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Announcement of a Three-Region Research Alliance on the Appropriate Use of Digital Identity

Omidyar Network has recently announced its decision to invest in establishment of a three-region research alliance — to be co-led by the Institute for Technology & Society (ITS), Brazil, the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) , Kenya, and the CIS, India — on the Appropriate Use of Digital Identity. As part of this Alliance, we at the CIS will look at the policy objectives of digital identity projects, how technological policy choices can be thought through to meet the objectives, and how legitimate uses of a digital identity framework may be evaluated.

 

As governments across the globe are implementing new, digital foundational identification systems or modernizing existing ID programs, there is a dire need for greater research and discussion about appropriate design choices for a digital identity framework. There is significant momentum on digital ID, especially after the adoption of UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, which calls for legal identity for all by 2030. Given the importance of this subject, its implications for both the development agenda as well its impact on civil, social and economic rights, there is a need for more focused research that can enable policymakers to take better decisions, guide civil society in different jurisdictions to comment on and raise questions about digital identity schemes, and provide actionable material to the industry to create identity solutions that are privacy enhancing and inclusive.

 

Excerpt from the blog post by Subhashish Bhadra announcing this new research alliance

...In the absence of any widely-accepted thinking on this issue, we run the risk of digital identity systems suffering from mission creep, that is being made mandatory or being used for an ever-expanding set of services. We believe this creates several risks. First, people may be excluded from services if they do not have a digital identity or because it malfunctions. Second, this approach creates a wider digital footprint that can be used to create a profile of an individual, sometimes without consent. This can increase privacy risk. Third, this approach increases the power of institutions versus individuals and can be used as rationale to intentionally deny services, especially to vulnerable or persecuted groups.

Three exceptional research groups have undertaken the effort of answering this complex and important question. Over the next six months, these think tanks will conduct independent research, as well as involve experts from across the globe. Based in South America, Africa, and Asia, these institutions represent the collective wisdom and experiences of three very distinct geographies in emerging markets. While drawing on their local context, this research effort is globally oriented. The think tanks will create a set of recommendations and tools that can be used by stakeholders to engage with digital identity systems in any part of the world...

This research will use a collaborative and iterative process. The researchers will put out some ideas every few weeks, with the objective of seeking thoughts, questions, and feedback from various stakeholders. They will participate in several digital rights and identity events across the globe over the next several months. They will also organize webinars to seek input from and present their interim findings to interested communities from across the globe. Each of these provide an opportunity for you to provide your thoughts and help this research program provide an independent, rigorous, transparent, and holistic answer to the question of when it’s appropriate for digital identity to be used. We need a diversity of viewpoints and collaborative dissent to help solve the most pressing issues of our times.

 

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