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CGD in the News

August 8, 2017

What Can the US Learn from the World's Largest Biometric ID System? (FCW)

From the article:

One of the most ambitious government-backed national biometric identification projects in the world, in terms of breadth and scale, needs to get a better handle on how it is being used, said an initial report by independent researchers.

India's Aadhaar project, which ties biographic data, such as names and addresses or locations, to iris or fingerprint scans, is a huge national effort to get numbers assigned to the country's 1.3 billion residents...

 The program began in 2010 and has been making strides in registering people and collecting biometric data to pair with that data, but the government hasn't been able to get firm, reliable information on how all that data is being used.

U.S. federal agencies should note the project's effort to seamlessly integrate many of India's federal databases, Abraham told FCW in a short interview after a presentation at the Center for Global Development.

One ongoing issue Abraham flagged is the Indian government's lag in keeping "evidence-based" data on how the system is used and by whom. That kind of information is crucial to keeping the massive government-backed IT project rolling effectively, he said.

Read full article here.

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July 31, 2017

New Initiative Aims to Deliver on the Promise of Blockchain for Identity (Devex)

From the article:

The key constraints to blockchain moving forward will extend beyond the scope of technology, reads a report released by the Center for Global Development earlier this month.

“For blockchain-based solutions to reach their full potential in this space, governments and development organizations first need to take steps that they have often resisted in the past,” reads the report. “The good news is that excitement about the technology has already generated more interest (and investment) by some of these organizations in addressing these underlying challenges.”

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July 8, 2017

A Crackdown on Financial Crime Means Global Banks Are Derisking (The Economist)

From the article:

Strict new rules on capital and liquidity after the financial crisis have tilted the cost-benefit balance away from global banks’ least-profitable clients. But another cause of Latvia’s travails is “derisking”: banks dropping customers in places or sectors deemed to pose a high risk of money-laundering, sanctions evasion or terrorist financing. Though correspondent-banking traffic has continued to rise, banks in small or poor countries are increasingly shut out. The number of correspondent-banking relationships fell in all regions between 2011 and 2016, according to a survey of banks and payments data published on July 4th by the Financial Stability Board, a group of international policymakers (see chart 1). Worst-hit was eastern Europe, which saw a decline of more than 20%. The number in the Caribbean fell by around 10% in 2016 alone. Money-transfer firms and charities have also been hit. Big banks have “unbanked everyone from porn actors to pawnbrokers”, says a regulator...

Better, cheaper compliance should allow banks to take back some of the clients who were ditched because they were not profitable enough to outweigh the risk, says Vijaya Ramachandran of the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank. About 3,700 of the banks that are members of SWIFT now use the payment-messaging system’s data registry to collect required information about the banks for which they act as correspondents, thus cutting compliance costs. Takis Georgakopoulos of JPMorgan Chase, the largest clearer of dollar transactions, holds out hope for the blockchain technology behind bitcoin, a digital currency. This encodes a record of valid transactions with time stamps, which can be a cheap, easy way to verify customers.

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August 26, 2016

Sistema de Identidad Unico, Clave para una Mayor Inclusion Financiera (Informador)

From the article:

After her presentation on financial inclusion at PALCCO, Liliana Rojas-Suarez shared some insights with Mexican media Informador. Rojas-Suarez argued that financial inclusion helps people in three main axes: (i) facilitates payments systems, (ii) allows families to make long term decisions and (iii) reduces risks for low income families. She suggests that Mexico should advocate for a unique and biometric identity system to be implemented.

Read the article here.

February 24, 2016

How Mark Zuckerberg Should Give Away $45 Billion (Huffington Post Highline)

From article:

The challenge with direct cash payments, says Owen Barder, the director of Europe for the Center for Global Development, is getting them to all of the people who need them. The places where this strategy has worked well already had functioning banking sectors and national identification systems in place before a disaster struck. In Pakistan, humanitarian agencies used government data to identify the areas with the worst damage, then checked IDs to make sure the debit cards got to the people living there.

Most poor countries, though, don't have these pipes laid down. Kenya's Hunger Safety Nets program, which gives cash to people at risk of starvation, took months to establish because payouts were distributed through local agents, whom people didn't trust, or ATMs, which people had never used before.

Barder describes a scenario where, 10 minutes after an earthquake hits Nepal, all the people within five miles of the epicenter get $500 on their cell phones. That's a great idea. But it is, he says, a lot harder than it sounds. After the 2005 tsunami, low-caste populations in India were almost entirely excluded from cash transfers because they weren't registered in the national welfare system. In Indonesia, cash transfers were distributed through community leaders who had to come to a central planning center, then travel back to their constituencies with an envelope full of cash. In at least one case, bandits were waiting for them on the bus.

The need for modernizing these systems is obvious. In 2009, India launched an ambitious—and largely unheralded—project to issue a 12-digit identification number to all 1.3 billion of its citizens. So far, it has spent around $880 million and registered 970 million people. The numbers are already being used to distribute unemployment checks and disaster relief. But as this effort moves to more remote populations, registering them gets harder. Some farmers have hands so worn the scanners can’t read their fingerprints.

Laying down the pipes to get cash transfers to the first 75 percent of a population, the people who have birth certificates and cell phones, is relatively easy. Getting to the last 25 percent, the people one charity could never reach, is technical, slow, expensive and absolutely critical—a perfect project for Zuckerberg.

These aren't, of course, the only ideas I heard for how Zuckerberg should give away his money. Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development says Zuckerberg should invest in global public goods, things no single government wants to pay for but the world needs nonetheless—like a vaccine for malaria, or making renewables cheaper than fossil fuels.

Read full article here.

January 31, 2016

Identifying a Better Future (Economist Intelligence Unit)

From article:

“There was a lack of basic identity documentation, and the databases we had were extremely dirty, as we call it, because there were so many duplicates,” says Anit Mukherjee, an IDRC fellow at the Center for Global Development, who was part of the team that developed India’s biometric identity program, the world’s largest, known as Aadhaar.

Starting in 2011, the team travelled to small villages and remote areas of the country, scanning fingerprints and irises and linking this information to demographic data such as date of birth and parents’ names. With a decentralised enrolment process and a centralised database, participants can sign up in their villages and then travel anywhere in the country, since their 12-digit identity number can be accessed online. To date, 950 million of the country’s 1.2 billion citizens have enrolled, says Mr Mukherjee.


On the other hand, the strength of these systems could make it more difficult for individuals to challenge errors, as presumptions might be biased toward the computer, note Alan Gelb and Julia Clark in a CGD Working Paper, Identification for Development: The Biometrics Revolution. They also point out that facial recognition software can capture individuals’ images without their consent, raising privacy concerns. There is also an issue of exclusion, as obtaining fingerprints is not always possible for manual laborers and the elderly."

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December 7, 2015

Tracking Refugees Puts A Vulnerable Population At Risk (Buzzfeed)

From article

Security isn’t the only reason to collect biometric data. In India, 950 million citizens have participated in the government’s biometric registration program; as a result, some 200 million people, mostly migrants from rural villages to cities, who had never had identification before were able to open bank accounts for the first time. This gives the government the ability to track citizens with greater accuracy than ever before. Anit Mukherjee, an International Development Research Centre fellow with the Center for Global Development, worked as an early adviser to the project. He said the information collected by the government is never deleted. “Your biometrics live in the database for perpetuity,” he told BuzzFeed News. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re dead or alive.”

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January 10, 2015

Casting a Wide Net (The Economist)

From the article:

Using biometrics as well helps cut fraud. A recent tally by the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a think-tank in Washington, found 230 programmes in over 80 countries that verify identities with biometric information, including voter registries and health records. Some are keeping track of the recipients of social spending. Databases that store fingerprints or iris scans will exclude ghost or dead recipients. Checking such data at disbursement means the right person is paid.

Nearly two-fifths of South Africans, for example, are enrolled in the national benefits system, which stores fingerprint and voice records for authentication when cash is disbursed. This year India’s biometric ID register should be complete—holding out the hope that its social schemes could be made less leaky. Alan Gelb and Caroline Decker of CGD estimate that switching to biometrics for a typical cash-transfer scheme that gives a million people $20 a month would pay for itself in a year. After five years the savings would reach $64m.

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April 21, 2014

Biometric Identification That Goes Beyond Fingerprints (USA Today)

From the article:

Who has the right to collect your biodata? Who gets to access it? How can it be used? And what happens in case of security failures? After all, you can change your passwords after a Heartbleed bug, but you can't change your irises.

Even agnostics agree that laws haven't kept pace with the technology. "The technology itself is ethically neutral," says Alan Gelb, a researcher at the Center for Global Development who studies national ID systems, including biometrics. "The question is how the technology is used."

But Gelb says there's not enough oversight or regulation of the technologies. Although the 160 national ID programs Gelb and his co-researcher found go a long way toward bridging the "identity gap," half of them lack adequate data-protection laws, he said.

Read the article here

October 25, 2013

An Aadhaar for Access (The Indian Express)

From the Article:

Globally, the use of biometric ID systems is growing rapidly. Our ongoing work at the Centre for Global Development surveyed about 160 cases across 70 developing countries. Some are multi-purpose national identity programmes (NIDs). In Peru, it is virtually impossible for citizens to engage in formal transactions without an ID number and card issued by RENIEC, a specialised agency. Others are "functional IDs", rolled out to serve specific purposes, such as managing public payrolls and pension systems, or cash transfer and health insurance programmes. Indian examples include the biometric ID card for the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY). In order to reduce fraud, biometric IDs are also increasingly issued by private companies and NGOs to identify clients or authenticate employees involved in individual transactions.


As countries develop towards middle-income status and beyond and their economies become more sophisticated, they and their citizens need stronger formal ID. The poor need this most of all; it is no accident that the poorest and most excluded are also invariably those without recognised identification. Strong ID at the national level can head off a proliferation of multiple IDs, each for a different purpose, often less secure and of a lower quality, many requiring citizens to deal with multiple systems. Nigeria, for instance, has at least 12, most of them biometric.

Read it here