ID4Africa 2018 begins with optimism over continental progress toward universal legal identity
The first day of ID4Africa 2018 drew to a successful close late in the day in Abuja, Nigeria, with hundreds of delegates remaining to discuss digital identity in the hall where the day’s plenary sessions were held, and hundreds more in the exhibit hall examining biometric and identity document technologies.
Attendees overflowed the packed hall for the opening addresses, with those outside viewing it on monitors. They listened as Nigerian Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha, representing President Muhammadu Buhari, spoke about the importance of improving digital identity coverage in the country.
“Africa needs to embrace the global drive towards optimization in the use of resources by making its digital identity infrastructure efficient thereby creating an enabling environment for talented African youths to tap into these technologies,” said Mustapha. “Indeed, with the advent of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain, now is the time to build an ecosystem that will enhance continent-wide security, minimize fraud and wasteful expenditure.”
He also noted that Nigeria’s own biometrics-based national ID system doubled in coverage to 28 million people in 2017, and the country intends to reach 50 million registered citizens by the end of the year and 70 million by the end of 2019.
In the opening address, ID4Africa Chairman and President Dr. Joseph Atick lauded the progress made by continental ID schemes, singling out the efforts of identity authorities in Nigeria, Malawi, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoir and others. He also announced the launch of an initiative to have the United Nations designate September 16 as “International Identity Day.”
The exhibit hall was packed with delegates upon its official opening, with new technologies being demonstrated by numerous companies, such as Green Bit and BioRugged. With over 110 companies in the identity industry, including some two dozen new industry participants, much of the world’s most advanced biometric technology is on display.
A series of plenary sessions followed, featuring reports from a half-dozen identity authorities from around the continent, moderated by Center for Global Development Senior Fellow Alan Gelb. The speaker gave updates on the progress of their countries in harmonizing identity schemes and developing foundational identity systems.
Executive Director of Liberia’s National Identification Registry J. Tiah Nagbe noted the benefit other stakeholders derive from government identity programs. “Biometric data systems are expensive,” he noted. “If you have licenses, deduplication, and the other necessary concerns, you will not have the funds as an NGO. It is always cheaper to get it from us.”
He also noted the savings achieved by avoiding further mass electoral registration processes, which Liberia has carried out eight times in recent decades, but will no longer be necessary.
Malawi’s strategy for achieving a fast roll-out of its new eID system, which demonstrates the value of governmental commitment and leadership, was presented as a case study by the country’s Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, the Honorable Cecilia Chazama, during the session. In 2017, Malawi completed its mass registration process, and moved on to a continuous process, with the government contributing approximately 40 percent of the cost, she reports.
International Development agencies followed, including the World Bank, UNICEF, UNHCR, and the World Food Program. During the question and answer period at the session’s end, the question of how to protect the privacy of biometric data while being responsive to international security concerns was raised, and will surely continue to be debated throughout the proceedings.
ID4Africa President Greg Pote presided over a series of addresses by systems integrators, representing IDEMIA, Zetes, and GenKey, among other companies. Among many insights about the changing nature of identity shared during the session, Ernst & Young Partner Thampy Koshy said that the biometric privacy debate around Aadhaar is helping the country reach an understanding about how it wants to define privacy.
The most frequently and passionately discussed topics of the day included the privacy of biometrics and biographic data, identity project funding, how foundational identity systems should interact with service provision systems, and the conference’s official theme of “Harmonization of Identity Schemes.” On the latter issue, different models of information sharing were described and debated, often in the context of how they affect the other issues.
All attendees have received the inaugural edition of the ID4Africa Almanac, as well as an ID4Africa special edition of bi-annual identity publication The Vault, and a sheet of tips from Aware on protecting biometric data.
Biometric Update will continue to provide coverage from on location at the world’s leading identity for development (ID4D) conference throughout the proceedings.