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CGD’s work in technology and development focuses on the macroeconomic implications of technology change as well as technological applications for specific development challenges.
Technological advances are a driving force for development. But policy choices determine who benefits. CGD focuses on three key questions around innovation, growth, and inequality: How can governments use existing technologies to deliver services more effectively to citizens? How can international institutions help create and spread new technologies to tackle shared problems like climate change and pandemics? And how can policymakers ensure advances in artificial intelligence, automation, and communications bring shared benefits and not greater global inequality?
The “identity gap” is large, but it’s closing. Over the past 10 years, developing countries from Afghanistan to Zambia—and the donors that support them—have begun to focus on identity systems. Some have sought to create or extend national identification to cover large populations that previously could not exercise basic rights or access services due to a lack of official documentation. Others have reformed government and NGO programs by creating robust identification to improve quality, increase accessibility and eliminate fraud.
Biometrics refers to identifying individuals based on distinguishing physical or behavioral characteristics. This includes fingerprints, irises, face and hand geometry, gait, voice, signatures, DNA, and other traits. Fingerprints (inked and now digital) have historically been the most commonly used, but iris scans and facial recognition are becoming more prevalent. There is also increasing interest in DNA for identification following advancements in rapid analysis capabilities.
This paper surveys 160 cases where biometric identification has been used for economic, political, and social purposes in developing countries. One primary conclusion is that identification should be considered as a component of development policy, rather than being seen as just a cost on a program-by-program basis.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that India will, starting Jan 1st in 51 districts, pay cash directly into the accounts of poor families as it begins unraveling its convoluted web of food, fuel and other subsidies. India’s been toying with this idea for a while, so it’s good news that it’ll finally kick-off in the New Year. Many others will be watching.
Why? It’s National Database and Registration Authority—NADRA, the agency in charge of national identification—recently announced that it will begin issuing identity cards to orphans with unknown parentage; those without birth certificates or other documentation. This move effectively ensures citizenship rights for children who would otherwise have been excluded under regulations that require proof of nationality and parental lineage to obtain an ID card.
There was bad news in research published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine about the effectiveness of what had seemed to be the best prospect for a malaria vaccine, known by the unsexy name of 'RTS,S'.
The study of the phase III trials finds that in babies (aged 6-12 weeks) the vaccine only reduces malaria by less than a third. This is disappointing because this is less than half the effectiveness that had been suggested by the phase II clinical trials.
With the expansion of cell coverage and mobile banking, millions of poor and rural people can now access financial services. But as financial institutions reach new populations, it is becoming clear that there are other issues keeping people from formal banking, such as the need for identification. Thankfully, there seems to be an easy solution. Just as mobile phones have helped overcome the issue of proximity for banking, biometrics could do the same for identification.
This show was originally posted on January 11, 2011
In developed countries, official identification systems are a fact of life, providing the foundation for a myriad of transactions including elections, pension payments, and the legal system. Without functional ID systems, citizens of many developing countries miss out on the benefits of official identification. On this week’s Wonkcast, I am joined by CGD senior fellow Alan Gelb who has been researching the potential for new biometric technology, such as computerized finger printing and iris scans, to help poor countries leapfrog the long and complicated process of setting up ID systems.
India has emerged as a leader in building on its biometric digital ID to reform service and program delivery. It moved quickly to consolidate the rollout of Aadhaar, and then to embed the unique Aadhaar number into program databases. A range of applications, including digital signature and payments, was then constructed on top of the Aadhaar foundation (the India Stack). Together with partners, the Center for Global Development is analyzing the effects of Aadhaar-based reforms. The three programs we discuss below highlight achievements as well as challenges that need to be overcome for greater efficiency and inclusion.