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Everyone is ignoring the critical step needed to launch digital IDs

Everyone is ignoring the critical step needed to launch digital IDs

The problem with big gabfests like the World Economic Forum is that its leaders quickly learn how to manage the rank and file. It is better to make them feel smart and important than to deliver a return on investment.

Such is the case with the forum’s digital ID efforts.

The public-private group is without a doubt well-meaning, and it applies a great deal of cross-discipline intelligence to scores of real problems. Yet it still has not addressed the only action that could possibly make global digital IDs real.

Its big thinkers have published slick reports and articles with facts and insights that by now virtually all members have committed to memory, ready to drop into cocktail party chatter.

Forum leaders this month, in fact, published an article about how digital identity programs “can improve lives in a post-COVID-19 world.” (Writing “can” could be considered boosterism because neither COVID nor key data security challenges related to global integrated digital IDs have been solved.) The post was written by WEF Digital Identity Project Lead Cristian Duda and Yoti Director of Regulatory and Policy Julie Dawson.

Individual economies and the global economy will blossom faster if digital IDs can be successfully rolled out after COVID, the forum maintains.

That is a standard talking point and likely is true. But people were sold the same siren song with the outsourcing movement and free trade. The average person in the United States is unlikely to agree that the promised glory days arrived with the latter two, and new promises for the former will be viewed cynically.

Biometric data will need to be zealously guarded, according to forum leaders.

True, but, globally, growing populism, reactionary religious movements, and anti-intellectual fervor mean the most actively irate people are not as worried about their data as they are about control by perceived tyrants.

The forum says digital trust frameworks are needed, and that they have been created in the European Union, Canada, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Again, true. However, from the perspective of many conservative voters in the United States, there is only one name in that list that even remotely inspires trust — Canada — and even that nation is viewed with suspicion.

Looking at it from a global view, there is no momentum. That list is missing the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and China. Much of the U.S. and UK political landscapes are double-locking doors, which leaves out these two key economies.

Autocratic Russia and China are happy to create more identification documents and schemes, but they do not want the degree of international integration envisioned by the forum.

This missing piece in what the World Economic Forum is trying to do is communication — not with self-satisfied members, but with the people they represent or sell to.

Forum leaders need to focus on a simple, demonstrably true and compelling message for the average person and train members in how to effectively evangelize the concept.

It is a bigger task than any technological aspect. Washington has not convinced enough people to wear masks to help control COVID, much less get vaccinated. How many will willingly sign up for a national ID that is integrated with other nations’ systems?

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