Digital ID programs are only as good as the planning that goes into them, say activists

digital identity biometric registration

Having bought into promises of a rapid economic rise with digital IDs, nations, particularly developing countries in the southern hemisphere, are rushing to set up programs, according to rights activists at New York University.

But in the process, vulnerable populations within some countries reportedly are being left behind when governments make biometric ID mandatory for benefits and programs before everyone has received their new card.

Activists at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, within NYU’s School of Law, say the World Bank and its Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative are selling digital IDs with rosy predictions of growth without research to back them up.

The 2020 ID4D annual report says well-implemented programs can improve services and cut fraud “and help countries transition to a digital economy.” Yet it also says that “empirical research that rigorously evaluates the impact of ID systems on development” has been limited.

Members of the center have created the Everyone Counts! project to research how ID programs are impacting people and to act through litigation and advocacy on any human rights violations related to the rollouts.

Organizing populations around a single, universally accepted and difficult-to-lose and -steal ID likely will bring efficiencies to some state operations and economies. However, it cannot succeed, say center leaders, unless every citizen’s rights are respected in the process.

Ethnic minority groups and impoverished people are being excluded from the programs, they say. In some cases, people are losing access to critically needed food subsidies, according to the center.

A Reuters article cited by the center alleges that some people were dying of hunger in India because people did not have their Aadhaar digital ID in time to receive benefits, and the problem appears to have persisted.

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