IGF 2022 WS #454 Accountability in Building Digital ID Infrastructures

Friday, 2nd December, 2022 (08:15 UTC) - Friday, 2nd December, 2022 (09:45 UTC)
Large Briefing Room

Organizer 1: Civil Society, African Group

Organizer 2: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Speaker 1: Laura Bingham, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Speaker 2: Mercy Sumbi, Private Sector, African Group

Speaker 3: Yussuf Bashir

Speaker 4: Elizabeth Atori, Civil Society, African Group

Speaker 5: Thomas Lohninger, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)



Break-out Group Discussions - Flexible Seating - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

1. What are the obligations of corporate actors participating in the digital identity and digital public infrastructure markets, including multinational enterprises, to perform human rights due diligence? What are the essential elements of an effective enforcement regime for such rules? 2.How can law and public policy incentivize alternatives to centralized, mass surveillance architecture, and move the industry away from military and security dominance agendas? 3.How can the thresholds for seeking accountability be brought within reach of those individuals and groups who have been most negatively affected by the current status quo?

Connection with previous Messages:


2. Zero Hunger
3. Good Health and Well-Being
4. Quality Education

Targets: Digital ID systems, as are being introduced around the world, are touted as a solution to financial and social welfare exclusion, healthcare solutions, and access to basic government services. As a side effect of this, governments/authorities continue to create governing frameworks for these systems that link government essential services such as education, social welfare, healthcare, and revenue collection to these forms of ID; further exacerbating the risk of exclusion for particular sections of society from (being part of the achievement of?) the goals identified above. Several examples highlight these issues. 1. No poverty 1.3) Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable 1.4) By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance 1.b) Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions The need for financial inclusion is one of main justifications being touted by governments that introduce digital IDs. They are highlighted as a failsafe way to capture the huge numbers of people who would be considered “unbanked,”those who do not have access to formal financial institutions. The Huduma Bill in Kenya intends to link revenue collection to the huduma namba, further pushing out these communities from financial inclusion. As it stands, persons who do not have identification documents do not have access to financial institutions, or even the less formal online payment platforms. In India, Aadhaar linkage to financial services is said to have disrupted the existing financial system through which welfare payments were being made. 3. Good health and wellbeing 3.8) Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all In Uganda, for instance, the ID system is connected to a number of government services including health services and social welfare stipends. It requires collection of biometric data, including fingerprints; while this may not be a problem on initial examination, according to researchers and members of community-based groups, there are entire groups of people who are locked out of registration as they lack fingerprints due to years of manual labour. In addition to this class of people, a large number of citizens in border communities have been denied access to this card and have no way of accessing government services that require proof of ID. The conception of Aadhar in India, saw numbers of persons living with HIV drop out of treatment programs due to requirements to submit their Aadhar number. Their reasons? A fear of their Aadhar data being leaked and people finding out their HIV status. Additionally, experts posit that ​​while the linkage of data may not be automatically happening as feared, databases are being formed on the basis of the Aadhaar numbers being seeded by the private sector that could be used for other purposes; insurance companies, for instance. 4. Quality Education 4.1) By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes 4.2) By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education In Kenya, the proposed Huduma Namba is set to be issued to children of school going age. With a source document, in this case a birth certificate, being part of the requirements, there is a risk that certain historically unrecognised groups, the Nubian community for example, will be excluded from access to primary and secondary education. 8. Decent work and economic growth 8.5) By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value 8.6) By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training Communities affected by a historical lack of access to identification do not have access to the job market, due to barriers to entry related to employment (such as need for tax credentials and security clearance both of which cannot be issued without a national ID), and lack of financial and educational development. The need for a source document, once again, ensures that this problem persists. 10. Reduced Inequalities 10.2) By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status 10.3) Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard 10.4) Adopt policies, especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies, and progressively achieve greater equality Digital IDs in their design are proactively excluding people, especially based on disability and ethnic origin; leading to further educational, economic and social exclusion

Digital identity is increasingly promoted as critical digital infrastructure for enabling a more connected, equitable and dynamic internet, and a safer and more secure global internet that allows for economic growth and many dimensions of sustainable development. Much of that infrastructure is envisioned, designed and constructed by private enterprises, although the end product is defined as a public good. Many systems, to achieve these goals, employ new technologies that are not widely understood, like biometrics and predictive analytics. Digital identity, by its very nature, is foundational to other more tangible individual, governmental and private sector projects, like banking, healthcare, and education, and promoters in search of maximizing the promise of connectivity and commerce strive for a high degree of interoperability, across these functions. These features pose many challenges to safeguarding human rights while striving for equitable and inclusive connection: Digital identity is poorly defined in the legal and regulatory arena and is not well-understood by policymakers, judicial actors, and implementing agencies Systems with controversial biometric and surveillance components have been deployed in high-risk operating environments without appropriate safeguards or redress mechanisms Insufficient transparency about digital identity systems harms trust and triggers avoidable human rights violations; a lack of clarity on system design leads to the adoption of architecture and individual technical components that cannot be fixed by policy after the fact This session will focus on the question of corporate accountability for human rights promotion and protection, given the significant impact that corporate behavior and corporate innovation play in creating digital identity infrastructure.

Expected Outcomes

- Follow up events and awareness raising publications with regard to considerations governments and their agencies can take to ensure that infrastructures built around essential services remain human rights respecting. - Contributions in evidence gathering, research and expert opinions on ongoing digital identity litigation around the region.

Hybrid Format: - How will you facilitate interaction between onsite and online speakers and attendees? We will build the session around a break-out exercise that is designed to explore case studies in multistakeholder groups, to discuss lessons that can be learned from case studies, what went well, and identify policy gaps and proposed solutions. This component can be planned in a way that facilitates hybrid participation, for example by allowing online audience members to join a single or multiple breakout groups and then integrate into the hybrid discussion about the exercise. The breakout session would be facilitated by speakers and would follow an introductory portion in which the speakers emphasize the need for certain core enabling elements in law and policy that both responsible industry actors and stakeholders in digital identity systems are calling for. - How will you design the session to ensure the best possible experience for online and onsite participants? The breakout and report back functions as a starting point for making sure that the contributions and experience of online participants is fully integrated into the discussion that happens in the room and vice versa. We anticipate that there will be some time for open discussion following a tour de table on the group exercise, and during this time the organizers will closely monitor the various mechanisms for online participants to indicate a desire to make an intervention (chat, hand raise, video gesture, etc). The role of the moderator for this component of the session will be to maintain an inclusive approach to bringing in participants from online and in the room. - Please note any complementary online tools/platforms you plan to use to increase participation and interaction during the session. We would like to use a shared google document to project to participants in the room and online where the breakout groups would take notes of their discussions, where we will gather questions and capture the main takeaways from the discussion as a whole. This can also be used to share resources as it will be more accessible for participants in-person to use such a document than to follow input from online participants through a chat box for instance.

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool.


Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Authorities need to right historical wrongs and promote civic education before introducing and rolling out new digital identification regimes.

There is a need to build into these frameworks Legislation that ensures these systems are inclusive and respect privacy and data protection principles.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Governments should stop rolling out digital identification programs without taking the reality of their demographic into adequate consideration..

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions
  • On the colonial legacy of exclusionary digital ID systems: Colonialism was designed to dominate and extract and the first targets were border communities. The manual ID was designed as a visa system to control people’s movements; the IDs contained information such as people’s names, tribes etc. These dynamics of control and domination are also present in contemporary identification systems. They require people to have their biometrics and data collected in order to access essential services, because of this, people do not have a choice but to comply.  Marginalized communities are the ones that suffer the most in this new iteration of colonialism.
  • On the conflation of legal identity and legal identity: Digital identity is just a tool, legal identity and identity can be accomplished in various ways, we need to ask if this is the right way to accomplish that, we need to reframe the narrative.
  • On how policy infrastructure can move from systems that enable surveillance to systems that enable social protection: The advocacy efforts have to be towards all arms of the government, we also need to understand what the executive wants to achieve with its agendas, the goalposts are always shifting. In litigation on digital ID, we need to push the court to define what the irreducible minimums are and clarify what cannot be abrogated from. There also needs to be a definition of what national security is because this has been most abused in limiting human rights, it has to be something that threatens the integrity or human rights of a country.
  • On moving away from enabling surveillance capabilities: There needs to be more done on creating systems that have privacy by design to prevent a panoptical view on everyday interactions. If digital identification is a precondition for access to essential services, many people e.g migrants and elderly people will be excluded.
  • On what the obligations are to perform human rights due diligence: We need to define the actions and effects of the actors but we don’t find this in human rights due diligence, which makes attribution for actions difficult. There’s a lot of obfuscation which is hidden from the public view in how digital id is deployed, we don’t know the tender processes, they are shrouded in national security protection it makes it difficult to get evidence on who is doing what, and that makes obligations difficult to obtain. Most of the time the client is a state, this is important in HRDD because this makes it different from contracting to a private entity because the state has control over private data and a monopoly on violence, so there is a real distinction in obligations because of this.
  • On private sector accountability:  Corporations need to be accountable and this goes beyond making sure that the systems are being rolled out, they need to ensure that all people are able to access government services. In Uganda, the digital id system has been tied to mandatory access to essential services. This means that it becomes the single source of access to social protection. With most of the country being below the poverty line, accessing these services becomes a matter of life and death, people such as PWDs, cross-border communities and rural communities are being left behind. These systems are exlusionary by design for people who are seen as people who should not be included. Some tribal communities are denied from being registered because they are not considered Ugandan enough. The corporations rely on provision of biometrics or identification documents to authenticate people in order for them to access services. This speaks to duties that corporations have, while they are providing social protection services, they have an obligation to ensure that they are inclusive. They have been touted as being more inclusive and leading to more accountability from the government but they are very removed from the real situation on the ground, there needs to be conversations on alternatives.