Program Areas

Program Areas

Global ID: digital system in the making to provide a legal identity for all

Views of the Zaatri Refugee Camp in Jordan,

Implementing Sustainable Development Goal 16.9

Having no legal identity means not existing officially. One fifth of the world’s population lacks proper identification and about 50 million children are born without legal identity each and every year. These shocking numbers demonstrate the vast extent of the issue. The lack of legal identity leads to the exclusion from many areas of life, such as healthcare, education, family and childcare benefits, political participation as well as the exposure to severe human rights crimes, such as trafficking and child abuse. This makes individuals invisible and powerless. The issue affects especially refugees fleeing their war-torn countries who are unable to bring paper documents.

The lack of a legal identiy makes individuals invisible and powerless

Alongside the fact that people without documented proof of existence face discrimination and various threats, the issue causes many other problems. Especially in today’s world of cross-border migration, the increasing need for security and an ever-growing population, it has become essential for governments and business partners to have knowledge of their counterpart’s identity.

Number 16 of the goals for sustainable development therefore includes the target to provide legal identity for all by 2030 (SDG 16.9). However, creating a reliable system of uniform identification for the most vulnerable across the world is a seemingly impossible challenge.

Accenture and Microsoft now committed themselves to the humanitarian project of creating a digital identity system that, in principle, is able to provide a legal ID to everybody. The prototype was developed on top of Accenture’s Unique Identity Service Platform and presented by Microsoft, Blockstack Labs, and ConsenSys at last year’s ID2020 conference, a partnership that aims to overcome the challenges resulting from the lack of legal identity.

A global ID based on blockchain technology and biometric information

The new system is to enable refugees to prove their identity via a smartphone app and facilitate the registration procedure at borders and vis-à-vis authorities. By means of blockchains and cloud providers, the system will allow people and services around the world to cooperate with one another. The system creates a legal identity by connecting an individual’s biometric information, such as their fingerprint, with a blockchain-based dataset, a special technology that underpins cryptocurrencies.

Thanks to an off-chain system the data will only be accessible to its owner so that refugees fleeing from despotic regimes will not have to worry about governments being able to have insight into their personal information. Third parties will not be able to store or forward data.

World citizens could be offered possibilities to participate on a global level

The proposed system does not only have the potential to provide a global ID for everybody, building a community of “world citizens”, but it would also pave the way for projects such implementing global e-voting via the internet. Registered world citizens could be offered possibilities to make their voices heard and participate on a global level. With a sufficient number of world citizens participating, non-binding polls could gradually evolve into binding votes and elections. A possible project in this direction would be to establish a UN World Citizens’ Initiative mandated by the UN General Assembly that would allow citizens to put topics that are important to them on the United Nations’ agenda.

Top image: Za’atari refugee camp, December 7, 2012. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

Lisa Schüller
Lisa Schüller is a law student at the University of Vienna. She is the Winter 2017 Intern of the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly and Democracy Without Borders hosted by the World Federalist Movement in New York.