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National Digital Identity Programs: What’s Next?

– Access Now

Naman M. Aggarwal, Wafa Ben-Hassine and Raman Jit Singh Chima of Access Now explore public identity programmes from a human rights perspective

In this working paper, Access Now explores the intersections between public identity programmes and human rights issues, explaining why they: “are skeptical, despite the identified benefits of proponents, about the push to universalise national digital identity programmes.”

The piece opens by presenting the authors’: “deep concerns about any initiative to legally mandate a centralised national digital identity programme,” for the reason that: “[these] programmes pose significant risks for human rights. Specifically, they threaten to undermine the right to privacy and chill freedom of movement, the freedom of expression, and other protected rights.”

The authors also highlight the risk to citizens who are mandated to share their data, particularly biometrics: “Such centralised programmes have the potential to turn a digital ID into a pervasive means of identification, tracking, or control, especially when such identities are biometrically linked and made mandatory.”

By examining case studies in Estonia, Tunisia and India, the rights researchers explore national digital identity programs in context, and the varying effects each has on the human rights of the citizens in that country.

After identifying Access Now’s scope of “digital identity” and “national identity programs, the authors use the case studies to outline practical advice. Using this foundation, safeguards and policy recommendations are offered for “public officials, lawmakers, representatives from judicial and human rights institutions, technologists, officers of development institutions, and members of the private sector.”

The authors finally provide a framework for safeguarding digital rights, categorized under governance, data protection & privacy, and cybersecurity safeguards.

From our perspective, it is not helpful for policy makers to advance the idea that identity and civil liberties are necessities that must be balanced against one another; identity must be prefaced on the protection of our civil liberties, not given at the expense of these liberties

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