By Carl Watner
From Issue Number 121
The chief principle of a well-regulated police state is this: That each citizen shall be at all times and places … recognized as this or that particular person. No one must remain unknown to the police. This can be attained with certainty only in the following manner: Each one must always carry a pass with him, signed by his immediate government official, in which his person is accurately described. There must be no exception to this rule.
– Johann G. Fichte, THE SCIENCE OF RIGHTS. Originally published 1796. Translated from the German by A. E. Kroeger. London: Trubner and Co., 1889, pp. 378-379 .
We need to create an atmosphere such that each citizen feels that without [his government papers] he will be unable to travel anywhere, that the single document confirming his identity is [his government paperwork]. The first question you must ask a detained citizen is – show me your [government id].
– Genrikh Yagoda, the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs, in a top-secret speech of April 16, 1935 at a conference convened by the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) .
Why introduce the topic of “official identity” in the United States with quotes from a late-18th Century German philosopher and a 20th Century commissar of the Soviet secret police? The short answer is that government identification practices in the United States have been profoundly affected by foreign influences, especially by the development of police identification practices in other countries. The long response, and purpose of this article, is to describe both the chronology and internal logic of “official identity” as that concept developed in the United States.
The predominant way of identifying people in this country, as least until the beginning of the 20th Century, was voluntaryist in nature. Individuals chose to identify themselves in whatever manner chosen by their parents, or themselves in adult life. Family Bibles, church registries, baptismal registries, or simply informal community acknowledgement were some of the methods used to establish names. Individuals could change their names whenever they wished, so long as they had no fraudulent purpose in mind. Local, state, and federal governments were left out of the picture. Home births were common, driver’s licenses were non-existent, passports were usually not required for foreign travel, Social Security numbers were unknown, and numerous states had no laws requiring the issuance of birth certificates. People had no need for government identification because there so few interactions (at least compared to our situation today) with the government. In many instances, they neither paid taxes directly to the government (as in income taxes) or received any direct monetary assistance from the government (as in Social Security benefits), and therefore there were no requirements to prove “who you were” to the authorities.
Why Does the State Need to Know Who We Are?
The need for “official identities” stems from the expanding power and scope of the modern nation-state. Pamela Sankar elaborates on this thesis in her 1992 Ph.D. dissertation “State Power and Record-Keeping: The History of Individualized Surveillance in the United States, 1790-1935.” She points out that the modern nation-state must maintain “direct, continual, and specific contact” between its ruling bureaucracy and its citizenry. “This allows the state to exert forceful and precise control over its population, and “provides a critical source of the modern state’s power.”  However, in order for this to occur, the state must be able to fix the identity of each and every person in its territory. 
The concept of official identity epitomizes governments’ “fundamental purpose, which is to maintain conquest.” How better to exercise control than to assign each human being a permanent, indelible identity: “lasting, unchangeable, and always recognizable, [and] easily proved.”  The function of an “official identity” is to establish documentary evidence and bureaucratic records which enable the government to recognize unique and specific individuals. It is the identity through which the individual must conduct all of his or her affairs with the government, and the identity by which the state monitors, regulates, and directs personal conduct. One’s official identity serves as the basis for the claim to be an American citizen, mother or father to one’s children, automobile driver, discharged solider, recipient of government largess, etc. The threat of various penalties for the refusal to use one’s official identity serves as an example of the carrot and stick approach that government uses towards its citizens. No one can be legally born, work, drive, or leave and re-enter the country without government id, and many quasi-public institutions have adopted government id requirements (try cashing a check or renting a car without an official identity).  No one who lacks an official id may receive money from the government, send their children to government schools, or become a government employee (solider, policeman, clerk, bureaucrat, schoolteacher), or enter into any sort of licensed profession (doctor, lawyer, general contractor, etc.).
Historically, in nearly every nation-state, the idea of government identities was first thought of and used by police, prison, and judicial officials. A judge or warden or policeman wanted to know about the man before them, and the truth about a prisoner’s background. Was the man in the docket a first time offender or a degenerate recidivist deserving harsh treatment? Since arrested suspects and persons charged with crimes were often personally unknown to state officials, such detainees had every incentive to falsify their identities in order to avoid being labeled as repeat offenders. (As they knew, repeat offenders were often treated more harshly and received longer prison sentences, if convicted.) How else, other than relying on an officially-imposed identity, were government officials to know who was the person before them? (This is one of the reasons that some convicts, at different times and different places, have been branded, or even tattooed.) In the United States, during the first third of the Twentieth Century, it was chiefs of police, detectives, prison wardens, and FBI functionaries who spear-headed a long-term campaign to have every person under their jurisdiction receive an “official identity.” The military requirements of World War I, the alien registration undertaken in 1918, the advent of Social Security in 1935, and the increasing trend toward licensing drivers of motor vehicles all contributed to the creation of official identities and government monopolization of the means of identification in the United States.
The first specifically American attempts to catalog and identify criminal offenders occurred in the late 18th Century. Some of the earliest evidences of state-recordkeeping are found at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Jail, whose construction was authorized in 1773, and which became Pennsylvania’s first state penitentiary in 1794. The names of convicted offenders were entered in a prisoner’s log, along with a description of physical characteristics, age, and any special peculiarities. It was not until a century later that the scientific method, known as anthropometry, was applied to criminal record-keeping.
Using Body Measurements to Identify Criminals
Anthropometry is the branch of science that deals with bodily measurements and was developed into a method of identifying criminals by Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914). Bertillon was chief of criminal identification for the Paris police for a number of decades during the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1882 he developed an identification system that relied upon a series of bodily measurements, physical descriptions, and photographs. Anthropometry was based on the fact that the skeletal system of most adults was stabilized and fixed by the age of twenty. Bertillon used the great diversity of bone dimension among adults, and the relative ease with which such diversity could be measured, as the basis for two cross files: one anthropometric and one alphabetic (or phonetic). If a person’s name was known and in the files, his identity could be confirmed by verifying that his bodily measurements were the same as recorded in his anthropometric file; or if a person refused to give his name, his bodily measurements could be taken and located in the anthropometric file and his name determined. Bertillon’s historic contributions to police science rest upon his application of the scientific method to personal identification, as well as to his strenuous efforts to create the first scientific police laboratory.
Promoters of the Bertillon system envisioned a requirement that all adult citizens report to measuring centers for recording their anthropometric dimensions. Bertillon was already familiar with the co-ordinated system of passports, residential registration, and centralized reporting of criminal convictions which had given France one of “the most extensive state-run surveillance system[s], up to that time.  When he and Louis Herbette, Director of Penitentiaries in France, attended the International Penal Congress in Rome, Italy in 1885, they both delivered speeches advocating centralized “state-run, national, identification systems.”  As Sankar describes it:
Herbette related some of the more dramatic incidents where Bertillon’s new method had aided police, but he concluded by redirecting attention to the method’s basic contribution: that police could create a documentary version of individuals that police could use to identify people despite resistance on their part. Herbette pointed out that there was nothing intrinsic to the method which confined its use to criminals. … [H]e exhorted his listeners to consider the method’s “extended aim,” which was,
[to] fix the human personality … to give each human being an identity, a certain individuality, lasting, unchangeable, always recognisable, [and] easily proved … .
Herbette emphasized that this “fixing” could be useful beyond the narrow confines of penitentiaries and police. But to whom, precisely?
Was Herbette concerned that kin recognize one another, that neighbors always know neighbor, that a mother always recognizes her son, … ? No. As the full text of Bertillon and Herbette’s speeches clarified, their concern was neither local nor personal. It was, instead, national and international: that the state should be able to fix the identity of each and every person living within or moving across its territory. Herbette envisioned Bertillon’s method as the center of a universal identification system storing and verifying the identities of criminals and law-abiding citizens alike. 
Both Bertillon and Herbette realized that anthropometric measurements can verify someone’s identity if they are already in the files, but to be absolutely effective such a system must include everyone in a given population area. The internal logic of their, and any other identification system demands that more and more people be included, thus making the identification system more and more effective. Only “a universal system” allows government authorities “to discover,” not just verify, identities.” 
Anthropometry in the United States
The history of criminal and civilian identification practices in the United States demonstrates how this principle was applied by various groups of police and judicial bureaucrats. Although neither the United States Congress or state legislatures have ever mandated such a universally-inclusive system, various federal and state laws have gradually extended separate identification “requirements to so many sub-groups within the nation’s population that, over time,” it has resulted in “a de facto national identification system.”  Whereas state and local officials were at first interested in labeling and knowing the names and identities of criminals and criminal suspects, they now demand – as a matter of right – that every person within their jurisdictions carry and be able to produce a state-issued identity document. Failure to do so is often considered a crime.
The first prison official in the United States to adopt the Bertillon system was R. W. McClaughry, in 1887, at the Joliet State Prison in Illinois. McClaughry had been exposed to the French system of criminal identification by E. C. Wines, corresponding secretary of the National Prison Association. In the same year he adopted bertillonage at Joliet, McClaughry was also instrumental in founding the Warden’s Association for the Registration of Criminals. Soon thereafter, the Warden’s Association approved the establishment of a criminal identification system based on monthly submissions of photographs and written descriptions of the physical appearances of newly arrived prisoners at their respective institutions. “In so doing, they established the first centralized identification system in the U.S. which, while not fully national at its inception, was national in intent.” McClaughry was an avid advocate of anthropometry, and edited the 1896 translation of Bertillon’s book, Signaletic Instructions Including the Theory and Practice of Anthropometrical Identification. McClaughry was not satisfied with identifying just criminals. He wanted everyone identified. In the “Publisher’s Preface” to Bertillon’s book, McClaughry wrote:
According to the theory of the system, and in order for society to reap its full benefit, every human being should be partially signalized [measured anthropometrically] … at the age of ten years, and completely so at the age of maturity; and every country should have a national signaletic office where all the signalments of its inhabitants should be filed. The process of signalments would take the place of passports at every national frontier, and signalments would appear on all life insurance polices, permits and other papers whose value depends upon the establishment of personal identity. It would then be possible to find any person at once whenever desired, whether for his own good or that of society at large, in whatever place he might be and however he might alter his appearance or his name. Crime could thus be rooted out, elections purified, immigration laws effectively enforced, innumerable misunderstandings and much injustice prevented and all business relations greatly facilitated. 
After McClaughry’s introduction of anthropometry in the United States, other police organizations were formed and soon embraced Bertillon’s system. The National Chiefs of Police was born in 1893, after a meeting of police executives in Chicago. In 1902, this group decided to change its name to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and one of its first actions was to establish a central clearinghouse for criminal identification records. In 1897, the National Chiefs of Police Union, headed by Phil Deitsch of Cincinnati, was founded, and it, too, began its own National Police Bureau of Identification. The U. S. Department of Justice created its own Bureau of Criminal Identification in 1905. “By 1896, the Bertillon system had been adopted by 20 prisons and seven police departments in the United States alone.”  Use of the anthropometric system of identification by police agencies in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Russia, British India, and many of the South American republics resulted in the resolution of numerous criminal cases. 
Although some sharing of Bertillon records took place among police identification bureaus, there was essentially little cooperation (domestically or internationally) between them until fingerprint identification superceded Bertillon’s anthropometric system. Fingerprinting has an ancient history, but it did not attract Bertillon’s attention as a scientific method because there was no precise way of cataloging and filing all the diversities of different fingerprints until nearly 1900. Modern fingerprinting can be traced back to four Englishmen: Dr. Henry Faulds (1843-1930), Sir William James Herschel (1833-1917), Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), Sir Edward Richard Henry (1850-1931); and one Argentinean (born in Austria): Juan Vucetich (1858-1925).  Galton was the first to direct his attention to setting up a classification system for fingerprints, and where he failed, Sir Edward Henry was successful. Henry made the breakthrough which made possible the cataloging of millions of fingerprints and the “almost instant location of any one record for comparison.”  Henry’s system was first introduced in Bengal, and then throughout India in 1897. By 1901, Scotland Yard had rejected Bertillonage in favor of fingerprint files. “Within the decade, Henry’s system of fingerprint identification had been extended to most countries in Europe and to the United States.” 
The Advent of Dactylscopy or Fingerprinting
Anthropometry was discarded, not because it failed to accomplish what it promised, but because fingerprinting was “easier to implement, required less training and expertise in making and accessing criminal records,” and was generally a far less expensive and simpler method.  The new “science of dactyloscopy” (from the Greek and Latin roots for `finger’) was first introduced into the United States when the New York Civil Service Commission began fingerprinting candidates taking civil service examinations in 1902. Shortly thereafter, the movement toward fingerprinting gained momentum: in 1904 the U.S. military began collecting fingerprints of enlistees; in 1905 the New York City Police Department established its own identification bureau charged with collecting fingerprints; in 1908 the Department of Interior Office of Indian Affairs instituted thumbprinting of native Americans to help deter fraud in their financial transactions; and by 1911, the first criminal conviction based solely on fingerprint evidence took place in the United States. Despite a watertight alibi, Caesar Cella was found guilty in a New York City court based on the presence of his fingerprints, which were the only evidence connecting him with the crime.
The advent of World War I familiarized millions of Americans with fingerprinting as a system of government id. Every one of the millions of Americans entering the military was fingerprinted. Hundreds of thousands of alien enemies were also subjected to government registration in 1918. Such persons were required to “execute in triplicate a registration affidavit … including fingerprint identifications.” Failure to carry their registration card on their persons was punishable by a fine of up to $ 2000 and imprisonment for up to five years . The German-American alien registration was administered by the federal government’s Bureau of Investigation of the Department of Justice. It was here that J. Edgar Hoover became a law clerk on July 26, 1917, and a few months later was assigned to John Lord O’Brian, newly named assistant to the Attorney General for war work. “Hoover’s job was the registering of more than one million enemy aliens” and it was here he observed the powerful potential of all-inclusive government fingerprinting. 
The year 1924 was a pivotal year for the Bureau of Investigation. On May 10th, J. Edgar Hoover was appointed as Acting Director of the Bureau. In July, Congress adopted a law that created the Identification Division of the Bureau. The fingerprint records of the National Bureau of Identification (established by the International Association of Chiefs of Police) and the federal fingerprint files at the Leavenworth Penitentiary Bureau were consolidated into one national repository located in Washington D.C. housing about 800,000 records. Hoover ultimately embarked on a propaganda campaign to expand the fingerprint files of the Bureau (which officially became the FBI or Federal Bureau of Investigation on July 1, 1935). Ultimately, the FBI came to house “the world’s largest collection of fingerprints.”  Nevertheless, Americans were never convinced to accept universal fingerprinting. However, a 1956 statistic demonstrates how far fingerprinting encompassed the civilian population. “Of the total of 141,231,713 fingerprint sheets on file with the FBI, no less than 112,096,777 were not those of criminals, but of respectable permanent or temporary residents of the United States who never had any brushes with the law.” 
Panoptic Surveillance or Free Market Identification?
As one historian of criminal identification has noted, the story of fingerprinting after the mid-1920s is the record of taking “criminal identification systems to the next level of panoptic surveillance, to allow law enforcement authorities to follow criminals across greater expanses of time and space, and to draw more tightly the web of state-sponsored surveillance.”  In 1925, New York City Police Chief Richard Enright called for the mandatory fingerprinting of all New York City residents. In 1929, the federal government began fingerprinting all civil servants. In 1931, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the police could fingerprint all suspects (in advance of their trial and conviction) without any specific statutory authority. In 1932, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby gave credibility to the claims of government officials wanting to fingerprint all children. In 1936, the City of Berkeley, California inaugurated a voluntary city-wide fingerprint campaign of residents. In 1937 the FBI received the prints of the members of the Civilian Conservation Corps; in 1939 prints of all aliens, as well as workers of the Works Progress Administration were turned over to the FBI. During the mid-1930s, the armed forces began turning over fingerprints of enlistees to the FBI. As the American Civil Liberties Union asserted in 1938, “[F]ar from being an innocent means of identification, the fingerprint drive is an early – and effective – move in the direction of a general regimentation of the population.”  “By incorporating millions of prints collected typically as a condition of employment, the FBI dramatically improved its ability to identify criminal suspects by increasing the number of prints against which it could compare new, unidentified prints. In so doing, it altered the function of these prints from fulfilling a one-time work-eligibility requirement into providing an enduring identity record with which officials could monitor the” geographic movement, economic activities, and social and political deviance of many people residing in the United States. 
To Hoover and other government officials, the national fingerprint system he developed “represents an impressive resource for state surveillance” and power. “Through this system the state has extended its eyes and ears over a vast territorial expanse and provided itself with a depth of memory unmatched by recollections of individual bureaucrats.” Fingerprint records, birth certificates, social security numbers, all these elements of official identity “constitute a critical element of the state’s power base.”  With the successful fingerprinting of aliens during World War I, fingerprinting “took on a new connotation of conformity,” which belied its earlier connections to the criminal population. Government programs to collect the fingerprints of military enlistees, government employees, and immigrants “established the expectation that all people – not just criminals – should be fingerprinted and assigned official identities that would permanently inscribe them in a centralized, national record-keeping system.” 
Would there be any basis for demands for universal fingerprinting, societal-wide id cards, or a computerized id database in a voluntaryist society? Probably not. Apart from the politically-induced urge to conquer and control that exists in a statist society, there is another main reason for the creation of official identities in such a society. This stems from the historical fact that governments and not voluntary, private enterprises have been responsible for providing protection from criminals and for building and maintaining the roadways. While there is a legitimate need for both these services, there is no necessary reason that they be provided by coercive government. The point is that whoever is responsible for the provision of roads and defense from criminals is responsible for constructing a system to identify wrongdoers. If private organizations were responsible for these services, it would be up to them to develop some sort of viable identification system; if it is the State that is responsible, then it is the State that must employ such systems. However, it should be readily apparent that the means available to the State differ from those available to private organizations. The State outlaws all competition, collects its revenues under threat of confiscation, and is able to coercively monopolize identification services.
Undoubtedly there would be a myriad of ways that people would be identified in a free society. The “bad apples”, or wrongdoers, would not necessarily spoil the barrel for the innocents, as happens in a statist society. Public sentiment against civilian fingerprinting was right, for it rested on the common law presumption that a person was innocent until proven guilty. Competitive businesses that exist by satisfying the customer would find ways to isolate the “bad apples,” without arousing the ill-will of its lawful patrons. Just as there is no single, universal and mandatory credit card (as there would be if government were responsible for issuing credit cards), there would be no single, universal id requirement. Entrants to Disney World would be identified one way; entrants to Busch Gardens probably another; entrants to the Super Bowl another. We have no way of knowing what alternatives to official State id might be generated on the competitive market. All we can say is that the State entered the identification business because most people mistakenly accepted the assumption that
the State should operate the roads, the police, and prisons. So while the question “Your papers, please” might arise in a voluntaryist society, it would more likely be in the form “Your landowner’s contract, pass, or ticket, please” to validate one’s right to be present upon a given piece of property or to demonstrate one’s right to be using a privately owned roadway. It would not be a demand from the police that would land you in jail if you did not comply. 
 Pamela, Sankar, “State Power and Record-Keeping: The History of Individualized Surveillance in the United States, 1790-1935,” Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1992. Call No. P 002 1992 S 227, pp. 4-5.
 Imagine what would happen if the IRS had an up-to-date list of every person in the country. It could immediately establish from its taxpayer database, who was not filing and paying taxes. It could then investigate the non-payers in an effort to increase government revenues.
 Unable to verify location of this quote from my notes, but may possibly be in Patrick V. Murphy, “John Edgar Hoover,” in John Philip Stead, ed., PIONEERS IN POLICING, Montclair: Patterson Smith, 1977.
 An interesting exchange is found the Appendix to Opinion of the Court in Brown v. Texas (443 U.S. 47 ). Brown refused to identify himself and was “arrested for violation of a Texas statute which” made “it a criminal act for a person to refuse to give his name and address to” a police officer:
THE COURT: … I’m asking you why should the State put you in jail because you don’t want to say anything.
MR. PATTON [Prosecutor]: Well, I think there’s certain interests that have to be viewed.
THE COURT: Okay, I’d like to tell me what those are.
MR. PATTON: Well, the Governmental interest to maintain the safety and security of the society and the citizens to live in the society … outweigh the interests of an individual for a certain amount of intrusion upon his personal liberty. I think these Governmental interests outweigh the individual’s interest in [443 U.S. 47, 54] this respect, as far as simply asking an individual for his name and address under the proper circumstances.
THE COURT: But why should it be a crime to not answer?
MR. PATTON: Again, I can only contend that if an answer is not given, it tends to disrupt.
THE COURT: What does it disrupt?
MR. PATTON: I think it tends to disrupt the goal of this society to maintain security over its citizens to make sure they are secure in their gains and their homes.
THE COURT: How does that secure anybody by forcing them … to giv[e] their name and address … ?
MR. PATTON: … [I]t’s presumed that perhaps this individual is up to something [illegal] … .
THE COURT: … I’m not asking whether the officer shouldn’t ask questions. I’m sure they should ask everything they could possibly find out. What I’m asking is what’s the State’s interest in putting a man in jail because he doesn’t want to answer something. I realize lots of times an officer will give a defendant a Miranda warning which means a defendant doesn’t have to make a statement. Lots of defendants go ahead and confess, which is fine if they want to do that. But if they don’t confess, you can’t put them in jail, can you, for refusing to confess to a crime?
Would there be demands for universal fingerprinting, id cards, or id databases in a voluntaryist society? Probably not. The main reason for their existence is the political urge to conquer and control. It could be argued that governments have used their roles in regulating health care, providing police, protective services, and the roadways as a way of “requiring” that all their citizens be identified. By licensing the doctors and midwives who provide birth and death care, by effectively monopolizing provision of roads, and by being the primary provider of prisons, governments leave practically no alternatives to escape from their identification processes. However, it is reasonable that whoever operates medical, protection, and/or transportation services must have some system for identifying valid users, violators, and wrongdoers. If private organizations were responsible for these services, it would be up to them to develop viable identification systems – but such systems would be subject to competition from other providers and suppliers. There would be no drive to have universal identification, or to make it compulsory that everyone have a government number. Only a coercive government – that outlaws all competition and survives by taxation – could demand that everyone have an official state identity.
Undoubtedly there would be a myriad of ways that people would be identified in a free society. The “bad apples,” or wrongdoers, would not necessarily spoil the barrel for the innocents, as happens in a statist society. Public sentiment against civilian fingerprinting was right, for it rested on the common law presumption that a person was innocent until proven guilty. Competitive businesses that exist by satisfying customers would find ways to isolate the “bad apples,” without arousing the ill-will of their lawful patrons. Just as there is no single, universal, mandatory credit card (as there would be if government were responsible for issuing credit cards), there would be no single, universal id requirement. Entrants to Disney World would be identified one way; entrants to Busch Gardens probably another; entrants to the Super Bowl another. We have no way of knowing what alternatives to official State id might be generated on the competitive market. All we can say is that the State entered the identification business because most people mistakenly accepted the assumption that the State should operate the roads, the police, and prisons. So while the demand “Your papers, please” might arise in a voluntaryist society, it would more likely be in the form “Your landowner’s contract, pass, or ticket, please” to validate one’s right to be present upon a given piece of property or to demonstrate one’s right to be using a privately-owned roadway. It would not be a demand from the police that would land you in jail if you did not comply.