Identification Revolution: Can Digital ID Be Harnessed for Development?

 “Alan Gelb and Anna Diofasi Metz have done a remarkable job of studying recent advances in the sophistication of ID systems across the globe. They offer a unique lens on what is possible, what has been done, and more importantly, why it was done. This kind of critical look at the design choices of an ID system is illuminating specially since they capture the context in which those decisions were taken.”

— Nandan Nilekani, Cofounder and Non-Executive Chairman, Infosys; Founding Chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India; Cofounder and Chairman, EkStep Foundation

“It is no exaggeration that there is an Identification Revolution and it is important and moving rapidly. [This book’s] masterful presentation brings the reader up to date, analyzing the potential benefits and pitfalls of biometric ID. This is a must read for all those interested in economic development and the potential that the ID Revolution offers.”

— Anne O. Krueger, Senior Research Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; Senior Fellow, Stanford Center for International Development

“Digital ID is fast becoming an essential tool for twenty-first century development. This book spells out in fascinating detail the opportunities and challenges, the perils and pitfalls of this digital ID revolution.”

— Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Board Chair, GAVI; former Finance Minister, Nigeria; former Managing Director, World Bank

“This is a must-have manual for anyone interested in the important topic of identification systems as drivers of social and economic development.… I expect it will remain a top reference in this field for many years to come.”

— Joseph Atick, Executive Chairman, ID4Africa; Executive Chairman, Identity Counsel International

“Anyone interested in the current transformation of identification and registration systems underway internationally—students, researchers, policymakers or implementers—should begin with this book.”

— Keith Breckenridge, Professor and Deputy Director, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research

“This excellent book affords invaluable practical guidance for states and governments hoping to reap development gains while avoiding the serious pitfalls in engaging with this most important governance revolution of the third millennium CE.”

— Simon Szreter, Professor of History and Public Policy, University of Cambridge

Recent advances in the scope and sophistication of identification systems have been nothing less than revolutionary. Since 2000, over 60 developing countries have established national ID programs. Digital technology, particularly biometrics such as fingerprints and iris scans, has dramatically expanded the capabilities of these programs. At their best, ID systems can advance the Sustainable Development Goals by helping to realize individual rights, build state capacity, improve accountability, and expand opportunity. But at their worst, they can exclude vulnerable groups, support institutionalized discrimination, and facilitate the exploitation of personal data.

Identification Revolution: Can Digital ID Be Harnessed for Development? offers a balanced perspective on this new area, covering both the benefits and the risks of the identification revolution, and pinpointing opportunities to mitigate those risks. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, there are common features that ID systems should share if they are to support development. Principles that speak to inclusion, robust and responsive design, and accountable governance, and good-practice examples from countries at the forefront of ID management, provide a list of areas that development partners should consider as ID programs move forward.

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