With about 1 billion people lacking legal identification worldwide, countries are increasingly turning to digital identification systems. ITU News caught up with Yasmina McCarty, Head of Mobile for Development at GSMA, about how mobile operators can help make these systems transparent, secure and inclusive.
In order to fully participate in today’s digital economies, individuals need to be able to digitally identify themselves, both online and offline. Having a recognized form of digital identification allows access to life-enhancing services, including healthcare, financial services, education and social benefits, tax declaration and voting.
It is not surprising that United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 calls for a legal identity for all, including birth registration, by 2030.
‘Mobile operators can leverage their established reach and their customer relationship management experience to play a number of roles in identity ecosystems.’ – Yasmina McCarty, Head of Mobile for Development, GSMA
Many developing countries are currently planning or implementing digital transformation strategies to make their administrative and governance processes more efficient, transparent and accessible.
We strongly believe that a robust and inclusive digital identity ecosystem is a prerequisite for accelerating such transformation and achieving these objectives, and as such the GSMA has been one of the key contributors in the development of the Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development – the outcome of an initiative led by the World Bank and currently endorsed by more than 20 global organisations.
Globally, mobile connects more than five billion people, which is a platform with unmatched reach. Mobile operators deal with consumers directly and safeguard their data, building trust by often going beyond what local privacy and data protection laws require. Additionally, mobile operators have established relationships with local regulators.
We believe that mobile operators can leverage their established reach and their customer relationship management experience to play a number of roles in identity ecosystems:
The GSMA Digital Identity programme, established in 2015, works with public and private sector entities, NGOs and the donor community to understand and explore the roles that mobile operators could play in the digital identity ecosystem, and has developed a wealth of insights, research and policy best practices from across the globe.
Through our Digital Identity programme, we are keen to share our insights and recommendations with policymakers, by hosting in-country capacity building courses and convening workshops with relevant stakeholders, to demonstrate the role of mobile and encourage sustainable partnerships.
An example of a digital authentication platform, built on mobile, is Mobile Connect – a global, open and common framework developed by the GSMA in cooperation with leading mobile operators. It provides a single consistent interface to support authentication, authorisation, identity and attribute-sharing or verification for service providers, and adopts the principle of privacy by design.
Of course, the ability of mobile operators to play this role depends on the creation of enabling policy environments that encourage public-private partnerships and consumer trust.
While mobile phones empower digital participation, as of January 2018 governments in 147 countries require mobile users to present proof-of-identity when registering for a prepaid SIM card in their own name. GSMA research found that where such policies exist, mobile penetration is often directly proportional to the official identity penetration coverage in a country.
We recently worked with Telenor Pakistan, who collaborated with UNICEF and the provincial governments in Sindh and Punjab, to test how a new mobile-enabled digital birth registration process could effectively replace the traditional paper-based model. The targeted districts saw registration rates increase by an average of 200% during an initial four-month pilot.
Tigo Tanzania led a similar effort. Birth registration is the first step in establishing a robust civil registration system and can help secure access to vital services and protect against exploitation or abuse.
‘An estimated 1 billion people lack formal identification, predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.’
In Nigeria, we are currently exploring how mobile operators can support the enrolment of millions of Nigerians into the new National ID scheme, leveraging their retail presence nationwide and their ability to reach over 70 million unique customers who are currently using their networks.
An estimated 1 billion people lack formal identification, predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. These vulnerable people – including forcibly displaced populations – are unable to access basic services, such as acquiring a mobile SIM card or opening a bank account, to participate in society. In fact, 20% of adults cite lack of identification as a key barrier to financial inclusion.
Through our research, we have concluded that there are five key factors that governments should consider in order to accelerate a mobile-enabled digital identity ecosystem:
Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ITU.