Digital ID Systems

Digital identity: Our five calls to action for the World Bank

Updated October 6, 2022

On October 10, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will hold an annual summit to discuss the challenges and opportunities that will determine the course of their work on economic inclusivity and sustainable development all over the world. Unfortunately, after just one session at the satellite event for civil society last year, digital identification systems are missing entirely from this year’s program – even as civil society organizations continue to press for answers about their responsibility in developing systems that further human rights abuse, exclusion, marginalization, and surveillance.

The push to implement digital identification systems remains a priority for the World Bank and other international organizations, as it is viewed as integral for reaching UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.9, “legal identity for all.” However, relying on digital tools known to introduce serious human rights risks as the primary, or even exclusive, vehicle for solving complex societal problems is both short-sighted and treacherous. 

This conversation needs to happen now

Earlier this month, over 70 civil society organizations, researchers, and activists called on the World Bank to protect human rights in the implementation of digital ID systems. Our calls to action for the World Bank and its donors include the following:

  1. Invite and fund an independent, rights-based assessment of the World Bank’s role in supporting digital ID systems globally.
  2. Assess existing evidence and cease activities that heighten the risk of human rights violations.
  3. Enforce greater transparency about activities of the World Bank regarding digital ID.
  4. Create opportunities for sustained, high-level engagement with civil society and other experts.
  5. Increase funding and resources for baseline studies and contextual analysis, cost-benefit studies, and independent rights-based assessments and evaluations.

After years of on-and-off engagement between civil society and the World Bank, it is time for rapid and significant action toward centering human rights in the digital identity discussion, heeding guidance from civil society and affected communities, and exploring rights-respecting alternatives to current digital ID models.

While we are pleased to see the recent news that the Bank will delay funds for a digital identity program in Nigeria until data protection regulations are in place, this requirement alone is not enough to protect the rights of the most vulnerable, in Nigeria or elsewhere. To keep people safe, the World Bank and other funders of digital identity systems must create and hold space for sustained, high-level engagement with civil society and other experts. This is a conversation that we need urgently, and it cannot be dismissed until next year.

This post has been amended to remove references to specific country-level engagements for clarity and accuracy. The original post incorrectly stated that the World Bank has provided direct financial and technical assistance to Kenya for its National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), often referred to as Huduma Namba. The World Bank provided support for the development of the Integrated Population Registration System (IPRS), which would later be used as the basis for NIIMS, as well as civil registration systems operating alongside NIIMS, but not for NIIMS itself. The original post also indicated the World Bank promoted adoption of Afghanistan’s national biometric identity system. According to available sources, recent funding has been directed toward supporting enrollment in the existing paper-based Tazkira system rather than supporting the implementation of the e-Tazkira system launched in 2018. We also removed reference to ongoing World Bank support for digital transformation programs in the Philippines.