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Why over one billion people lack identity (and what can be done about it)

  • Viewpoint
  • By Scott Reid (iRespond)
  • 15 April 2019

Scott Reid, CEO at iRespond, explains how organizations can come together to develop decentralized networks to help provide recognized forms of identity for the over one billion people without them

Individual identity is a fundamental human right, and yet it’s a stark reality that over a billion people lack any recognized form of identity.

Consider a refugee’s newborn child in a neighboring country, as one of many examples. There are a lot of us working on a solution – the need is clear.

With today’s readily available technologies, how can we still be in this “undocumented” state? My opinion is that this complex issue is actually quite simple: a basic lack of motivating factors for business or government.

Businesses can’t survive on a model where their customers have little to no money. Governments lack the resources and desire to provide some form of identity to those without, frequently because of fear that it would create standing or entitlement for those individuals. Without strong motivation, neither business nor government has reason to implement a holistic solution, and smaller uncoordinated efforts at the fringes only chip away at the problem.

One solution is to implement a system that gives control to the individual, including ability to choose with whom to share their credentials and private records. Identifiers must be based on random and/or biometric attributes, which along with associated credentials form the basis for self-sovereign identity systems. When coupled with digital ledger technology, especially public decentralized blockchains, these systems will be robust and span across business and government trust boundaries. New decentralized networks of trust are established among individuals, guardians when needed, credential issuers, and entities relying on those identities.

Developing distributed ledger is made more complex by the goal of creating something much more secure. If you’re going to design a system to help those with very few resources and no identity, it can’t expose them to more risks. Currently, each of our online identities is typically managed by only a username and password, stored in central databases that attract hackers, and results in massive data breaches. This needs to be fixed for everyone’s benefit.

Many organizations are working hard at developing distributed ledger technology, including iRespond. This requires a lot of money and smart people to create an entirely new public utility built around identity and managed by the individual. We believe the resulting networks of trust will be the game-changer to serve individuals without digital identities and also the broad online population. It is a noble endeavor, and I hope you will find a way to support the effort. My organization has chosen to donate time and expertise to Sovrin because of their expertise and focus on self-sovereign identity.

iRespond’s efforts to provide NGOs with a secure identity solution over the last eight years has taught us many lessons. The most universal theme is that trust at the local level is critical. Disadvantaged populations know that their bad situation could be made worse in the wrong hands. iRespond partners with organizations that have fostered long-standing relationships with the beneficiaries.

We can no longer wait for businesses or governments to act. Understandably, they will do what is best for their organization. Meanwhile, the one billion people without identity whose only fault was to be born into poverty and upheaval will not officially exist. Let’s focus our resources on improving that outcome now.