National digital ID initiatives have a trust problem

Published: 5/Mai/2021

By Nanjala Nyabola

The move toward digitizing identity and biometrics will only make existing systemic bias harder to crack.

The future of travel is up in the air. As countries and companies attempt to define what safety looks like in this late stage of the pandemic, one proposal that seems to be gathering momentum is a vaccine passport enhanced by digital add-ons. Blockchain and biometrics are on the table. The question of digital identity systems is now laced with transnational urgency.

As the European Union and the United States mull over making such passports mandatory, the African Union and international organizations like the International Air Transport Association have offered their own proposals. Before the pandemic, many travelers had to provide vaccination cards in order to enter certain countries, the logic goes. Why not extend this to Covid-19?

While deciding what to do about the digital passport, it is useful to revisit recent experiences in digital identity. Kenya and India have begun to pivot to digital ID systems, and the World Bank is pushing for countries to adopt similar plans. The argument is that digital systems will make governments more efficient in identifying needs and allocating support.

But digital identity systems will only make governments more efficient at what they are already doing. If a government is currently using its identity systems to discriminate against minorities and exclude them from power, then they will only become more efficient at that.

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Themes: Cartes d’identité et passeports
Regions: Pan Afrique, Kenya
Year: 2021