Are biometrics providers using smart cities to advance digital ID?
Biometrics providers and other large private entities are supplying technologies to smart city projects to create and use digital IDs, according to a report from the Northeastern University School of Law and the Immigrant Defense Project. The groups are worried about the consequences of this arrangement, and possible increases in inequality and surveillance.
The 54-page report on ‘Smart-City Digital ID Projects: Reinforcing Inequality and Increasing Surveillance through Corporate “Solutions”’ argues that companies providing biometrics for law enforcement or national ID projects are prone to technological solutionism and likely to fail to meet community needs.
The report also suggests that smart city projects do more to pressure people into accepting digital identities than to deliver their promised benefits.
The report discusses what smart city projects consist of, and catalogues a series of deployments which are characterized as failures.
Problematic national ID + same technology providers = same problems?
Smart cities represent an emerging approach to digital ID, the report argues, and like national ID programs often use biometrics to underpin authentication. A review of national ID programs touches on India’s Aadhaar, Nigeria’s NIN, Ireland’s Public Services Card, Kenya’s Huduma Namba and others, all of which include biometrics.
The failing and alleged ills of each are noted, and a list of “common actors” in ID systems offered. This introduces numerous biometrics providers, notably Idemia, Muhlbauer, Thales, Veridos, and others with digital ID focusses, notably Mastercard.
The pivot to smart city digital ID follows, in the form of what the report authors suggest is a business plan on the part of Mastercard.
The report points out that Idemia and Mastercard have worked together, with the former a partner in the latter’s City Possible initiative and City Key program, and both have been involved in national ID systems in Nigeria and Kenya.
The report goes on to cover the prominence of Idemia in U.S. driver’s license provision, and then back to national digital IDs.
“Idemia’s biometric work with law enforcement throughout the world makes its digital ID ventures concerning,” the report authors write, before presenting their proof: “The company holds active contracts with the US Department of Homeland Security for tens of millions of dollars, and indefinite delivery contracts potentially worth billions.”
The IDNYC municipal digital ID project, and its failed expansion in scope is then reviewed as a case study, and a series of recommendations for policies and best practices provided.
The extent to which these various projects show anything in particular about a certain subset of them is debatable. The case that smart city projects represent an emerging strategy for digital ID provision is likewise more asserted than demonstrated in the examples provided.
The suggestion that smart city initiatives and national ID programs alike sometimes undermine people’s rights or exacerbate inequality, however, is much more strongly supported.
Recommendations provided in the report are for meaningful engagement with the public and stakeholders throughout smart city development and implementation processes, anticipation of potential harms and the creation of safeguards and policies to mitigate them, and the implementation of transparency and accountability practices.