Why International Identity Day is so important for us to support and celebrate

Last updated: 23 September 2020

Happy International Identity Day!

It may not be a day you have marked in your calendar, but nonetheless the day is an important way to acknowledge and raise awareness of the challenges many people face when it comes to having a secure, trusted identity.

With at least ten African nations announcing they will hold commemoration activities on September 16, including the government of Nigeria who has declared that the country will officially recognise September 16 annually as “National Identity Day” to further raise awareness and generate momentum around the issue of identity, the date holds significant importance for many.

What is the issue of identity we face? As, the website of the coalition organising the day says, it’s about “the important role identity plays in empowering individuals to exercise their rights and responsibilities fairly and equitably in a modern society.” According to the World Bank, more than one billion people go around without any way to identify themselves for the myriad purposes that might be necessary. Whether that’s accessing critical services, opening a bank account or being able to drive a car – it’s a critical challenge we face, and the UN General Assembly have named it a key sustainable development goal in order to give an identity from birth to all by 2030.

The challenge is multifaceted based on where and who these one billion people are:

  • 81% are in sub Saharan Africa and South Asia
  • 47% are below the National ID age of their countries – highlighting the importance of birth registrations
  • 63% are from lower/middle income families

Having an identity permits inclusion in all aspects of society, especially as we become more and more connected globally. Ultimately, it is a problem of inclusion and work needs to accelerate to bring these people fully into the societies they live in.

You may have recently seen that many countries are working on expanding their identity eco-system. New generation of ID systems allow for example citizens to get access to health care, older resident to obtain their pension and children to have sufficient seats in schools.

We support the work done to raise awareness of this challenge. Our work in many countries around the world is focused on addressing these problems, ensuring social and economic inclusion for millions of people. This year, we are focusing on three issues for governments to address when building their identity systems: Non-registration; non-accessibility and exclusion; and the lack of a favourable and reassuring ecosystem. Using biometrics in these instances helps provide secure legal identity for individuals, using universal characteristics that are unique for each individual, invariable, measurable and recordable.

What’s more, as the world becomes increasingly digitised, legal identity will become all the more critical, as will the need for co-operation between organisations that have identified ways digital identity can achieve both protection and inclusion. For example, if biometric or other personal data is stored digitally this will help countries identify the people who do not have (or have lost) their physical ID records.

Biometric and digital data is therefore a much more robust way of providing citizens with a legal identity, if adopted and stored correctly. In this context it is therefore also imperative that we have a trusted, legal, recognised system that protects citizen identity from malicious use or abuse. And of course there is a balance between making your identity available but secure, one that is ensured to be unique and authentic whilst also protecting privacy and personal data.

The journey to this secure digital identity is an ongoing one. We play our part by working with governments and the international community to further the thinking, technology and principles of digital identity. Most actively through our participation in Secure Identity Alliance, as well as being a leading member of OSIA for sovereignty of countries in the ID Ecosystem for many years.

We’ve been involved in this space for over 20 years and have seen a lot of change. Identity has a broad range of meanings today, from smart printed technologies in traditional identity documents like passports, right through to Digital Identities aggregated in a Mobile Wallet.

We’re excited about what the next 20 years will bring. Not just in terms of technology, but in terms of bridging the gap to the one billion identity-less individuals around the world. It’s a challenge we need to fix.

See how we are helping to build inclusive identity systems for all. Join the ID4Africa livecast with an expert panel including our identity expert Jaume Dubois.

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