About 1,1-billion people lack formal identification, according to World Bank estimates.
Digital identity and access systems can unlock a range of basic and empowering services for individuals, including financial inclusion, healthcare and education. Equally, they hold significant promise for helping refugees and displaced populations to access immediate and longer-term services.
Achieving progress will require significant shared challenges to be overcome. In addition to coordination challenges such as interoperability, individuals and communities have voiced concerns about flaws and vulnerabilities in existing systems that need to be addressed.
At the World Economic Forum meeting this week, leaders from government, business, international organisations, civil society and the humanitarian community have called for greater multi-stakeholder cooperation on digital identity.
The UNHCR, World Bank, World Food Programme, Consumers International, Omidyar Network, the Linux Foundation, FIDO Alliance, GSMA, Hyperledger, ID2020, Open Identity Exchange, Sovrin Foundation, World Identity Network, Accenture, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Mastercard, Microsoft, Sedicii and Visa announced their commitment to strengthen collective action on this agenda.
In an open call, they also encouraged other organisations to join in an initial multistakeholder gathering in spring 2018.
“Digital identities and access systems are foundational elements of our shared digital future,” says Derek O’Halloran, head of the World Economic Forum system initiative on shaping the future of digital economy and society. “They offer tremendous opportunities for individuals and society, especially for those without formal ID.
“Additionally, we need to ensure that new approaches are being laid in a sustainable, inclusive and trustworthy manner. Governments, international organizations, civil society and business will all play a critical role in creating this future.”
Multistakeholder dialogue is needed on how to pursue the opportunities that come with digital identities and ensure protection of rights in a sustainable and responsible manner. It is critical to deliberate on who should create, control and benefit from people’s identity information.
To empower individuals, identity systems need to enhance security and convenience, preserve privacy and uphold individual rights and freedoms. Adoption of shared principles, standards and practices, alongside innovations in technologies and implementation frameworks, will be important to support these goals.
“Individuals have the most to lose if things go wrong with digital ID — so they need control over how their identity is used and by whom, along with gold standard data security and solid assurances that it won’t affect access, for example, to healthcare, welfare support or education, or key democratic rights to vote or speak out. Without these guarantees, ID schemes will face opposition and fail to fulfil their potential,” says Amanda Long, director-general of Consumers International.
“We believe that technologies like blockchain can play a powerful role in creating a secure, portable, personal solution for those living without identity, but technology alone isn’t enough,” says Peggy Johnson, executive vice-president: business development at Microsoft. “A challenge of this magnitude requires commitments and collaboration across sectors to develop the shared standards and principles required to deliver lasting impact.”
With the use of digital technologies across the world at an all-time high, and with the adoption of the Internet of Things expected to connect over 200-billion devices to the internet by 2020, the scope of identity management is also fast expanding to devices and legal entities.
Digital identity is relevant in a wide range of situations that require people and entities to prove who they are; there is no universal, “one-size-fits-all” approach. This is reflected in the diversity of approaches adopted in various ID and access systems implemented to date. Ongoing dialogue and coordinated action between stakeholders from across sectors, industries and regions will foster shared understanding of challenges and solutions, and accelerate global progress.