Foundational identity: Empowering every citizen’s rights to health, education, and democracy
By Sébastien Gueremy, VP Identification & Verification Solutions at Thales
In a world that increasingly emphasizes the importance of human rights, it is crucial to recognize that identity, specifically the right to obtain a legal identity from birth, plays a pivotal role in securing and exercising these rights. Access to necessities such as healthcare, education, and the right to vote is contingent upon having a recognized and official identity. Therefore, advocating for free universal identity as a fundamental human right is not only a moral imperative but also a practical necessity, given that around 850 million individuals cannot securely prove their identity (World Bank report 2022).
The significance of foundational identity
At its core, foundational ID refers to the legal recognition of an individual’s existence from the moment of birth. This recognition includes the issuance of a birth certificate and, eventually, other forms of identification like a national ID card or passport. Legal identity is more than just a piece of paper; it is the key that unlocks a plethora of rights and opportunities for an individual. Some major benefits are also widely supported by the World Bank through funding for social programs (so-called Social Safety Nets), since one-fifth of the world’s poor still lack safety net coverage in low-income nations.
- Access to healthcare: legal identity is the gateway to healthcare services. Without proper identification, individuals may be denied access to critical medical care, vaccines, and essential treatments. Legal identity ensures that every child, regardless of their background, has the right to a healthy start in life.
- Access to education: Education is a fundamental right, but millions of children worldwide are denied this opportunity due to the lack of proper identification. Legal identity guarantees access to quality education for every child, breaking the cycle of poverty and empowering future generations.
- Right to vote: In democratic societies, the right to vote is a cornerstone of citizenship. Without a recognized identity, individuals are disenfranchised, effectively silencing their voices in the democratic process. Legal identity ensures that all citizens can participate in shaping their nations’ futures.
- Legal protection: Legal identity is what ensures people fair treatment in justice and protection from authorities. Indeed, providing people with an identity is the first and most important step toward being able to defend oneself against any authority and protecting vulnerable populations from potential exploitation (which is more likely to occur with unidentified persons).
Challenges to foundational identity
Despite its importance, foundational identity is far from being a global reality. Several challenges impede its widespread implementation:
- Lack of infrastructure: Many countries, particularly in the developing world, lack the necessary infrastructure to record and issue birth certificates. This may be exacerbated by potential bureaucratic inefficiencies and even corruption in some countries.
- Barriers to registration: Cultural practices, poverty, and discrimination can be significant barriers to birth registration. Some communities may not prioritize or have access to official documentation.
- Statelessness: A billion of people around the world is stateless, meaning they lack the legal recognition of any nationality. Statelessness can lead to a lifetime of exclusion and hardship.
- Privacy and security concerns: Some argue that foundational identity could lead to increased surveillance and the potential misuse of personal data. Striking a balance between identity rights and privacy concerns is essential.
The path forward
To realize foundational identity as a global standard, several actions must be taken:
- Global cooperation: International organizations, governments, and civil society must work together to establish norms and standards for universal identity, while providing support to countries with limited infrastructure (ex: World Bank project ID4All).
- Awareness and advocacy: Raising awareness about the importance of legal identity and advocating for its recognition as a human right can help drive change at the grassroots level and within governments.
- Technological solutions: Utilizing technology, such as digital identification systems and biometrics, can help overcome some of the infrastructure challenges associated with birth registration.
- Protection of privacy: Implementing safeguards to protect individuals’ privacy while ensuring their identity is recognized, is crucial. This includes transparent data management and strong legal frameworks.
Universal legal identity is not just a bureaucratic formality; it is the foundation upon which individuals can claim their rights to health, education, and participation in democracy. It is a means to ensure that every person, regardless of their background, has a fair shot at a fulfilling life. By recognizing and advocating for this fundamental human right, we can build a more equitable and just world for all.
That is why Thales celebrates ‘ID Day’ every year on September 16th and strives to provide trusted technology to serve the global vision of providing an identity to every individual on the planet. Learn more here.
About the author
Sébastien Gueremy is VP Identification & Verification Solutions at Thales.
DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update.