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Tension between Brazil’s digital ID system and rules slowing progress

Tension between Brazil’s digital ID system and rules slowing progress

A new report published by Cambridge University Press highlights data protection and justice concerns related to Brazil’s national digital ID.

The paper is part of a broader research agenda developed by the Data Privacy Brasil Research Association and focused on a descriptive and qualitative study of the Brazilian National Civil Identification System (Identificação Civil Nacional, or ICN).

“The present paper […] aims to assist policymakers from Brazil to think of ways and solutions to avoid possible violations of data subjects’ rights, which arise from the implementation of a country-wide unified identification system,” reads the report.

The report suggests that there are tensions between the National Identity System and the country’s data protection rules and principles.

Further, the report says that despite hopes of inclusion resulting from government digitization and digital identity, they could generate exclusion if poorly implemented, which is also a finding of a recent UN report.

“As the study shows, the structuring of the national identity system […] has been a long process, with efforts from different mandates of the federal government, but there is still no definitive system in place,” reads the document.

The report mentions how, this year, there was an almost simultaneous launch of two national identity documents, one by the Superior Electoral Court and the other by the Federal Government.

According to the paper, these initiatives had essentially the same function, thus adding to inefficient government spending and public policies.

As for the information architecture of the digital ID database, the report cautions that a large-scale personal database, composed of the fusion of other databases and with a centralized structure, presents risks in terms of data protection and privacy.

These include abusive use of data, insecurity of data and government surveillance.

Further, the research highlights how the large volume of data managed as part of these digital ID projects should have triggered a data protection impact assessment, which has not been done.

The final part of the report provides some context for the digital transformation of Brazil’s government. Opening a discussion about the use of the ICN database to login into gov.br, the website with access to government services from the federal government.

“Brazil still has severe inequalities, especially related to race and gender, which are reflected in access to services, including digital services, and how those could influence in not having a functioning digital identity and thus not being able to access public services and policies through gov.br.”

The report also highlights how tensions between the structure of the ICN and the local data protection legislation point to the need to address data protection issues.

“Not only but also the set of concerns that arise from the current use of the ICN to access public services reveals the need to look upon the Brazilian National Identity System beyond data protection,” reads the research article.

This should be done through a data justice perspective, the authors explain, since this approach will consider other complexities and characteristics which, if not properly considered and addressed, can result in high impacts or risks to the rights of the citizens.

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