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Good ID in 2019: A Year for Action

Last year we saw high profile data breaches, GDPR, and new controls over India's identity program. Now is the time to shape and safeguard identification systems for the better, argues CV Madhukar

A portrait of CV Madhukar
CV Madhukar

There has been a flurry of activity over the past year that has shaped our view of identity. We tipped the scales, now with more than half the world’s population using the internet.

Data breaches compromised the identity of hundreds of millions of people. The Supreme Court of India declared that individuals have a fundamental right to privacy, and imposed strictures on the use of Aadhaar, India’s identity program.

Major internet platforms such as Facebook and Google were called to testify before the US Congress.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in Europe.

Late in the year, Microsoft announced the creation of a blockchain-based digital identity solution.

All of this has generated a lot of focus on the role of digital identity in our digital economy and society, and on the ways in which being identified can be beneficial and potentially harmful to individuals.

Reliable proof

Anyone who has spent time in an impoverished community, talked to a refugee, or experienced difficulty securing a birth certificate knows how critical it is that individuals be able to reliably establish their identity, increasingly digitally.

Without a recognized ID, people are cut off from large portions of the economy and society. Thankfully, there are many new ways to establish our digital identities and prove who we are.

This is especially important for those who currently lack any form of ID as well everyone who wants choice, privacy, and security.

In addition to digital identities issued by governments and sometimes called “national IDs” or “legal IDs”, private businesses also issue ID for employees, customers, and vendors.

As internet users, we also have a growing network of “data trails” that result from all of our online accounts and transactions. Sometimes called de facto ID, these records can be used to identify us as well.

Even newer forms of ID – those people design and assert themselves as well as personal data that is stored outside of institutional databases, sometimes on the blockchain – are further expanding the definition of digital identity and the methods of providing it.

Risks and rewards

As technology becomes ever more central to our daily lives, it opens up many opportunities that we could not imagine earlier. It also brings new challenges.

For example, while it will be possible to open a bank account online easily with an established, digital ID, it also carries it a risk that, if required, others who do not have access to or comfort with technology may be excluded from financial services.

And even though biometric technologies like facial recognition, can uniquely identify us, that same identity data could be used to discriminate people by race.

There is an urgent need to find and create more empowering forms of ID. Exclusion, discrimination, surveillance, and consent are key issues of our time

As I learn more about the future direction of digital identity, I have become ever more convinced that it is as important to work on improving the quality of digital identity, as much as it is to ensure that everyone has a way to identify themselves.

The idea of a “quality” digital identity is a nuanced one. At Omidyar Network, we have tried to advance a Good ID, which encapsulates the safeguards and the empowerment that make identity truly trustworthy and useful.

Evolution of Good ID

The notion of what constitutes Good ID will evolve. We have begun to articulate a starting framing, which complements the Identification Principles for Sustainable Development and extend them to new forms of identity.

Our working definition of Good ID requires it to be empowering to individuals, be secure and privacy protecting, provide agency and control to the individual, it should be fit for purpose, and it should be inclusive and offer choice to individuals.

CV Madhukar speaking at the 2018 Global Tech Summit
CV Madhukar speaking last year at the Global Tech Summit

It starts with talking

What do you think? Do we have a common understanding of Good ID?

If all forms of digital identity met these requirements, would we have mitigated many of the negative side effects of a digital world?

What additional safeguards and standards should we build for?

I am personally very interested to engage in the #GoodID platform – a place for live discussions, thought-provoking viewpoints from various leaders, in-depth podcast conversations, and core reading for anyone interested in #Good ID and digital identity, however you may define it.

Catalyzing action

The collective wisdom and constructive engagement of governments, technologists, civil society, and all sectors of business is essential to make progress.

We will have some meetings to discuss these issues. But the idea is to use this platform to catalyze action as well.

As a member of this community, Omidyar Network will be investing in more privacy-enhancing technology, advocating for suitable protections, and making grants that fundamentally change the practices of today in support of individual empowerment.

As we engage with each other, online and in-person, to get the details and nuance of Good ID right, we must remember there is an urgent need to find and create more empowering forms of ID. Exclusion, discrimination, surveillance, and consent are key issues of our time.

It has become far too easy for large internet platforms, startups, data-brokers, and other intermediaries to collect enormous amounts of data about us, and at very low costs.

This increases the ‘attack surface’ for our data, with so many intermediaries and potentially bad actors having very easy access to our data.

I am proud and inspired to be among a growing group of champions who care about identity data, who collects it, how they secure it and what they do with it

The #GoodID movement has the opportunity and imperative to help shift this paradigm and help bring choice, privacy, and security to everyone who wants it.

I am proud and inspired to be among a growing group of champions who care about identity data, who collects it, how they secure it and what they do with it.

Even the CEO of Apple and musician will.i.am are saying individuals should have greater control and agency over their identities. And the incoming G20 president said he will push forward a new international system for the oversight of how data is used.

In contrast to last year and as a result of this momentum, I am hopeful 2019 will bring three things:

  • a shared understanding of what Good ID means across industries;
  • a normative framework that guides ID systems closer toward common standards; and
  • new capacity and incentives that make digital ID good for people, business, and government.

We invite anyone who is actively designing or refreshing ID systems, building applications on top of them, navigating the legal and political complexities of digital identity, researching the topic, and advocating on behalf of vulnerable groups to join the conversations taking place in person and online.

Let us unlock the potential of Good ID.