Owning and accessing an official proof of identity remains a challenge for over 1 billion people in the world. This lack of documented identity disproportionately affects marginalized groups like women and ethnic minorities, especially in developing nations where barriers exist to the issuing of basic credentials like birth certificates or national identity documents. Without a functional identity, marginalized communities remain unable to take advantage of key financial, educational, and political resources the digital world can provide. This disparity is a primary focus for the global community. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals even enumerated Goal 16.9 with a specific target: By 2030, providing legal identity for all, including birth registration. If even basic analog identifiers are out of the reach of people across the globe, then digital identity proves nearly impossible for them to obtain. Though Canada remains a leader in digital identity, challenges remain with complete integration of marginalized communities into their developed digital identity ecosystems. This post stands to outline the global problem, and provide insight into a global solution framework which could possibly be applied to the Canadian context.
A gender divide in digital access has been prevalent for decades, and has widened over the past years between developed and developing countries. Roughly 330 million fewer women than men have access to a smartphone and the mobile internet. They are 26% less likely to own a mobile device, and in South Asia and Africa those proportions stand at 70% and 34% respectively. Without access to the mobile internet and the ability to affirm their digital identity, people are left unable to utilize key resources that could help sustain them and their families. These resources could include access to financial accounts, employment opportunities, microfinance applications, digital platforms to create independent income, public health and healthcare initiatives, and the breadth of the Internet as a place to gain knowledge and skills. With ready access to these digital platforms, marginalized communities can find financial stability and health resources that will improve their quality of life.
Economic development organizations such as the World Bank are developing strategies to introduce Digital ID frameworks to its member countries. The World Bank’s Identity for Development (ID4D) Diagnostics provides a possible methodology to identify ways to improve identity management systems around the world. Inclusion is a key priority for ID4D, with a focus on systems with high levels of coverage and access. The universality of coverage is defined in both longitudinal and latitudinal terms. Longitudinal coverage spans the lifetime of an individual, while latitudinal coverage refers to the breadth of society the system covers. Accessibility requires the removal of barriers to usage and disparities in the availability of information and technology. ID4D stresses the importance of “inclusion by design”, tasking system builders to communicate with marginalized communities to see where legal, social, and economic gaps may exist to avoid further exacerbating them. According to ID4D, these identity systems should also possess a high level of interoperability. Interoperable systems are more efficient, both in time and money, and allow for integration across multiple platforms. It also suggests using open standards, rather than proprietary technology, which foster innovation in the system and encourage technological advances to be made.
Does the way that ID4D is applied in developing nations provide any lessons for how a developed country can better serve its marginalized communities? Do other solution frameworks exist to map a developed digital identity ecosystem for gaps in coverage and access? By asking these questions, we begin a conversation that will result in improving identity access for all. When connected to a digital identity, marginalized communities are able to take advantage of a wealth of resources that can improve their financial, social, and political standing. In turn, this supports sustainable growth in their home country and contributes to a system where all can benefit.
About the Author:
Kyra John is a technology coordinator in the wireless industry and passionate about diversity, inclusion, and global citizenship. She has always been drawn to complex problems, and is excited to work as a Community Volunteer with DIACC to delve deeper into topics relating to technology and equity. She has a degree in international affairs and conflict resolution from The George Washington University and enjoys music, reading, and alpine hiking in her free time.