Photo: / Dominik Frings

In Brief: News from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)

Bringing you highlights from key events in the identity calendar

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make large, in-person events impossible, the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) went virtual this year.

Hundreds of online panels and discussions were put on throughout September, covering pressing global issues, including climate change, gender inequality, and digital rights.

We attended the following events around digital identity in order to bring you the latest insights from policymakers, civil society advocates, and #GoodID experts.

Digital Cooperation in the Humanitarian Sector

This event focused on how the aid sector can use digital tools to increase efficiency and inclusion.

Fabrizio Hochschild, from the UN, said that the digital divide will become the new face of inequality, adding that digital identity is a means to reach those with no ID, and who suffer persecution because of it.

Enrica Porcari, from the World Food Programme, argued that using data in the humanitarian sector can tremendously increase efficiency - but that the data must be protected. In some cases, she warned, people’s data can be as important to them as their own life.

Meanwhile, Andrew Schroeder of Direct Relief reminded us that exclusion and inequality is a result of power imbalances, which can’t be solved solely with technology. 

The Data Pandemic: Making Decisions with Too Much, Not Enough, and Politicized Data

Hosted by The Rockefeller Foundation – Boston University 3-D Commission, dialogue focused on making the right decisions to ensure more equitable health outcomes during periods of crisis.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Samira Asma, Assistant Director-General for Data, Analytics, and Delivery at the World Health Organization. 

Dr. Asma stressed the importance of both supporting robust data systems to measure impact and progress toward major health goals, as well as incorporating the social determinants into health priorities.

Dr. Jeffrey L. Sturchio, CEO of Rabin Martin talked about an ‘infodemic’ in which there is often too much data for which decision makers have to navigate.

Decision-makers therefore need quick, accessible, quantitative and qualitative data not just at one point in time, but consistently for seamless integration of data in order to inform their decisions. 

Dr Sturchio moderated a panel which recommended the use of technology to increase transparency both within the decision-making process, but also with the public. 

The panel also highlighted the need to ensure that communities, about which data are collected, feel a sense of ownership and trust in the data. 

Digitalization For the Decade of Action

At this event, officials from around the world discussed the status of digital public services in their respective countries. 

Rikke H. Zeberg, from the Danish government, explained that it worked in partnership with the private sector to deliver a national eID. This has helped enable citizens to access vital services online during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She made the important point that new technologies need to adhere to standards of data privacy and human rights - otherwise, people simply won’t trust them.

Meanwhile Augustine Blay, a high-level official from Ghana, outlined how the country is implementing a national ID. He explained this is a crucial building block that needs to be securely in place before the government can start offering its services online.

Kimberly Johns from the World Bank explained that when conducting digitalization, we must make sure that those most vulnerable aren’t left behind, that the digital divide is real, and the world’s poorest must be considered, not marginalized further.

Digital Rights are Universal Human Rights

As part of the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition’s annual conference, this event saw panelists Holmes Wilson of Zbay and Elena Giralt of Electric Coin Company discuss how digital rights can be better understood as part of integral human rights.

Giralt noted that technology is developing much faster than regulation is put in place. She stated that if we want digital infrastructure to protect values that we share, we can’t assume that it will be built in naturally - we have to fight for it.

Wilson argued that, at the moment, the most important role of privacy advocates is to spread understanding - arguing that once people understand their right to privacy, they’ll be mobilized to take action. But without this shift in user behavior, technical or legislative solutions will fall short of addressing the core problems of inequalities in digital rights.

For more on the event check out the UNGA website.

And if you know of an unmissable identity event, activity, or story taking place in 2020, get in touch.