Citizen Identification (1/4) : A pressing issue in Africa

In this series of blog posts, we will briefly present the major issues related to the digitization of identification documents and how blockchain technologies can contribute to its success.

Identification is an essential part of a functioning society and economy. Having a proper and efficient way to identify ourselves and our possessions allows us to create a fair society and a prosperous global market.

At its simplest level, identity is a collection of information about an individual, place, or thing.
For individuals, this is usually names, date of birth, nationality and national identifiers such as birth certificate, passport number, social security number, driver’s license, etc.
These data are issued by centralized entities (government agencies and/or private companies) and are mainly stored in centralized databases (central government servers, etc.).

Physical forms of identification aren’t widely available to every human for different reasons. According to the World Bank, around 1 Billion people worldwide don’t have a possibility to claim ownership of their own identity, especially in Africa and in Asia.

Global population ID coverage, Source : McKinsey

This means that one-seventh of the world’s population lives in a critical status — unable to prove who they are, to vote for elections, own property, open a bank account, or get any kind of credentials.
Not being able to possess identification documentation forbids a person’s access to the financial system and by extension, limits their freedom.

Where identification systems are well spread, citizens with officially recognized identification documents continue to lack complete ownership and control over their identities. They have a partial ownership, especially for online identification, and don’t benefit from the value that their data generate.

How can Blockchain technologies help with issues related to Identity?

Identity management systems deployed on a Blockchain could be used to mitigate the main current identity issues such as

  • Accessibility
  • Data security breaches and Identity theft

Accessibility

Around 1 billion persons around the world can’t prove their own identity, and 50% of these individuals are among the poorest 20% on the planet which shows an obvious link.

Heavy and inefficient identification paperwork processes, costs, lack of access, and the simple lack of knowledge about personal identity functioning are primary obstacles that keep more than a billion persons outside of modern identification systems.
Without possessing an official and physical identities, a person is not considered as a citizen and, de facto, can not register in school, get a passport and travel, access credit or access most of governmental services.
Being a citizen and having an identity is critical to access to the global financial system.

Adults with an account (%), 2017, Source : Global Findex database

We can see that issues is predominant in Africa where in some regions less than 20% of the adults have a bank account.

To balance those facts, around 60% of the 1.7 billion unbanked people worldwide already own mobile phones. This paves the way for the use of digital ID solution and blockchain-based mobile identity solutions which better fit the needs of remote and vulnerable citizens.

Adults with an account owning a mobile phone, 2017, Source : Global Findex database

Data security breaches and Identity theft

Nowadays where digitization is well spread, we store most of our identification information on centralized databases supported by software operate with many single points of failure. Important centralized systems containing the personally identifiable information of millions of user accounts are frequently subjected to hackers attacks.
A recent study shows that personally identifiable information is the most targeted data for breaches, comprising 97% of all breaches in 2018.

According to Forgerock, “despite regulatory legislation and enterprise efforts to increase cybersecurity, 2.8 billion consumer data records were exposed at an estimated cost of more than $654 billion in 2018”.

On a daily basis, users use and switch from various identities associated with their usernames across different websites and apps.

Average number of accounts registered to one email address, Gontovnikas.

There is currently no standardization in the use of data generated by one application on another one. Moreover, the weak link between most of the digital and official offline identities makes it pretty easy to create fake identities.
Fake identities create fertile ground for the phenomena of counterfeit interaction, which can help in fraudulent activities and lead significant damage to reputation and lost of monetary value for both individuals and businesses.

Due to the fast development of always more powerful smartphones, advances in data protection through cryptography and the development of blockchain technologies, we now have tools to design and build new identity management systems; digital identity model based upon the idea of decentralized identifiers — possibly including a new kind of decentralized identities known as self-sovereign identity.

In the following articles, we will further investigate possibilities offered by the blockchain technologies, such as Cardano and Atala Prism, to develop access to identification documents while making them more secured.

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Gwendal LD

Gwendal LD

Teacher, development projects facilitator & crypto-enthusiast