CV Madhukar
Investment Partner

Launching Good ID Dialogues

September 5, 2018

In 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals highlighted “legal identity for all” as a global priority. The World Bank produced its first estimate of the number – 1.5bn – of people who lacked access to official identification. And, some innovative national digital identity systems, such as in India and Estonia, gained in reach and global prominence.

As an organization interested in the potential of technological innovations to drive inclusion and participation for all individuals, Omidyar Network identified digital identity as an area for exploration. At first, our interest stemmed from an internal exploration of the “pre-conditions for individual empowerment” which pointed to identification as an important key to unlock participation in society and the economy. 

Two years ago, our first attempt at developing a strategy resulted in a rudimentary 2x2 matrix. Yet, as we commissioned research, made investments, interacted with end users, and engaged with many experts in this complex field, we realized that this matrix oversimplified the challenge, and, influenced by SDG 16.9, overemphasized universal coverage in emerging economies where a clear majority of the unidentified reside. Relatedly, we also identified early on that the definition and governance of IDs needed to be broadened beyond government-issued identity.

The companies that hold our personal data can use our data trails to identify us. This de facto identity was already ubiquitous, but often without consent built-in. Individuals commonly had little privacy or agency over their data. We started investing in technology solutions and other innovations designed to help individuals have greater agency over their data.

In recent years, the conversation about decentralized, self-sovereign identity, has grown. Groups engaged in building this form of ID are using thoughtful technical architecture and cryptography to enable people to create and assert their own identity credentials rather than depend entirely on the state or any other entity for identification. While this form of identity is still in the early stages of evolution and adoption, we are intrigued by the possibilities.

What is the right thing to do with digital identity?

Recent events have laid bare the risks associated with digital identity. The risks of state surveillance and unbridled use of personal identity data by private internet companies have never been more serious. There is a moral case to be made that those holding our data should not be able to do anything they like with it, even if we have said “Agree” in the prevalent broken consent model.

“What is the right thing to do with identity data?” must be the central consideration when thinking about ID systems. Governments, NGOs, multilaterals, and companies have accelerated their efforts to build ID systems; providing identification to the people without IDs is likely a matter of time. For IDs to be empowering, giving more agency and control to the individual is critical. We recognize more than ever, that it is not enough to simply advocate for more coverage of those who lack official identification. We must emphasize the need for Good ID, and not just any ID.

Because digital identity is not inherently empowering or harmful, “good” needs to be further defined and more broadly owned by different stakeholders. In the past couple of years, several important contributions from several key organizations have helped shape the landscape:

  • The World Bank’s ID4D program initiated an important effort to develop the Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development in 2016. Many groups, including Omidyar Network, participated in this process. These Principles are an excellent foundation on which to broaden the ownership and build a widely shared understanding of what constitutes Good ID. 
  • The World Bank continues its important work on enabling legal and regulatory environments and the technical design of national ID systems, all of which are critical building blocks to get to Good ID. 
  • GDPR in Europe has given regulatory teeth to a number of key ideas that are central to Good ID.
  • DFID and GSMA have organized several multi-country initiatives related to digital identity in recent years.
  • Digital rights advocates have also entered the discussion, in some cases drafting principles, or providing critiques and suggested amendments to existing conceptions of what good looks like. 
  • The Humanitarian ID Working Group (comprising of Oxfam, Mercy Corps, ACF, Save the Children, and World Vision) are developing principles on user-centric interoperable beneficiary identification management in partnership with bilateral donors and several private sector actors.
  • The Digital Economy and Society System Initiative of the World Economic Forum (WEF) has acted as convener and connector between the many public and private sector efforts on digital identity. A forthcoming publication from WEF will map and explore existing principles for good practice, proposing a path toward their meaningful coordination and implementation.

Our own early attempt at this notion – with a focus on privacy – can be found in this point of view document from late 2017. We then led a panel on “Good ID: Finding Global Consensus”, which evoked a lot of positive feedback at the KNOW Conference in 2017 in Washington DC. We further explained this idea of Good ID at an event organized by WEF in March this year in London. We observed that some participants at the event began expressing the desire to use this framing in their own work. Building on this, we held our first Good ID Dialogue in June this year, with an event hosted in partnership with Department of International Development (DFID) in London. 

Despite a great deal of activity in this space, we believe there is a need to deepen and broaden this conversation to develop a shared understanding of what “good” looks like, for not just national ID systems, but also for de facto and self-sovereign IDs. The World Bank will continue to play a key role in shaping this landscape. DFID, WEF, ID2020 Alliance, GSMA, and several other key stakeholders have, in their own ways, already shaped and embraced key aspects of Good ID.

Good ID Dialogues are an effort to include new voices and perspectives. It is an effort to listen to ideas of more institutions and private corporations, of civil society actors across the globe, of individuals and advocates shaping the ID ecosystem. The Dialogues are an effort to develop a shared understanding of what will be necessary to move beyond aspirational norms to meaningful agency for individuals. Our engagement will be broad and focused on developing this shared understanding on how we collectively empower individuals to exercise agency and demand Good ID; how we all incentivize and build the capacity of issuers to offer Good ID; and how we together shape a global ecosystem of institutions, norms, and standards that encourages Good ID.

Join the movement #GoodID

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