There are significant real-world benefits to having an accepted and recognized identity. That’s why the concept of a digital identity is being pursued around the world, from Australia to India. From airports to health records systems, technologists and policy makers with good intentions are digitizing our identities, making modern life more efficient and streamlined.
Governments seek to digitize their citizens in an effort to universalize government services, while the banking, travel and insurance industries aim to create more seamless processes for their products and services. But this isn’t just about efficiency and market share. In places like Syria and Jordan, refugees are often displaced without an identity. Giving them proof of who they are can improve their settlement, financial security, and job prospects in foreign lands.
But as someone who has tracked the advantages and perils of technology for human rights over the past ten years, I am nevertheless convinced that digital ID, writ large, poses one of the gravest risks to human rights of any technology that we have encountered. Worse, we are rushing headlong into a future where new technologies will converge to make this risk much more severe.
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