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Identity cards are documents that are expected to identify individuals and authenticate their claim to an identity. Variations of identity documents such as driving licences and passports have come to be a ubiquitous part of modern life for many people globally. However, national identity cards remain a contested and widely debated topic in the realms of academia, policymaking and governance. Identity cards may be thought of as a small plastic item with the details of a person, their picture and increasingly a microchip with biometric data, but this view of identity cards is just the tip of the iceberg; the actual assemblage of power and institutional links contained in the accompanying national identity registers are submerged beneath the surface and often beyond the view of the individual who is identified and authenticated in this manner. As a political technology of governance, the identity card mediates between the social and technological realms by mapping entitlement to identity, ‘sorting’ people and legitimating the administrative terms of their relationship to the state (see Lyon, 2009).

Historically, there are cases of identity cards being introduced by governments during wartime as a temporary measure, but it is only in late modernity that there has been a consistent effort on the part of both governments and commercial organisations (especially technology companies) to introduce identity cards during times of peace. For example, during the First World War, basic paper identity cards were introduced in the UK and used for the purposes of conscription (studies find other concurrent rationales, ranging from administrative to financial), and the first national register lasted from 1915 to 1919.

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