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Legal reforms adapted to tech changes, data safeguards vital for expanding digital ID reach

Legal reforms adapted to tech changes, data safeguards vital for expanding digital ID reach

One plenary at the 2024 ID4Africa AGM in Cape Town, South Africa, explored how legal reforms which are adapted to technological changes as well as safeguards such as data protection mechanisms and best practices can grow legal and digital identity ecosystems in Africa.

Moderated by Conrad Daly, senior counsel at the World Bank, the plenary had views from representatives of some ID authorities and governments, advocacy and civil society organizations, and data commissioners, among others.

Divided in three sessions, the plenary, which was the third part of the guardrail’s trilogy at the event, looked at the enabling ecosystem for proper identification, how to ensure respect for human rights in implementing identity projects, and ways through which legal reforms can be done in a participatory manner involving the target population, civil society and other relevant actors.

The first three speakers from Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Tanzania narrated that legal reforms have helped expand identity coverage in their respective countries, thus making digital ID more commonly used for access to various services.

The panelists were Karidja Kone epse Bamba, director of Affiliation at Cote d’Ivoire’s National Health insurance Fund (CNAM); Josephine Mukesha, director general of the National Identification Agency of Rwanda (NIDA), and Edson Guyai, director of Identity Management at Tanzania’s National Identification Authority (NIDA).

The trio said when identity projects started in their respective countries, the ID systems had limited coverage, which meant many people were cut off from important services that require proof of identity. But with a number of legal reforms undertaken, the situation has significantly changed.

In Rwanda, for example, Mukesha said the government started with efforts to issue ID cards to citizens. But as time went on, authorities thought it was necessary to expand access to identity for the entire population and other groups of persons so as to make it easy for them to access services.

“We did a feasibility study which showed that our law needed to be amended. So, we amended the law in 2023 and we now issue identity from birth. Another reform took birth registration from sector offices to health facilities to make it easier to register children at birth,” she said.

The official added that the new digital ID system which the country is about to put in place takes into consideration the diversity of people who need ID cards for different use cases, namely citizens, legal residents, asylum seekers and even stateless persons.

Guyai noted that in Tanzania, ID efforts started in 2011, but over the years, their legislations have been reworked to allow the issuance of identity to four different categories of persons. He disclosed that one major reform is the move by the government to ditch insurance cards for national IDs as a tool for accessing health insurance. He added that different ID-related legislations have been adjusted not only to ensure smooth delivery of services to the people, but also to guarantee national security through proper identification.

Bamba painted the picture in Cote d’Ivoire, saying they have obtained support from the World Bank to scale enrollment for the universal health insurance scheme, which is also possible thanks to legislative amendments made by the government.

Data protection safeguards

Speakers in the second session were two data commissioners and a human rights lawyer who presented data protection as one of the safeguards that allow identity systems to flourish.

The CEO of Nigeria’s Data Protection Commission, Vincent Olatunji; Data Commissioner, Immaculate Kassait of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner of Kenya, and the Executive Director of the Institute for Law, Innovation and Technology in the Temple University Beasley School of Law, USA, Laura Bingham, all shared their thoughts.

According to Kassait, one of the things Kenya has got to deal with is pressure from the public for transparency, accountability and trust in the management of identity data.

The previous ID system in Kenya, the Huduma Namba, faced major criticisms over data protection and human rights issues.

“This pressure, she said “saw the birth of the Data Protection Act in 2019,” adding that the country is also building a more collaborative partnership when it comes to data management.

“I don’t think we are there yet in terms of data protection, but there are efforts. Three or four years ago, data protection wasn’t much spoken about in Kenya. Now, people are more aware of their rights when it comes to digital ID,” she mentions.

In Nigeria, Olatunji said the government has been putting in place laws and policies to enhance trust in the digital economy which he says today contributes about 18.2 percent to the country’s GDP.

He recalled the journey of data protection legislation in the country which started in 2019, but the process saw a back and forth movement until 2023 when the legislation was assented to by President Bola Tinubu.

“To enhance trust, we need to protect the identity of our citizens,” said Olatunji, who also explained that through their engagement with the private sector, they have been able to achieve significant results in under a year since the data protection law went live.

Bingham, on her part, emphasized that discrimination in all its forms must be dismantled in any system such as ID systems which are built to be universal.

“You have to first do research to understand how the structures of discrimination function in society and the key thing is to go to the impacted people,” she advises.

Community mobilization, sensitization

In the third segment of the discussion, two officials – one from South Africa’s Home Affairs Ministry and the other from the WURI project in West Africa and Benin – shared thoughts on what it means to carry everyone on board in terms of building the enabling environment and getting in place the right legal frameworks needed for identity systems to bloom.

Thulani Mavuso, who’s deputy director general of the Department of Home Affairs, described inclusive participation of stakeholders in legislative reforms for identity projects as an “important activity.” He noted that all the law-making stages for identity in South Africa involve public consultations. “Even parliament itself holds a lot of public hearings on bills that are being processed.”

Jean Aholou, national coordinator of the WURI project and the National Agency for the Identification of Persons (ANIP) in Benin, said the country’s authorities used social dialogue to explain to citizens the importance of reforms undertaken to build a foundational ID system. “We needed to tell them everything and involve them in the process,” the official said.

Even when the law on the identification of persons in Benin was adopted in 2017 and during its subsequent amendments, Aholou said teams were dispatched to the field to explain the main thrust of the retouch and the innovations it contains.

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