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Are overly simplistic national ID programs creating more exclusion?

Are overly simplistic national ID programs creating more exclusion?

Too many people advocating for digital national IDs make it sound like development programs are just an overlay on a map.

It sounds like this: Here’s a nation without digital national IDs. Rich, poor or in between, it will be wealthier and more efficient, inclusive and competitive when all adults and even some children have a government ID account.

There is a lengthy look at the progress of digital IDs programs, mostly in the Philippines in a recent GovInsider article that sells their personal and national benefits. The reality of those promises will take years to play out.

And while the second article, in Himal Southasian (oddly published on the same day as the GovInsider piece), casts a side-long glance at vendors building national electronic ID systems, it puts a more useful focus on everything that must be done in developing economies, at least, prior to beginning a digital ID program.

In other words, there are layers to be slid in place before the ID overlay.

The Himal article is lengthy, too, and it focuses for the most part on Nepal, an impoverished nation pinched between Tibet and India. It opens with an anecdote.

A Nepalese migrant laborer is on his second attempt at getting a biometric national ID card in order to get a digital passport so he could work. His citizenship certificate, which had served as his ID, did not have enough information on his family, so he had to get a new one.

The government wants every adult citizen to register their biometric data and collect a digital ID. Apparently, there is a concerted campaign showing the contentment and prosperity that the Aadhaar card has brought to India.

But where regional and global government agencies and vendors, including Idemia, see national and economic progress in India, the author of the Himal analysis, sees how Aadhaar has created a bigger societal divide than what already existed.

And that divide is coming to Nepal, it would seem.

Any program designed to be inclusive can only include people who can take part in the program. In this case, people need a citizenship card. It is estimated that 4 million Nepalese do not have one.

Multiple sources report that Nepal historically has discriminated against women and ethnic minorities generally, and specifically when it comes to citizenship papers.

For all Nepalese people to get a biometric digital ID, millions of people need to get citizenship papers. For that to happen, the society will need to acknowledge the importance of non-majority males living in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Either requirements like that have to be repealed or new criteria for citizenship need to be created.

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