In bringing more and more public services out of paper based and face to face environments and into the digital domain of e-Government [broadly defined], responsible agencies must find new ways of becoming entirely satisfied with the identity of the person to whom they are delivering the service. Equally, it is clear from a citizen point of view that online and other forms of digital transaction with government may be conducted in ways that affect the nature of democratic citizenship through new access arrangements to services or the building of information profiles on citizens, for example. There has been little knowledge available about what is happening to the construction and management of citizen identity within, and as a result of, these emerging digitised public service relationships.
This research has sought to enlarge understanding of citizen identity in these digital environments. The research focused upon technologies being used to collect personal data for identity management purposes as citizens accessed services. Examples of these technologies include the Internet. As government makes it possible for citizens to undertake more on-line transactions, so the Internet increasingly becomes a channel through which varying personal data are yielded by the citizen and then managed by Government. These data are both overtly collected as well as collected in less evident ways. Overtly, online web-based transactions require specific personal identifiers to be yielded by the citizen. Equally, and practised in commercial settings, transacting on the Internet allows other data to be recorded on the citizen that is less evident, for example data on behaviour, such as logging which web pages are visited by the individual and how frequently, as well as online shopping behaviour. Whilst this form of hidden data collection is not evident from our case studies in Government what is hidden in citizen’s online transactions with Government is how their personal information flows during the identification and authentication processes. In particular it is not clear to the citizen which organisation(s) are actually involved in these processes of digital identification. For instance, a citizen applying for a provisional drivers’ licence online usually will not be aware of third party involvement of a private data management company in assessing the individual’s suitability for online access to this public service.
It is against this background that this research gathered empirical data on a variety of digital means for constructing and managing the citizen’s identity in e-Government service relationships. The project explored varying relationships between the citizen and government in different policy fields, where different citizen roles are evident and where a variety of organisations are collaborating in public service provision. The project contained the following eight case studies: a smart card application in local government service provision; a call centre application for health services at the national level; a digital radio application for regional emergency service provision; an electronic monitoring application for criminals on probation; an internet based central government interactive service; internet based educational e-portfolios, a local government e-benefits service, and police use of Automatic Number Plate Reading technology.
In keeping with one of our research objectives, the research included two Focus Groups, one with representatives from user-oriented organisations and one from policy focused organisations. These Focus Groups enabled discussion of preliminary research findings, acting as a stimulus to cross-governmental policy learning. Additional knowledge supporting this work was gained from a further activity. An international research workshop with practitioners and academics from the USA, Canada and the UK, explored practical and policy developments relating to the introduction of new forms of identification and identity management in e-Government service relationships with the citizen in the USA, Canada and the UK.
This research took place during a period when public policy makers were increasingly concerned to arrive at common standards so as to make it easier for citizens to access their public services in online settings and to make it easier too for public administration to manage transactions with citizens more efficiently and effectively, including combating fraud. The project therefore sought empirical evidence on the managerial, governmental and societal implications of these digital means of identity construction, so to provide governments and citizens with deeper understanding of issues surrounding identity management in e-Government, including through its clarification of concepts such as ‘identity’, ‘identification’ and ‘identity management’. With its core focus upon the ways in which information is flowing across the relationship between government and citizen, this research explored changes occurring to these flows of information as well as the implications of these changes for the authority of government and the nature of citizenship.
The research outcomes point to fundamental changes happening in citizen-government relationships as a result of the application and use of digital identity management means in public service provision. Empirical observations for instance include a moving away from equal treatment and public service arrangements available to all citizens and towards tailor-made, individual service arrangements leading to new categorizations of citizens; the construction of risk and trust profiles for individuals desiring access to public services; influencing ‘good’ behaviour of citizens through loyalty card schemes offered by government; and new ways and forms of administrative assessment which, in some cases, lead to decreased human prejudice in public decision making and to more and more equitable public service. Interestingly, and in contrast to present public policy ambitions, the changes we have observed are differentiated between public service providers rather than being the same across government as a whole. This differentiation can be explained by the fragmentation of available identity management systems across government. Moreover, although new ‘types’ of personal information are increasingly available in citizen-government relationships, such as IP-numbers, caller IDs, email addresses, motor car number plates, information sharing between government agencies or the construction of information profiles on citizens is occurring patchily for the most part at operational levels rather than strategically and appears to be based upon traditional service values and administrative assessments.
This work was supported by the ESRC’s ‘e-Society’ research programme, grant number RES-341-25-0028.