The urgency driven behind digital identity cohesion is often only portrayed as a positive transformation of society propelling us towards the next frontier of digital revolution.

Reports published by The World Economic Forum and Caribou Digital reflect the work, also supported by the United Nations Development Programme and other agencies, in creating a more inclusive and ethical digital world, where emerging technologies support the functions of sectors but do not forge a digital divide, cause exclusion or fuel marginalisation and oppression.

The identity report, by Caribou Digital, describes the unhelpful practices that society is pursing with digital identity to achieve a connected age. The insights are derived from understanding individuals’ experiences with digital identity systems and how they can sometimes cause a digression away from life-enhancing uses, efficiency, seamlessness, and a feeling of being connected more by technology to access services.

Two “parallel movements” by the private sector and countries are gathering pace and “heavily investing in digital identification”, but society has to be mindful of the inevitable section of people that reject converting entirely to digital systems or may be digitally inept at using these technologies and therefore are excluded.

Our identities are complex and multi-faceted, not perfectly fitting into being personal, political, cultural, or psychological. The report also recognises that most people have multiple identities and ID types.

Respondents whose experiences were recorded stressed that physical identity documents matter and in so many ways still exceed digital identity in terms of trust and security.

Beyond facilitating services we all use, every identity transaction always has a meaning to people, whether enabling financial autonomy, or identity where minorities are denied having one. “Identity transactions are always leavened with meaning and intersected with the operation of power along various lines”, the report suggests. The choice of identity that citizens choose to carry and present is a fusion of physical and digital identity elements that serves them and earns their trust.

The World Economic Forum also suggests social inclusion can be bolstered by factors such as trust, privacy, and decentralised digital identity. Identity itself is conditional to one sharing their personal data.

“There are also risks of marginalisation and oppression, with ID being used to facilitate the identification, surveillance and persecution of individuals or groups,” the WEF report says and has more meaning with often tensions arising from “fixed” identities meeting “rigid systems and people’s shifting, dynamic lives”.

Crossing borders where the identification rules vary is especially hard on migrants, asylum seekers and displaced people without documentation and lacking financial ID. Only half of 2.8 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan are registered under the Government’s database, while women in some countries are minorities as they are excluded from having an ID.

More information sources:

Click to access Identities-Report.pdf

Click to access WEF_Reimagining_Digital_ID_2023.pdf

Photo credits: OECD Development Matters