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Photo: Agencia Brasil

Good ID in Latin America

ITS Rio (Institute of Technology and Society), explains its Good ID project, which aims to strengthen appropriate uses of digital identity in the Latin America region

As the digital transformation of the economy and society advances, digital identity becomes an essential element for citizens’ future. In order to be included, individuals must easily be able to digitally prove who they are, or risk being excluded from the future.

As we identified in our research, we must consider in which situations identification should be requested, and in which situations it should not.

We perceived Good ID as a normative framework that balances the right to identity, as a key enabler of dignity and access to rights and services, with the emerging digital threats around privacy, data protection, and mass surveillance.

The central issue is that digital transformation is not the panacea for Latin American problems, even though it might carry many opportunities. Old digital barriers remain, meanwhile disruptive technologies, innovative approaches, and above all, new user expectations enter the arena.

Regarding identification schemes, the most vulnerable ones struggle to access basic personal documentation; added to this are weak privacy and data protection practices, a highly centralized identification system architecture, and low utilization of identification to improve the delivery of services.

The challenge of how to identify individuals while assuring their rights, duties, and control over data is also increasing.

The Good ID project, in its approach by ITS Rio (Institute of Technology and Society), explores the core of identification schemes and their purpose for Latin American countries. According to our vision, identification can vary considerably in its conceptualization, legal and organizational arrangements, and operational and technological infrastructure.

As identification is becoming a buzzword, used differently in accordance with political agendas, sometimes key issues such as exclusion, discrimination, and surveillance, are overlooked.

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Photo: Agencia Brasil

These issues were used as a basis for the report Good ID in Latin America: Strengthening appropriate uses of digital identity in the region, led by ITS Rio and funded by Omidyar Network, in cooperation with research centers on two other continents: the Center for Internet and Society (CIS), India, and the Center for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT), Kenya.

The overall goal was to investigate and define what appropriate uses of digital identity are. In our search, the objective was to understand why identification is important for Latin American countries, what its value is for citizens, and especially, how this fundamental right directly impacts human dignity.

As part of the Good ID project - which aims to identify and promote appropriate uses of digital identification in the Latin American context - this report is the result of in-depth research into digital identification in this region, from an inclusion perspective.

During our research, we conducted a solid literature review regarding identity management from a chronological, geographical, and multisectoral perspective, alongside specific research on sectoral uses. In addition, we structured country-specific analyses and a series of interviews in each country.

A historical challenge for national identification systems is to be inclusive. In developing nations, the digital gap remains a barrier and digital literacy engenders even greater risks of exclusion of needy and vulnerable populations.

In Latin America, one third of the population has no access to the internet. In addition, under registration is a key issue in the region - for example, Brazil still has 600,000 people without birth registration.

The digitization of identity systems has aggravated the inclusion challenge. Without legal proof of identity, a person cannot perform basic, everyday acts like opening a bank account or accessing health services, and they are excluded from almost all social protection programs. In Latin America, access to these basic services is increasingly digital: 60% of countries in the region provide digital government services.

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Photo: Agencia Brasil

Our research ultimately revealed that, in order to ensure appropriate uses of digital identity in Latin America, inclusion has to be at the core of the identification practices, technologies, and policy design.

We advise policymakers and governments looking to develop digital ID programs to consider the question: under what circumstances can digital identification be a tool for inclusion, and under what circumstances can it pose a risk to the rights of individuals?

The report’s key takeaways include recommendations on not reproducing the current exclusion problem digitally, and ensuring that access to basic rights and services does not depend on digital identification. In addition, we detail more good practices on user value, privacy measures, and security.

The report is available in three languages, and we also created a series of supporting materials presenting our discoveries throughout the project, including introductory videos and infographics.

In addition, to understand digital ID in Latin America more broadly, throughout May and June of 2020 we evaluated how technological solutions were developed in Latin America in response to the COVID-19 socio-economic and health crisis.

We analyzed contact tracking applications provided by the governments of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and the Mexican state of Nuevo León. We also studied Brazilian applications launched by Caixa Econômica Federal, to help mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic through unconditional cash transfers to informal workers.

You can explore the report and further reading using the links below: