This page considers missing people, ubiquitous identification
and other perspectives on identity.
It covers -
supplements the discussion of anonymity,
privacy and surveillance
elsewhere on this site.
Preceding pages of this profile have considered appropriation
of someone else's identity, construction of a wholly fictitious
identity of 'editing' of an identity to remove an inconvenient
criminal conviction or add a desirable degree or two.
Perspectives on principle and practice are provided by
questions such as -
people need to have an identity and has one form of
'identity crime' in totalitarian regimes simply been
resistance to categorisation or disregard of expectations
that all people will be identified by the state?
do liberal regimes address refusal by individuals to
identify themselves, including instances where the person
has been charged with an offence and those where there
has been no charge? Is non-identication a basic human
happens when an individual does not know who she/he
is (eg because of trauma) and does not bear identification?
do we deal with 'missing persons'?
Recent totalitarian regimes have sought to reinforce social
control of populations - for example observation and delation
by neighbours or colleagues - through requirements that
all adults bear identity documents. Failure to carry an
identity card or a residence permit was treated as a crime,
one potentially addressed through an evening with the
Gestapo or a trip to the Gulag.
Removal of an identifier such as the Yellow Star during
the Holocaust was similarly an offence, albeit an action
that saved some lives. Ubiquitous identity document requirements
were apparent in liberal states during periods of military
or economic crisis, with for example citizens and aliens
in the UK and Australia carrying ID cards during the 1939-45
Anxieties about pervasive identification was apparent
in Australian debate about establishment of a national
tax file number (TFN)
and a national health services number, resolved through
mechanisms such as non-provision of a TFN in some circumstances
would not be a crime but money would be withheld or that
health services could not be accessed at a concessional
rate if the national identity card was not provided.
Anxieties are also apparent in online fora regarding political
demonstrations, with people
questioning whether they must produce some form of identification
if requested by police. "Is failure to produce my
drivers' licence a crime"? "Do I have to tell
them who I am?" "What if I give a false name?"
Internal passports and residence permits in the USSR and
contemporary China were a direct means of social control.
They reflected practice in other states, where mandatory
cards embodied social and administrative hostility to
itinerants (people whose travel mean that they fell outside
the pattern of of identification on the basis of 'where
you live, who knows you'. That hostility might concern
gypsies, or 'wandering youth' or merely people with 'no
Lack of address could mean automatically suspect when
crimes were committed (or merely suspected of being committed),
justifying preventive detention of 'nomads', "work-shy
asocials" and 'wanderers' and vagrants.
Users of Stickam, a live webcam chat site with more than
two million members, many of them teenagers, have been
bombarded this month with messages that mention Stickam
but promote pornographic live video sites.
unidentified living objects
In an age before advanced biometrics identification of
people assumed that individuals knew who they were (and
could communicate that knowledge to others) and/or that
they were known by others. What of instances where people
were out of contact with their familiars and where there
was some incapacity?
Documentation - from a passport or government access card
to something as mundane as house key - constructs identity
and provides a surrogate for personal memory. Some individuals
do not remember their own identity (because of, for example,
trauma or a condition such as Alzheimers), do not bear
identity documents and are isolated from colleagues, family
Management of what Geoff Stewart gently terms "the
perpetually bewildered" has shifted from incarceration
('it doesn't matter that you don't know who you are as
long as we have you physically confined') to measures
such as RFID bracelets and subdermal
chips. Uniforms worn by inmates have traditionally
signalled to the general population that people have been
'lost' by their 'keeper' and should be returned to that
carer, who will identify them.
Recognition of people with no memory and no identifiers
varies. A preceding page highlighted
the example of Anna Anderson, fished out of the Landwehr
canal - sans paper, sans memory? - and 'recognised' as
the missing daughter of the late Tsar Nicholas II.
Another example was competition to claim one of the numerous
French 'unknown soldiers', discussed in The Living
Unknown Soldier: A True Story of Grief and the Great War
(London: Heinemann 2005) by Jean-Yves Le Naour, a tale
sadder than that in Hollywood amnesia fantasies such as
Unknown White Male (2005) and The Bourne
Around 30,000 people are reported missing to Australian
police forces and non-police tracing services (eg the
Australian Red Cross and Salvation Army) each year. The
majority (approximately 28,500, with equal numbers of
males and females) are reported to police. Some 85% of
those reported to police are located within a week (95%
within a month), with the missing person making contact
or returning home in approximately 50% of cases. 55% of
reports concern children and young people; there are substantial
numbers of absences from institutions responsible for
In the US some 900,000 people are reported missing each
year. Around 790,000 of the 840,279 missing person cases
in 2001 were people younger than 18. As in Australia,
most absences were short-term.
One perspective is provided in The Missing (New
York: The New Press 1996) by Andrew O'Hagan.
Dostoevsky described suicide
as "handing back the ticket". Some radicals
have purported to hand back their membership of the US,
an action that highlights questions about what we mean
One of the more bizarre families of political movements
in the US and Australia over the past forty years has
centred on conspiracist
notions that the nation is controlled by 'secret forces'
such as the World Bank or the Trilaterial Commission,
aimed at exploiting white farmers through mechanisms such
as income tax (supposedly unconstitutional), abandonment
of the gold standard, denial of a right to bear arms,
fluoridation, mandatory bar-coding or RFID
implants in all people, and so forth.
Proponents have argued that US currency has no inherent
value, just like their debts. All true believers need
to do, en route to expressing their anger as a member
of extremist groups such as the Posse Comitatus or the
Christian Patriots, is opt out through a letter to the
"government of occupation" that "renounces"
the individual's birth certificate, marriage licence,
passport, voter registration, driver's license, library
card and social security number. (The latter, according
to some chiliasts, is linked
to a secret government account in a secure facility deep
underneath Wall Street or Brussels and used as collateral
- a human equivalent of corporate bonds - against international
Renunciation has often been accompanied by claims that
the government tracks every banknote through ATMs and
other devices, every photocopy bears an invisible code
monitored by agents of the "invisible government"
and so forth.
In Australia the UPMART (ie United People Movement Against
Representation Taboo) movement has promoted a supposed
"Right of Redemption" that is enshrined in "bible
codified common law". That right supposedly allows
people to -
redeem yourself from state fines such as speeding fines
and parking fines, credit card debts etc commonly known
as commercial redemption.
b) redeem yourself from indebtedness under a mortgage
or your right to receive a reconveyance of the legal
esteate [sic] so that the mortgagor regains the fulll
legal and equitable estate
to "copyright" a personal name (apparently on
the basis that the name's 'owner' will thereby be able
to foil action by police or other agents of the state).
UPMART has attracted attention for anxiety about the usual
folk-devils (GMO, fluoridation, globalisation, vaccination,
mandatory implants of RFIDs in all newborn
children) and for the zaniness of claims regarding driver/vehicle
Losalini Rainima for example spent over 11 months in a
NSW jail after disregarding a good behaviour bond imposed
following conviction for unregistered driving. Rainima
claimed a "God-given" right to drive without
a licence and without a vehicle registration, apparently
believing that blessing "by almighty God" negated
"state laws" that impede her "basic right
to 'go forth' or drive". The organisation alas has
been less forthcoming about other traditional "god-given"
rights, such as slavery, polygamy, freedom from taxation
and barbecuing witches or heretics. UPMART's assertions
have been regarded as unpersuasive in cases such as Freilich
v Lambert  QDC 157 and Kobylski v Cole
 QDC 308.
A perspective on the US movements is provided in The
Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical
Right (New York: Thomas Dunne) by Daniel Levitas,
A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement
and the Politics of Hate (Norman: Uni of Oklahoma
Press 1996) by Kenneth Stern, 'Purifying the Law: The
Legal World of "Christian Patriots"' by Michael
Barkun in 1(1) Journal for the Study of Radicalism
(2007) 57-70, 'Political Eschatology:A Theology of Antigovernment
Extremism' by Jonathan White in 44(6) American Behavioral
Scientist (2001) 937-956 and Mark Pitcavage's 1999
Old Wine, New Bottles: Paper Terrorism, Paper Scams
and Paper 'Redemption'.
Enthusiasts on the left and right have subsequently incorporated
the assertion that use of capital letters for names in
legal documents somehow refers to abstractions rather
than people and thereby allows those people to deny the
legality of any court proceedings for financial offences,
traffic infringements (unregistered vehicles, seatbelt
and speed violations), child support payments, or crimes
such as murder.
Identity, from that perspective, is entirely dependent
on whether an author uses upper case throughout a word!
US courts, understandably, have been unimpressed by that
notion or by assertions that disaffected people can simply
renounce their birth certificate, gun licence or other
official documentation in order to live a tax-free and
police-free existence within a state such as Wyoming or
Colorado or than seceding to form a virtual
nation in the same location.
next page (officials)