The things we take for granted often look very different from the perspective of other countries. In Peru, it’s being proudly reported that the nation has at last provided identity documents to everyone – a smart card that covers people for grants and benefits as well as ID. Civil war had displaced 600,000 people, and three million had no documentation. Now everyone does. It’s being represented as a major step towards social inclusion. “IDs open doors to opportunities.”
In the UK, ID cards were abolished post-war after people refused to cooperate with the system, and their reintroduction has been fiercely resisted. It’s seen as the action of a domineering state and “Big Brother”. In India, the Aadhaar card has been used to impose controls on issues including tax evasion and terrorism, and it is being challenged as an invasion of privacy.
It’s clear that the problems of being without documentation are a major blight on the lives of many people, most obviously in the USA and more recently in the treatment of Caribbean immigrants in the UK. But processes which include some people can exclude others, and there are concerns from India about people who have been left out. The lesson for public administration ought to be that no system is perfect, and the test of a good system is how it deals with mistakes, omissions and exclusions. This is not so much about a sophisticated technology as about how services relate to ordinary people.