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EU, US might not be best digital ID models, but they can help African leaders

EU, US might not be best digital ID models, but they can help African leaders

Members of the digital ID communities in the United States and European Union talked up the federated approach to digital IDs last week at the ID4Africa 2023 AGM.

A fair question after each presentation would have been, are either the U.S. or the E.U. the best models for African nations looking to create a continentwide interoperable ID system?

The EU’s effort (much like its still-forming AI Act) lies under volumes of files of memos of rules and regulations.

And it is optimistic in the extreme to think the U.S. is moving to any kind of coherent ID system. Whole swaths of the nation see Biblical evil, communism or White replacement in a digital ID that is no different in substance than a physical driver’s license.

Unperturbed by these realities, Gail Hodges, executive director of the U.S.-based OpenID Foundation, and Didier Trutt, chairman of the European nonprofit Security Identity Alliance, addressed the topic at the conference in Kenya.

There are 69 jurisdictions – mostly the 50 states, which of each run ID and driving license operations — relevant to digital identification in the U.S., Hodges pointed out (startling but there are more than 1,000 jurisdictions of all kinds in the state of Illinois alone).

OpenID has done some groundwork in the country. Hodges pointed out that digital ID standards have been adopted in the business world, including by Apple. But digital ID standards have not touched a large majority of its adults.

Recognizing that a vocal segment of Americans do not want anything to do with government, OpenID is pushing a system that is centralized on private and/or public sector wallets.

Under this scenario, the states would continue to collect and safeguard ID data but would provide public keys to one commonly held, nationwide digital trust service, Hodges said. All relying parties would go to the trust service.

People would have the power and responsibility to choose who see what personal data.

The federal government can get into digitals through a side door most Americans accept – through airlines, trains and ships. The Department of Homeland Safety, she said, is asking all states to perform self-assessments to make sure they conform with DHS identification standards created to reduce terrorism.

Trutt said the European digital wallet program will be based on each member state issuing IDs under a notified digital ID scheme built on common standards.

High levels of assurance will be maintained, he said, with compulsory certification.

And there is a proposal for an EU toolbox that defines the digital ID framework.

The session wrapped with an emphatic plea from Joseph Atick, executive chairman of ID4Africa.

“Enrollment is yesterday’s problem,” Atick said. “Momentum and public engagement will die if we don’t enable the correct interoperable ID verification in support of ID use.

His message seemed aimed at governments that are perhaps near reaching ID enrollment of their populations. Some have not moved ahead with issues like identity verification, which typically is a more difficult phase of creating a digital ID program.

“Wallets,” he said. “You need to build that into your future,” along with the interoperability of trust, public key infrastructure, decentralization options.

“Things are not getting simpler,” Atick said. African leaders need to keep pushing on each phase.

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