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Value biometrics over physical credentials to improve inclusion, ID4Africa’s Identity Day panelists argue

Value biometrics over physical credentials to improve inclusion, ID4Africa’s Identity Day panelists argue

Biometrics should be privileged as a source of unique identity assurance over physical documents, and exclusion risk assessments should be reinforced to ensure organizations are aware of the real on-the-ground coverage of digital ID systems, multiple experts suggested among three prominent calls to action made during a special International Identity Day livecast event from ID4Africa.

A video and presentation on the genesis and importance of International Identity Day kicked off the event, and NIMC Director General Aliyu Aziz joined the livecast to inform the community of the observance of the day in Nigeria. A television program and several radio spots in the country marked International Identity Day, and President Buhari called on governments around the world and the United Nations to recognize September 16 as a day for official recognition of the mission’s importance.

Senior Nigerian government figures emphasized the importance of digital ID for citizens, and urged Nigerians to enroll for the country’s national ID with NIMC, Aziz reports.

International Identity Day was launched at ID4Africa 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria, and is observed on September 16 in recognition of UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration, by 2030. More than 120 international organizations and biometrics companies have since supported the call to officially recognize the day.

“Integrated Biometrics is proud to have been one of the first organizations to publicly support Dr. Atick and the ID4Africa team regarding official recognition of September 16th as International Identity Day. We are thrilled with the importance an unmistakable identity has gained and appreciate the continued efforts our partners in government, NGOs, non-profits, and companies alike are making toward the goal,” says David Gerulski, EVP of Integrated Biometrics in a statement.

Nigeria’s government has formally adopted September 16 as National Identity Day, and is also planning to issue national identity cards for internally displaced persons, Punch reports.

Mory Camara, president of the ID4Africa Identity Council director general of Guinea’s National Agency of Electronic Governance (ANGEIE), spoke about the plight of the more than 500 million people in Africa who do not posses any identity credentials, or the functional digital credentials they need to access services.

With a range of challenges from public health to economic recovery requiring inclusive identification of populations, ID4Africa believes that achieving inclusion is currently the greatest challenge for identity in Africa.

The event was moderated by ID4Africa Executive Chairman Dr. Joseph Atick, with expert panelists including Alan Gelb of the Center for Global Development, Tariq Malik of the UN Development Programme, and Christabel Onyejekwe of the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS).

The panel also included representatives from Thales, GSMA, CENFRI (Centre for Financial Regulation and Inclusion), and legal rights advocacy Namati. Panelists sought to provide guidance for governments on policies, approaches and technologies proven to boost enrollments, or with the promise of doing so.

Universal coverage and breaking down barriers to usage of identity are two aspects of inclusion within societies racing towards digitalization, in which ID acts as a gateway or entry-point for social assistance programs and a whole range of social participation, Gelb said. The overlapping factors that contribute to exclusion were reviewed, including the disparity of 44 percent of women not having ID in low-income countries, according to the recent Findex survey, 16 percent less than men in the same countries.

Shortly after, GSMA’s Ken Okong’o talked about the organization’s research into the roots of exclusion in identity systems, including the widespread perception that digital ID is less important for women.

An example from India shows how when ID is presented as an opportunity for people to obtain services, rather than to save money, more people are included, and the state ends up with savings anyway.

The professionalization of exclusion, and the intersection of this trend with identity systems in some cases, was described by Namati’s Mustafa Mahmoud.

Malik discussed recent experience with projects in Malawi and Pakistan, and agreed with Mahmoud about the deep roots of discrimination that are found inside some legal identity systems. In Malawi, an educational campaign with a focus on local culture was used to generate demand for ID among people in rural areas, and in one region the registration of women actually surpassed that of men.

Onyejekwe talked about the key performance indicators used by Nigeria’s government to improve access to financial services, which revealed the need for a greater number of non-bank agents in the financial system to improve inclusion. The agent network in Nigeria increased from just over 18,000 to more than 400,000 from 2017 to 2020, after a new initiative (SANEF) was launched to expand the network, with an associated commercial incentive.

CENFRI’s Barry Cooper presented statistics and issues around the lack of physical documentation across Africa, which poses a major barrier to digital ID. Rules requiring these documents actively exclude people from inclusion in the financial system, according to Cooper, and drive them instead into illicit money flows, which can siphon up to 10 percent of GDP from the formal economy.

The cost of compliance with anti money-laundering (AML) and CFT (countering financing of terrorism) regulations is not well understood by many financial institutions, and staff costs related to due diligence represent around half of the total cost of compliance, under a KYC-type model. Focusing on what is actually necessary, which is digital identity proofing, could drive down costs while increasing inclusion. Instead, proof of address is valued more than biometric authentication by many institutions, resulting in high costs, low inclusivity, and weak controls.

Thales’ Jaume Dubois categorized people excluded from registration in identity systems as blocked by lack of access, lack of awareness, or societal barriers. Among his suggestions, the use of biometrics can cover for incomplete registration data as part of a permissive approach to establishing digital ID.

Plan International Head of Innovation Ed Duffus chimed in as a “community voice” to emphasize the importance of civil registration to recognize those users who are underserved by identity systems struggling with inclusion.

Three notable calls to action were made. Gelb called for organizations to perform exclusion risk assessments as they would privacy risk assessments, Cooper’s case for reform of compliance to move away from KYC and towards digital ID proofing, and by Okong’o to make greater use of public-private partnerships.

A webinar called “Digital Identity Matters: Enabling Nigeria’s economic and social growth with digital identity,” featuring Interswitch Founder and Group Managing Director Mitchell Elegbe, VerifyMe Nigeria Co-founder and CEO Esigie Aguele, and Big Cabal Media Head of Partnerships Chidi Uguru was also held to mark International Identity Day.

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