Stage 5
(Digital) Identity: The Haves and Have-Nots

Short thesis

A divide is facing the world: Identity. More than a billion people lack the most basic identity papers, mainly in the global South and mainly women and children. This hinders institutions like the government, aid organization and banks to recognize or even reach these people. Among them are marginalized groups, such as asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants that because of their status and regulations like “Know Your Customer (KYC)” are effectively excluded from digital services. At the same time, parts of the private sector amass data about individuals and are able to establish a crypto identity and are, together with “libertarians”, promoting a digital paradigm for self-sovereign identity outside of State control. But, we need to recognize that any identity is made up by credentials and these credentials can and will inevitably change during the course of anyone’s life. Any appropriate solution has to consider this and at the same time prevent any powerful institutions from unfairly coercing individuals needing to be credentialed. So, how can we shape digitization in way that is inclusive and avoid it becoming an elitist process widening the gap between the haves and have-nots?



The discussions in the global North are often dominated by concerns of data overload and data privacy. This debate is conveniently overlooking the fact that some people do not have an identity at all and would benefit from having access to digital services. A balanced approach has to be found that assures every individual of a recognized identity opening the doors of empowerment and digital inclusion, which gives secure access to rights and services to all. The linkages between legal and digital identity, have to be re-explored so that digital identity can be a way to obtain a legal identity for those who need it. At the same time, this should enable every actor in the ecosystem to improve efficiency and effectiveness in their relationship with each other leading to a trusted system that is maintained with equanimity from everyone. Are user-centric and even self-sovereign ID systems realistic? Can every citizen be sufficiently motivated and incentivized to engage in such a solution without prioritizing short term revenue and/or control interests, and, thus, limit or balance the power of institutions and corporations that dominate the digital sphere?

Karl Steinacker, Team Leader for Digital Identity with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Valerie Khan, independent advisor on Digital Identity advocate for digital inclusion in this talk and animate a discussion with all participants.