By Molly Elgin-Cossart, Principal and CV Madhukar, Investment Partner at Omidyar Network
At Omidyar Network, we believe everyone has the right to participate fully in society and in the modern economy, and that no one should face the indignity of exclusion, nor be denied the opportunity to realize their full potential or to share in progress.
Because formal identification is a prerequisite for engagement in modern society, we believe every person should be recognized through official, privacy-preserving identification. However, the World Bank estimates that approximately 1.5 billion people are without identity. This is why we have established a test portfolio on digital identity with the aim of empowering people and preserving privacy in the digital future. We seek to expand access to identity, especially for people who are excluded or marginalized in their societies. At the same time, we are concerned that systems must be designed and implemented with people at the center, including through the protection of individual privacy and basic rights.
Given the pace at which digital identity is spreading, enshrining these beliefs in a set of shared principles is critical. That is why we are excited to be a part of a broad coalition of partners — the Asian Development Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Center for Global Development, the Digital Impact Alliance, the Organization for International Migration, Mastercard, the OSCE Organization for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Plan International Secure Identity Alliance, GSMA, UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), UNICEF, UNDP, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the World Bank Group — endorsing a set of principles on identification for sustainable development that was released recently.
The principles are an important first step towards the creation of shared global norms around digital identity. They recognize that individuals “are at the center of identification systems and have the right to know and exercise appropriate control over how their data is collected, used, stored, and shared”. They build on existing international norms such as the Fair Information Practices for protecting personal information, and crucially, they elevate privacy, both in the design of the system itself, and as part of the larger legal and governance framework within which the identification systems are situated.
As with any set of principles, their effectiveness will be determined by how they are used. We are heartened to see the range of groups already participating in this conversation, and hope to see a continued and progressively broader process of consultation and collaboration with end users, civil society, governments, businesses, researchers, and others to refine a set of principles that can be applied in practice. This will be especially important regarding the fast-changing technologies behind digital identity. Regular consultation — especially with users — about the challenges and risks, opportunities, and innovations in digital identity will be necessary to ensure that ID remains a tool for empowerment and not oppression.
Going forward, we at Omidyar Network will be working to ensure that these conversations take place and work toward a shared base of norms, evidence, dialogue and practical guidance that can help ensure empowering ID systems that leave no one behind.