The Case of the Russian Electronic Identity Card: from the Promise of E-government to the Problem of Data Sovereignty




Matiyenko, Iryna

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Electronic identity cards have been the focus of different disciplines in the last two decades. They are viewed as technological tools that enable e-government in public administration studies; as systems of surveillance and social sorting in more critical social studies literature; and analyzed as a result of political pressure from powerful groups and private sector interests in political science. This work examines the rise and fall of the electronic identity card in the Russian Federation using concepts and theories developed in Western scholarship. This is a qualitative case study of the Russian “Universal Electronic Card” project focusing on the processes of policy definition and implementation, while contextualizing them culturally, politically and historically within a state with the legacies of oppressive passport regimes. I document ideas expressed by the policy interpretive communities and analyze their views on innovation as a symbol of technological progress, which are expressed through multiple conflicting interpretations regarding the practicality, legitimacy, and morality of this progress. Based on interpretive policy analysis, I identify two antagonistic policy models that target the reform of the state identification system, based on the technological innovation of the electronic identity card. The first model, the Oligopoly on the Means of Identification, relies on market solutions to government problems through public-private partnerships with the banking and IT sectors. The second model, State Monopoly on the Means of Identification, is concerned with the enforcement of the electronic identity card technology, from design to production and implementation. I argue that a political struggle between the two models leads to the proliferation of problems with information ownership, control, and security, forcing the state to address these problems through national security, cybersecurity reviews, and data sovereignty regulations. As demonstrated here, the inability of the state to enforce data sovereignty in a complex, interconnected, and globalized technological system of information exchange became a significant constraint to the implementation of a national electronic identity card system in Russia.



electronic identity cards, state identification systems, surveillance, e-government, digital services, Russian state surveillance, passport politics, social sorting, Russian politics, technology and privacy