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Guinea’s biometrics-backed foundational identity pilot shows open-source benefits

MOSIP webinar explores project’s early success

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Using open-source technology to stand up a foundational digital identity system with biometrics allows governments to use their human resources while retaining flexibility, according to a webinar on Guinea’s pilot project hosted by MOSIP.

The ‘Stories from the Field – Spotlight on Guinea’ was moderated by Robert Karanja, director for Responsible Technology & Africa Lead for Omidyar Network, who posed a set of questions to each panelist about the pilot phase and the project’s post-pilot future.

The panelists were drawn from among the leaders of the project, Ibrahima Moucter Diallo, Guinea’s Technical Lead, Senior Business Analyst Hadja Cherif, and Network and Security Engineer Ferdinand Goumou.

Cherif reviewed the country’s digital identity and IT infrastructure, and how Guinea is intending to build inclusivity into its new system. With only around 30 percent of the population of Guinea literate, delivering services in a way that people can understand, even when internet connectivity is available, can be challenging.

Goumou notes that the first component of the West Africa Unique Identification for Regional Integration and Inclusion (WURI) program is strengthening legal frameworks. Guinea is working towards implementing the legal framework enacted by the country in a pair of laws regarding data privacy and protection, he says, but works remain to set up an agency to oversee their application.

The second part of the WURI program is the establishment of robust and inclusive digital identity, as Guinea’s MOSIP pilot is working towards. Facilitated access to the system and services is the third part.

The foundational identity is intended to assist people in Guinea with access to a wide range of services, but also to help the government understand how many people need assistance, but also and who and where they are.

Communication about the importance of a foundational ID with multiple potential functions is a challenge in Guinea, due to most previous identity programs having been targeted to specific uses, like elections.

Data security and privacy measures taken by WURI include, authentication, roles-based rules, and encrypted data transferred through VPNs.

The pilot was limited to only 4,000 people, after the pandemic decreased the planned scope of the project.

During the pilot, Guinea has validated MOSIP’s technology, and is now evaluating the entire ecosystem, including biometric devices from three biometrics providers, Diallo says, with interoperability as a key consideration.

The customization of MOSIP’s registration and authentication modules carried out by Guinea to was discussed, and authentication methods used, including fingerprint biometrics and one-time passwords (OTPs). Guinea is evaluating fingerprint, iris and face biometrics during the pilot phase, to fully consider all of its options.

The country is planning to issue smart physical ID cards to support the digital ID, and a unique identification number (UIN), which is randomized to prevent it from being used to derive personal information.

Cherif emphasizes the importance of incentivizing participation in the program to reach the greatest number of people, in part by engaging with local community and religious groups.

When asked about top take-aways from the pilot, she said the use of an open-source platform is “probably the best way to leverage an incredible community of people who all have a hand in it and can evolve the technology.” MOSIP allows specific country needs and developing standards to be taken into account, according to Cherif.

Guinea’s experts urged other countries standing up foundational ID systems to understand the capabilities needed and carefully consider the composition of the teams they put together to carry out the project efficiently.

The community asked questions about private sector use of the identity, the coverage of current identity systems, with Goumou answering yes to the former, and estimating roughly 40 percent of Guineans have a government ID, though he also noted the system is also responsible for non-citizens living in the country.

The discussion then touched on the biometric hardware and where the identity database is hosted.

The organization’s webinar series, with regular updates, panel discussions, and planned fireside chats, are reviewed. The webinar on Guinea kicks off MOSIP’s ‘stories from the field.’

MOSIP also plans to release an update to its technology in the coming months.

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