Date of Award

Fall 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Michael X. Delli Carpini

Second Advisor

Oscar Gandy

Third Advisor

Klaus Krippendorff


This dissertation problematizes the "state dossier system" (SDS): the production and accumulation of personal information on citizen subjects exceeding the reasonable bounds of risk management. SDS - comprising interconnecting subsystems of records and identification - damage individual autonomy and self-determination, impacting not only human rights, but also the viability of the social system. The research, a hybrid of case-study and cross-national comparison, was guided in part by a theoretical model of four primary SDS driving forces: technology, political economy, law and public sentiment. Data sources included government documents, academic texts, investigative journalism, NGO reports and industry white papers. The primary analytical instrument was the juxtaposition of two individual cases: the U.S. and China. Research found that constraints on the extent of the U.S. SDS today may not be significantly different from China's, a system undergoing significant change amidst growing public interest in privacy and anonymity. Much activity within the U.S., such as the practice of suspicious activity reporting, is taking place outside the domain of federal privacy laws, while ID systems appear to advance and expand despite clear public opposition. Momentum for increasingly comprehensive SDS appears to be growing, in part because the harms may not be immediately evident to the data subjects. The future of SDS globally will depend on an informed and active public; law and policy will need to adjust to better regulate the production and storage of personal information. To that end, the dissertation offers a general model and linguistic toolkit for the further analysis of SDS.

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