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Paving a Digital Road to Hell? A Primer on the Role of the World Bank and Global Networks in Promoting Digital ID

Published: July 1, 2022 | Print This
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Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project

Center for Human Rights and Global Justice
NYU School of Law

June 2022

The beginning of the Executive Summary:

Governments around the world are designing or implementing digital
identification systems, often with biometric components (digital
ID). The spread of these systems is driven by a new development
consensus which holds that digital ID can contribute to inclusive and
sustainable development and is a prerequisite for the realization of
human rights. But a specific model of digital ID is being promoted,
which draws heavily on the Aadhaar system in India as a source of
inspiration. Such digital ID systems aim to provide individuals with a
‘transactional’ or ‘economic’ identity, by establishing their uniqueness.
The promise is that with such an economic identity, an individual can
transact with both government and private sector actors. This will then
improve access to public and private services, fuel economic growth,
and contribute to the emergence of truly digital economies. Unlike
traditional systems of civil registration, such as birth registration,
this new model of economic identity commonly sidesteps difficult
questions about the legal status of those it registers.

Many consider rapid and widescale deployment of such digital ID systems
to be dangerous. Evidence is emerging from many countries around the
world about actual and potential, often severe and large-scale, human
rights violations linked to this model of digital ID. Such systems may
exacerbate pre-existing forms of exclusion and discrimination in public
and private services. The use of new technologies may lead to new
forms of harm, including biometric exclusion, discrimination, and the
many harms associated with surveillance capitalism.13 Meanwhile, the
promised benefits of such systems have not been convincingly proven.
These dangerous digital ID systems may lead to “pain without gain.”14

Read the primer (103 pp, pdf)

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