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Digital ID not increasing inclusivity as advertised, civil society groups argue


Biometrics and digital ID

A variety of factors prevent the inclusivity promise of digital ID systems in Sub-Saharan Africa from being fulfilled, and governments should address legal, administrative and physical barriers to bring in marginalized communities, according to a new report from Cyrilla.

Cyrilla is an initiative looking into legal frameworks for digital environments with a particular focus on the Global South.

The collaborative’s report ‘Analysing the Impact of Digital ID Frameworks on Marginalised Groups in Sub-Saharan Africa’ is authored by Kenya Ministry of ICT, Innovation, and Youth Affairs Legal Advisor Rose Mosero, and compares the digital ID systems that have been established in Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa as case studies.

Many of digital ID systems Sub-Saharan African countries are adopting do not adequately protect people’s rights, or meet their ID needs, according to Mosero.

The 44-page report delves into regulatory and technical challenges to digital ID systems, and finds the failings and discrimination experienced by marginalized groups in the physical world are often replicated in the digital world.

The report recommends legislative reviews and reforms, an inter-sectoral approach governed by a single agency, and preservation of means of accessing public services without a digital ID, among eight items to help governments improve their identity frameworks.

Aadhaar motivated by profit, biometrics work poorly in India, activist argues

Biometrics do not work well in India, and their use in Aadhaar is posing an ongoing barrier to essential services access, according to the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law.

In an interview with Dr. Usha Ramanathan and a corresponding blog post, the CHR & GJ’s Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project pans Aadhaar as having failed to live up to lofty promises, and alleges the project is motivated by the desire for private profit more than to improve the inclusion of society’s underprivileged.

Research over the last decade has shown the number of manual laborers and the hot, humid environments make fingerprint biometrics unreliable in the country,

Ramanathan, who called Aadhaar an “anti-people project” as far back as 2014, also takes aim at the nominee system for cases in which the individual’s biometrics are not recognized, saying it makes one person’s identity dependent on another’s biometric.

Reimagining justice-based digital ID

A new joint project has announced by The Engine Room and Open Society Foundations “to reimagine what digital ID systems rooted in justice can look like.”

The Engine Room carried out a comprehensive research project in 2019 on the real-life experiences of people in five developing nations in Africa and Asia in the hopes of exposing issues needing more attention from authorities. The concerns around digital ID systems have increased, between general digitization and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similar to the Cyrilla report and Dr. Ramanathan’s comments, The Engine Room suggests that marginalized communities have been particularly harmed by digital ID systems that are not designed for them.

The groups intend to engage with other civil society organizations to “imagine and craft” better digital ID systems.

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