Photo: Namati / Noor Khamis

Digital IDs Make Systemic Bias Worse

– Namati

In this opinion piece for WIRED UK, Vivek Maru, Laura Goodwin, Aisha Khagai and Mustafa Mahmoud of Namati voice their concern about the discriminatory potential in the implementation of Kenya’s national ID system and similar digital ID systems

The authors from Namati welcome the recent ruling by the Kenyan High Court blocking Huduma Namba in its current form. But they also warn about general exclusion and discrimination that can happen with well-meaning ID systems.

"Any good-faith transition to digital ID should involve legal empowerment groups throughout, to ensure that marginalized communities are not excluded and to surface problems as they arise."

By following the example of Kenyan woman “Ziya,” the authors demonstrate how minorities can find difficulty in simple, seemingly inclusive registration processes. In Ziya’s case, it was trying to get her son a birth certificate, and herself a state ID, as a Nubian who was required to go through extra “vetting” processes. Only through outside support from Namati’s paralegals could she successfully navigate Kenya’s complex and unequally applied ID application rules.

The Namati experts warn individuals across the globe will experience processes similar to Ziya if governments don’t work with minorities and excluded groups throughout the digital ID design and implementation process. As they note:

If a government is going to transition from an analog system to a digital one, it needs to address exclusion before doing so

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