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Definition

national identity card

A national identity card is a portable document, typically a plasticized card with digitally-embedded information, that someone is required or encouraged to carry as a means of confirming their identity. Since the World Trade Center tragedy of September 11, 2001, many countries have discussed issuing national identity cards as a way to distinguish terrorists from the law-abiding population. The government of the U.K. has discussed going in the direction of a national identity card that will use one or more biometric techniques such as iris or fingerprint recognition to confirm the identify of a card holder. The controversial plan would include developing a national database of basic personal information.

Many fear that a national identify card would compromise an individual's right to privacy and lead to the misuse of governmental power. The U.S. and Canada are among countries where a national identify card has been discussed but, so far, not seriously advocated by the government. A number of so-called Third World countries require their citizens to carry some kind of national identity card.

Today, airlines and banks require some sort of identity authentication. Typically, a driver's license, passport, or other card with your name and an embedded photo is sufficient.

This was last updated in April 2010

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