By Hicham Saoud, Head of BSS Consulting & Digital Government, Sofrecom
1 billion of the planet’s inhabitants are invisible citizens. Because they do not have a legal identity, they are excluded from civic life and do not contribute to their country’s socio-economic development. Though long the “forgotten ones” in the digital revolution, they are beginning to benefit from support fostering the development, by governments, of digital identification systems. A process complex to implement, but very efficient...
Identification: a global challenge
Digital inclusion is considered to be based on three components: infrastructure deployment, accessibility to content and digital aptitude (People). However, the People component is often reduced to training. It de facto excludes the “invisible”: the citizens of the world who are not recognized as such because their birth has not been registered and they do not have a legal identity. Recent studies have made it possible to measure the scale of the problem and to locate the areas where identification is an inclusion challenge for States.
- According to World Bank estimates (2018 #ID4D-Findex Survey), 1 billion people worldwide are unable to prove their identity. 48% of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa and 33% in South Asia.
- UNICEF meanwhile estimates that nearly two-thirds of African children under the age of five do not have a birth certificate.
Neither inclusion nor growth without identity
Without a birth certificate, identity card or passport, it is impossible for these world inhabitants to exercise their rights as citizens. They lack the “open sesame” that gives access to health services, welfare, education, labor, and entrepreneurship. They are also unable to take advantage of public and private services (banking, telephone, energy). Because of this, they do not contribute to their countries’ growth. When 3.5 million of the one billion people living in Sub-Saharan Africa do not contribute to economic activity, the scope of a market seen as buoyant shrinks significantly. Seeing this, the major economic players may significantly slow down their investment plans.
Digital identification support programs
Now recognized as a lever for socio-economic development, identification benefits, at the global and African level, from recent donor initiative: the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and development agencies. Their programs finance either studies or plans to deploy identity systems, produce identity cards and biometric passports. In this regard, identification is supported by:
- Point 9 of 16th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) adopted by the United Nations, which plans to “provide legal identity for all, including birth registration” by 2030. Identification furthermore plays a key part in achieving multiple other SDGs.
- The ID4D Initiative (Identity for Development) of the World Bank which aims to provide support, advice and funding to countries to build digital identification systems.
- At the African level, the ID4Africa initiative. This forum brings together all the stakeholders in the identity ecosystem - African governments, donors and providers of identity solutions - to jointly reflect on solutions to reduce the proportion of the invisible and use digital to speed up the process of bringing these individuals back into regular situations.
The emergence of projects aimed at creating integrated identity systems
Bolstered by this support, many digital identification projects are flourishing, particularly on the African continent. These initiatives operate on multiple levels:
- Registration of civil status events, in particular birth certificates which form the foundation for identification.
- Population registers: reliable socio-demographic data enabling States and donors to devise national development policies for the country.
- The creation of biometric databases, either for electoral purposes or to serve sector-specific needs (facilitate the granting of subsidies to farmers, students, etc.)
- The modernization of secure identity documents: national identity cards, biometric passports, driving licenses.
To make this type of project more understandable, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has developed a holistic vision. It recommends, rather than addressing each register in a silo, building an integrated National Digital Identity System grouping three registers: Civil status, national population register and national biometric register.
Digital identity, a complex ecosystem
The deployment of a digital identity system is a complex process not limited to the subject of digitization. While the existing offer allows States to benefit from robust, secure digital identity systems capable of protecting personal data, technology is only one aspect of the subject.
It is for this reason that Sofrecom is helping governments build a vision of their National Digital Identity System in line with that of the AfDB. Its consultants and experts work alongside them during feasibility studies covering the analysis of a large number of key issues:
- Legal issues: to revise legislative enactments on civil status or personal data protection, taking into account the GDPR in particular.
- Political issues: to include the entire population, regardless of the ethnic group in power.
- Governance issues: who is responsible for identity? Who produces it? How can recipients access this data securely? In this respect, there are several initiatives to create National Identification Offices for persons in charge of identity and the production of secure ID documents.
- Organizational issues: how should the people responsible for feeding data into platforms be hired? It's a complex matter -- you need resources.
- Financial and environmental issues.
The deployments to date show a rapid return on investment. A reliable digital identification system contributes to including people in health, education and economic life. It steps up the efficiency of the administrative process. It curbs fraud and losses. India is a well-known example: it took only 1.5 years before the country began saving more money than its biometric identification system cost. The country also reduced single and multiple identity fraud. Digital identification has also increased the banking penetration rate and people’s access to public and economic services, thus creating growth and wealth.
In order to form a real gateway to citizen and digital inclusion, the deployment of a digital identification project requires a certain national union: the convergence of efforts on the part of civil society, the administration, the Government and economic players. The latter can contribute to the effort by reinventing economic models: for example, by relying on PPPs. Banks and telecom operators are all the more legitimate to contribute to this major project as they are already established as trusted third parties required to collect, or even use, their customers' identity data in the context of their mission.