems to alleviate issues of duplication and crime. The rest of the world have followed the U.S. example,[42] more recently even those countries considered as either lesser developed (LDC) or newly industrialised countries (NIC).[43]


4.4.   The Rise of Automatic Identification Techniques

4.4.1.      The Commercialisation of Identification

New technological innovations originally intended for government often find themselves being applied commercially within a short period of time. The lessons of the SSN and other early identification systems were used to improve processes in banking and retail from the 1970s onwards, as a variety of auto-ID technologies became available to implement. The introduction of the bar code and magnetic-stripe card especially was noticeable because it directly impacted the way people shopped and banked. Consumers now had the ability to withdraw funds without having to visit a bank branch. Shop store owners could use bar codes on products to improve their inventory control and employ fewer workers because of the speed of checking-out customers. These innovations were not only targeted at what one would term mass market but they affected every single person in the community; the bar code was linked to the purchasing of food and other goods, the magnetic-stripe card to money that is required for survival in a modern society. As one scientist wrote in 1965 “...the impact of automation on the individual involve[d] a reconstruction of his values, his outlook and his way of life” (Sackman, pp. 36, 552-560).


4.4.2.      Too Many IDs?

As government and enterprise databases became widespread and increased in sophistication, particularly after the introduction of the desktop computer in 1984, implementing auto-ID solutions became possible for even the smallest of businesses. Auto-ID could be applied to just about any service. The vision of a cashless society gained momentum as more and more transactions were being made electronically and the promise of smart cards was being publicised. But instead of wallets and purses becoming thinner since the need to carry cash was supposedly diminishing, the number of cards and pieces of identification people had to carry increased significantly (see exhibit 4.5 on the following page). Citizens were now carrying multiple devices with multiple IDs: ATM cards, credit cards, private and public health insurance cards, retail loyalty cards, school student cards, library cards, gym cards, licenses to drive automobiles, passports to travel by air and ship, voting cards etc. Dependent on the application and the auto-ID device being used, passwords were also required as an additional security measure. But since passwords such as Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) were never meant to be recorded, expecting consumers to remember more than one PIN was cumbersome. But as Davies pointed out (1996, p. 121f), while “[m]anaging all these numbers is a chore… it’s a state of affairs most of us have learned to accept.” This statement was probably an interim truism until the turn of the 21st century. Today, more than ever, most likely due to major technical breakthroughs, there is an underlying view that computers are supposed to make life less complicated rather than more complicated. The vision is still one where cards (probably multiapplication and multifunctional in nature) will play an important role in identification but whereby other advances such as biometric recognition systems will be an integral part of the solution to ID.

Exhibit 4.5   Multiple ID Papers, Cards, Numbers and Passwords for Individuals      Numbers Everywhere

In his book, Rome: its people, life and customs, Ugo E. Paoli (1990, ch. XIII) emphasises the significance of numbers by describing what it was like in ancient Roman times without street addresses. He contrasts this setting, i.e. the streets without names and the houses without numbers, by referring to how numbers are used profusely today in modern civilisation. It is worth quoting Paoli at length (1990, p. 139).

When we travel, our train has a number, as do the carriages, the compartments, the seats, the ticket-collector, the ticket and the note with which we buy our ticket. When we reach the station we take a taxi which is numbered and driven by a driver similarly numbered; on arrival at our hotel we become a number ourselves. Our profession, age, date of arrival and departure are all reckoned in numbers. When we have booked a room, we become a number, 42 perhaps, and if we are so unfortunate as to forget our number we seem to have forgotten ourselves. If we mistake it, we run the risk of being taken for a thief, or worse. The number is on the disc hanging from the key in our room; it is above the letter rack in the hall; every morning we find it chalked on the soles of our shoes, and we continually see it on the door of our room, and, finally, we find it on the bill. We grow so used to our number that it becomes part of us; if we have a parcel sent to the hotel, we give the number 42; however important we may be, to the porter and the chambermaid we are simply No. 42.

Everything is indeed numbered. Even we ourselves are numbered. And as Paoli (1990, p. 140) continues, this great ease in identifying everything is supposedly “a result of our position as modern civilised men.” These ubiquitous ID numbers (which include addresses) follow us everywhere, and not unexpectedly as Paoli also reckons, have almost become a part of our personalities. On extending this notion Paoli (1990, p. 140) reminds us that even if one finds themselves homeless, without an income, without any hope for the future, they still have their ID number. In a similar light what should be underscored is the increasing requirement today towards obligatory practices to do business with one’s ID number(s). Whether making a transaction over the counter, through the mail, or on the telephone, service providers have become more interested in our customer reference number than our name. One is led to a justifiable conclusion of whether in amongst all these manufactured numbers, we are little by little, losing our natural right to be called by our given name, and hence allowing for the defeat of our identity.


4.5.   Conclusion

Given the importance of history in the SI framework and evolutionary theory, this chapter was required to understand the context in which development in auto-ID has occurred from its very beginnings. Tracing the path from manual identification through to automatic identification some conclusions may be drawn. First, the practice of identification has been sourced to very ancient times. Second, throughout history manual ID of humans was not always a voluntary modus operandi, especially in the enforced tattooing of individuals by some extreme groups. Third, the identification processes and procedures that were developed before automation were replicated after automation and dramatically enhanced because computer technology allowed for more powerful processing of information. Legacy systems however did impact automation. Fourth, the success of auto-ID was dependent on the rise of information technology. In many ways auto-ID was limited by a variety of hardware and software system components. As soon as these became feasible options for service providers, both in affordability and usability, auto-ID flourished. Fifth, the widespread adoption and acceptance of auto-ID by citizens is indicated in that people carry so many different ID devices for so many different applications. Sixth, one could safely forecast that auto-ID will become even more prominent in the future as e-commerce facilitates the individual to make transactions “anywhere, anytime”. What follows are a series of case studies that depict a historical account of the introduction, rise and proliferation of five automatic-ID technologies and ten embedded applications. These cases will assist in understanding the auto-ID innovation process better and in predicting the technological trajectory of auto-ID.



[1] Identification is defined in several ways, dependent on what aspect is being considered; it is “the act of identifying, the state of being identified [or] something that identifies one” (Macquarie Dictionary 1998, p. 1062). The verb identify is linked to the noun identity, such as in the case of the term identity card which can be used to identify someone belonging to a particular group. Founded in Europe the word identity became noticeable in the English-speaking world around 1915, primarily through Freud. See Kanzer (Pollock ed. 1993, pp. 1-20). The preferred definition for identity within the context of this thesis is the “condition, character, or distinguishing features of person or things effective as a means of identification” (Macquarie Dictionary 1998, p. 1062).

[2] See Kikuchi et al. (2001, pp. 2265-2269) for fascinating empirical results on using facial images for user authentication. The short term capacity of a human brain to recognize faces was tested. See also (Pike et al. 2000).

[3] A tattoo is defined as “...permanent marks or designs made on the body by the introduction of pigment through ruptures in the skin...” (Encyclopaedia Britannica IX 1983, p. 841). Tattooing is considered by some to be the human’s first form of expression in written form. “All the nomadic peoples try to distinguish themselves from the rest, to make themselves unique and also to establish a means of recognising their kinsmen in the various clans. In order to achieve this, they resort to the resource which is the most accessible and the most lasting: their skin. This decorated skin defines the boundary against the hostility of the outside world, for it is visible to everyone and it accompanies the individual everywhere” (Grognard 1994, p. 19). See also T. Cohen (1994), Delio (1993), Gell (1993), Jaguer (1990), Sanders (1989), Rubin (1988), C.P. Jones (1987).

[4] For an exhaustive list of references in the Bible on tattooing and marking, see M.G. Michael (1998, ch. XIII).

[5] For a complete guide to tattooing as a form of body art, particularly by people in Africa, Asia and Oceania, see Rubin (1988).

[6] Even as far back as antiquity tattooing was generally held in disrepute, “[t]he ancient Greeks branded their slaves (doulos) with a delta, and the Romans stamped the foreheads of gladiators, convicted criminals sentenced to the arena, for easy identification” (Cohen, T. 1994, p. 32). According to Paoli (1990, p. 140), “…the Romans fastened to the necks of slaves who were liable to run away an iron collar with a disc (bulla) firmly attached to it bearing the owner’s name and address.”

[7] Even until the fall of communism, the former Soviet Union used branding methods on exiled criminals and political prisoners in Siberia, for security purposes. For other examples of penal tattooing see Jones (1987, pp. 148-150).

[8] There is evidence to suggest that punch cards originally intended to help in the tabulation of census data, were used instead to help segregate the Jewish people from the rest of the German and Polish populations (Black 2001, pp. 22, 58).

[9] Of course the wearing of a badge does not immediately imply misuse- it all depends on the context and who it is that has requested this manner of identification and for what purpose. For instance, European migrants in the early 1900s travelling by ship to New York City were given a badge to wear to make identification easier while going through immigration control. The badge was either pinned on clothing or as in the majority of cases tied to a cotton necklace. After undergoing a medical examination certain letters would be recorded on the badge to identify the condition of the immigrant, especially if further screening was required. Those suspected of suffering from mental illness or other health concerns not acceptable to authorities were separated from larger groups and sent back to their homeland. There was simply no other manner in which hundreds of thousands of people could be processed efficiently in such a short period. The badge also alleviated the requirement for the migrant to communicate with officials, especially because the majority did not know English and this would have been a cumbersome process. See New York- A Documentary Film.

[10] See The Nazi Doctors: medical killing and the psychology of genocide (Lifton 1986, p. 165), “I remember when… that thing [the number tattooed on each prisoner’s forearm] was put on…” See also Michael Berenbaum (1993, p. 147) quoted in Dery (1996, p. 311), “[a]nd as they gave me my tattoo number, B-4990, the SS man came to me, and he says to me, “Do you know what this number’s all about?” | I said, “No, sir.” | “Okay, let me tell you now. You are being dehumanised.”

[11] See Westrum (1991, pp. 7f) for an answer to the question, ‘what is technology?’ Westrum states that a technology is a device or a technique or abstract knowledge. See also Kurzweil (1999, pp. 76-77).

[12] There has been much written on whether technology or techniques, possess a “moral neutrality” (Brown 1990, ch. 2). Mumford and Gideon hold the stance that “if a technology fails to alleviate misery, but only compounds it… the blame falls not on the tools, which are themselves neutral” but upon external factors such as historical circumstances (Kuhns 1971, pp. 82-83). Ellul on the other hand, believes that the technique itself has an autonomous mandate, that “…once man has given technique its entry into society, there can be no curbing of its gathering influence, no possible way of forcing it to relinquish its power. Man can only witness and serve as the ironic beneficiary-victim of its power” (Kuhns 1971, p. 94).

[13] In 2000, Meissner (p. A5) reported that police in Canada used dragon tattoos on Chinese migrants to separate them from their enforcers who were trying to smuggle them into Canada. About 600 people from China were discovered on four ships. Superintendent Boyd, commander of the RCMP emergency response team said: “This was by no means a science and I’m sure we made some errors and segregated innocent people. We were kind of winging it… It was just our life experience and dealing with people… There, again, it was a long shot, but we went with tattoos and eye contact. Tattoos with dragons were something we were paying particular attention to...”

[14] See also 1 Chronicles 21:1,7; Esther 6:1.

[15] See also Luke 2:1-3: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caeser Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.”

[16] However, it should be noted, that “[s]trictly speaking, the modern population census began in the 17th century. Before then, inventories of people, taxpayers, or valuables were made; but the methods and purposes were different to modern ones” (Britannica Encyclopaedia 1983, p. 679). See especially Lawton (1978).

[17] For example, in the U.S. Census of 1890, part of the process of classifying and counting the data collected was automated. Herman Hollerith invented a method that allowed census takers to punch holes in predetermined locations to represent various characteristics. The holes were then processed by a machine. As elementary as this may seem, such advances led to subsequent breakthroughs in the field. See especially Austrian (1982).

[18] “Census statistics are used as the basis for estimating the population at the national, state and local government levels, for electoral purposes and the distribution of government funds. They are used by individuals and organisations, in the public and private sectors, for planning, administration, research, and decision making” (Castles 1993, p. 35).

[19] The relationship between an individual and the state is known as citizenship. Nationality places this individual under the protection of the state.

[20] Little is known about banking prior to the 13th century though it was established in ancient times.

[21] For instance, church laws and state laws ran in parallel until the Middle Ages. Church and state had their own law and court systems and there were often issues over jurisdictional rights (Anglim 1999).

[22] See developments in English common law from 1066 to the early 18th century (Caenegem 1988; Encyclopaedia Britannica 1983, p. 998).

[23] Given names and surnames were not always unique. In some instances the name was accompanied by the paternal lineage, or an address location, or by a nickname. However even address locations in ancient times were for the greater part difficult to precisely identify. In ancient Rome for instance, roads were nameless “and were referred to simply by such expressions as ‘The road to…’; a few of the more important had names…” (Paoli 1990, p. 141).

[24] In an age of computers, humans generally take for granted the invention of the still-shot camera and motion camera because the technology is so readily available. But a simple ID badge with a photograph on it really did not become widespread until after the turn of the 20th century. Photographs fastened to cards were excellent manual identifiers before the proliferation of cameras which then enabled fake IDs to be developed by criminals. As soon as this occurred an additional measure was required to ensure positive identification.

[25] This was all dependent on the literacy level of the individual, though unique markings were accepted as substitutes.

[26] For excerpts of Benrey’s fingerprint revolution see (1998).

[27] Unique identifiers in the context of citizen numbers are known by a variety of names. These include: identification number (IN), personal identification number (PIN), uniform personal identification mark (UPIM), national identification number (NIN), universal identification number (UIN), unique identification system (UIS), universal identifiers (UID), unique personal identifier (UPI), single identifying number (SIN), standard universal identifier (SUI), universal multipurpose identifier (UMI), universal personal number (UPN), unique lifetime identifier (ULI).

[28] Some of the national numbering schemes include: the Person Number (PN) system of Norway, the Central Register of Persons (CRP) in Denmark, the German Insurance Number (GIN), the Social Account Number (SAN) of Austria, the Insurance Number (IN) of the old Czechoslovakia, the French Identification Number (FIN), the Insured Persons Number (IPN) of Switzerland and the National Insurance Number (NIN) of the United Kingdom. See also ‘Investigation of a unique identification system’ (NZCS 1972).

[29] Western European countries had established population registers that were updated continually to include the name, residence, age, sex and marital status of an individual. The registers were administered at a municipal or county level initially but towards the mid-1900s they became more centralised. There was an increasing demand for the registers by government for voting, education, welfare, police and the courts (Lunde 1980, p. 1).

[30] The SSA was instituted by President Roosevelt after the impact of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. This act was designed to protect individuals and their families from unemployment, old age, sickness etc (SSA 2003). For a detailed historical development of the U.S. social security programs see (2003).

[31] The card (with the printed number on it) was useful in that cardholders could carry it with them and quote it freely when requested to fill out government forms. It meant that citizens did not have to memorise the number and risk referencing it incorrectly.

[32] Thus the need for cards to be made out of more durable material. Cards made out of cardboard were initially introduced, followed by plastic cards with embossing.

[33] The SSN was also used for something other than it was originally intended for, given its usefulness and widespread applicability. See SSA (2002) for other uses of the SSN.

[34] The government, especially the military, have been responsible for creating many technologies that have later been adopted by the private sector (Office of Technology Assessment 1981). Internet Protocol (IP) for instance, had its origins in the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The first generation network was introduced in 1969 (Stallings & Slyke 1994, p. 430). “In 1989, the U.S. government decided to stop funding ARPANET, and plans were laid for a commercial successor, to be called the “Internet” …the Internet’s first customers were mostly scientists at universities and companies in the computer industry, who used it for exchanging e-mail” (Gates 1995, p. 97). See also Kaku (1998, pp. 45-48), ‘how the Internet and other technologies came about’ where he discusses the Pentagon’s involvement in the research and operation of teleconferencing, virtual reality, GPS satellites and e-mail.

[35] “The PN, as a computer file key, has the characteristics of uniqueness, permanence, realiability, and universality” (Lunde 1980, p. 2).

[36] It was the ID itself that was fundamental to these applications whether in the form of a unique number, character set, symbol or image. The ID device accompanying the ID was more a facilitator.

[37] See also, The Essence of Information Systems Concepts (Edwards 1991).

[38] The SSA had established 725 field offices and citizen transactions were communicated to SSA headquarters via dedicated circuits where it was received on magnetic tape ready for input into the SSA computer (Miller 1970, p. 77). Initially the types of analysis that could be performed on the records was limited (Lipetz 1966). By 1977 however, the government had not only computerised its paper records but had even developed computer matching applications. The Public Law 95-216 “mandated that state welfare agencies use stage wage information in determining eligibility for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (ADFC). Subsequent legislation also required similar wage matching for the Food stamp program” (Kusserow 1984). By the early 1980s it was common for data matching programs to check personal records between social security, other federal agencies and the banking sector. In this manner the government could determine whether a citizen was receiving legitimate funds and contributing to the nations numerous taxes.

[39] Historically, auto-ID systems have been constrained by the capabilities of other technologies they have been dependent upon. Limitations in network infrastructure, central processing unit (CPU) speeds, electronic storage space, microchip miniaturisation, application software and data collection devices are just some of the components that have impacted auto-ID. For example, it has already been noted in this chapter that the first biometric manually recorded for criminal records was the fingerprint as far back as the 1870s. However, it took more than one hundred years to develop a commercial electronic fingerprint recognition system that had the ability to store thousands of fingerprint minutiae and cross-match against a large database of records with a workable response time.

[40] One must note that the SSN was created without the knowledge of how computer technology would revolutionise the government’s processes. By the time computers and networks were introduced into the SSA’s practices, the SSN was a legacy system that maintained numerous well-established problems.

[41] As Hibbert critically points out, “[m]any people assume that Social Security numbers are unique, but the SSA didn’t take sufficient precautions to ensure that it would be so” (Hibbert 1996, pp. 686-696).

[42] The initial person registration system used in Sweden dates back about three hundred years when the process involved the Church of Sweden. Local parishes were considered to be like regional administration offices. But in 1947 each person was assigned a PN that was recorded electronically in 1967 from metal plates to magnetic tape. The Netherlands used the census of 1849 as a starting point for there decentralised PN system. But in 1940 personal cards with unique numbers were issued to the whole population that acted as lifetime identifiers. In Israel a PN was allotted in 1948 via a census after the State of Israel was officially established. A Population Registry Law in 1965 established the basic information that had to be collected when registering. This involved disclosing details about the ethnic group that one belonged to, as well as religious beliefs and past and present nationalities. In 1966, this information was computerised. Iceland used a population register since 1953. When a citizen reached the age of twelve they were given a number that was based on the alphabetical sequence of a person’s name in the total population. In 1964, Norway’s Central Bureau of Statistics was asked to establish a national identification numbering system as the world learnt of the potential of electronic data processing (EDP). In 1968, Denmark followed in Norway’s footsteps by computerising their records as well. France used numbering systems for individuals and organisations since 1941. The system was computerised in 1973 after existing records were put on magnetic tape and adapted to include check digits. Finland introduced their personal identification code (PIC) system in 1964. See Lunde (1980, pp. 5-41). The potential for a globally implemented unique national identifier (UNI) is realistic. This could be tied in with the concept of a follow-me telephone number such as that defined in Universal Personal Telecommunications (UPT). UPT “…will enable each user to participate in a user-defined set of subscribed services and to initiate and receive calls on the basis of a personal, network-transparent UPT Number across multiple networks and any terminals, fixed or mobile, irrespective of geographic location limited only by terminal and network capabilities and restrictions imposed by the network operator” (ITC 1992, p. 7).

[43] Those LDCs and NICs that have had PNs for over twenty years include: Argentina (Documento Nacional de Identidad DNI), Chile (Rol Unico Nacional RUN), Colombia, Peru (Event Identification Number EIN), Uruguay and Jordan. The need for PN systems in LDCs and NICs are considered as greater than those in MDCs. Usually LDCs in particular, have very large populations and huge data management problems. In terms of planning for such things as basic infrastructure (e.g. housing, education, employment, health) the task becomes even more difficult without a PN. For example, the distribution of benefits like food, if not handled properly, could become life-threatening to citizens. Thus the recent introduction of smart cards for food rations in many LDCs. Most cards also store a photograph of an individual as well as a biometric. Many countries in Asia also, are now beginning to introduce auto-ID devices for government administration. Examples include Cambodia, Taiwan and China.