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Privacy International leader argues digital identity exceeds SDG scope on ID16.9 podcast

Researcher urges transparency
Categories Biometrics News  |  ID for All  |  In Depth
Privacy International leader argues digital identity exceeds SDG scope on ID16.9 podcast

UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 is being interpreted by governments and the private sector in ways that promote digital identity to their benefit, Privacy International Senior Researcher Tom Fisher tells the ID16.9 podcast in the latest episode.

Speaking in the aftermath of a letter to the World Bank from PI and dozens of other advocacy groups urging a rethink of digital ID away from models they see as harmful, Fisher says even legal identity is not adequately defined in the SDG.

Fisher is concerned about the use of biometrics in developing countries, from India’s Aadhaar to Kenya’s Huduma Namba. He is also concerned about the support these programs and systems in other countries have received from the World Bank and other international organizations, including ID4Africa. Some digital ID programs intended to increase social inclusion have entrenched exclusion, according to Fisher. He has testified in court about alleged problems with Huduma Namba as an expert witness.

Much of Fisher’s criticism revolves around the threat that centralized databases of biometrics and other personal information can pose to privacy rights. He argues that “weaknesses in birth registration can be dealt with in other ways rather than making that move to biometric ID cards for everybody.”

The importance of these weaknesses, as Fisher sees them, are compounded as the scope of identity projects expand to include more government and private sector services.

Fisher acknowledges that the World Bank’s ID4D group is engaging with its critics. He further says that PI and other advocacy groups are not against ID, as such, but rather want transparency around digital identity systems to be stepped up.

The World Bank has taken issue with some of the details included in the letter sent by the advocacy groups.

Proponents of digital ID for development may also suggest that the pursuit of perfection can be an enemy of the good, with systems that reduce exclusion blamed for not erasing long-standing problems in the societies they are implemented in.

The ID16.9 podcast will examine a range of differing perspectives in the episodes ahead.

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