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Creating Digital Identity Options for an Analog World

By Guest Writer on October 25, 2018

birth certificate

Around the world 250 million children under five didn’t have their birth registered, yet not having something as straightforward as a birth certificate can have serious consequences.

In Sub-Saharan Africa alone over 50% of children remain unregistered by their 5th birthday, but thirty-two countries in Sub-Saharan Africa require a birth certificate to access education, sixteen require one to access social support, and six to access healthcare.

In Indonesia a birth certificate is the only form of legal identity, but 58% of the poorest children don’t have their births registered. As they get older, how do they claim rights to things like land tenure, inheritance and nationality?

Incredibly, 1 in 7 people on the planet don’t officially exist – they lack official identification.

In recognition of the scale of the problem identity was included within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 16.9 commits the sector to, by 2030, providing legal identity for all, including free birth registrations.

But providing people with a way of proving who they are is only half of the problem. Ensuring that the six billion of us with some form of identity find them simple to use, and useful, is critical, particularly as more and more of us live out more and more of our lives online.

Digital Identity Solution Research

Recently the Social Impact Team at Yoti undertook research in Africa and South East Asia to better understand what non-profits working in these places might need from an identity solution, with an assumption that smartphones, connectivity and official identity documents would be in short, even non-existent, supply.

Key takeaways included:

  1. Identification is a unique roadblock to a large number of desirable outcomes. The absence of effective and secure methods for proving identity presents a challenge across a range of sectoral and programmatic outcomes.
  2. Among programme specialists with a range of technical expertise, biometrics are seen as a potentially important area in which identification technology could be well- used.
  3. Privacy is a major concern – in practical terms, both participants and organisations would be concerned about the potential of identification technology to increase their vulnerability through abuse or fraud, and so privacy is a key requirement.
  4. Most organisations showed interest in a solution that could help them in their work but raised concerns about technical capacity both internally and within the government frameworks (where applicable).
  5. The vast majority of identity needs at the local NGO level are straightforward and simple, and providing an easy-to-use, technically-light solution to them has the potential to unlock considerable social impact potential.

Our Identity Idea: Yoti Key

yoti key

Building on this research, the Social Impact Team at Yoti are now leading the development of a digital identity solution to support development efforts in places where most existing digital identity solutions do not work.

This offline version of one of our digital identity solutions, Yoti Key is a secure, encrypted NFC-enabled physical key which allows individuals to share aspects of their identity when they interact with a service – a hospital, food programme, refugee registration programme, cash giving initiative and so on.

The beauty for NGOs working in last-mile environments, or with constituents living in areas without Internet access, or without their own smartphone, is that it enables them to digitally and more efficiently manage interactions with their services, often for the first time. Crucially, the software will also be open source, allowing anyone anywhere to build on the back of the base platform we provide.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in piloting when the product is available in a few months time then we’d love to hear from you. We’re looking for partners to test and pilot the Keys , and we will provide Keys and technical support for free.

By Ken Banks, Head of Social Impact, Yoti

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8 Comments to “Creating Digital Identity Options for an Analog World”

  1. Ahmed Idris says:

    Hi, my organization would be interested in testing piloting YOTI. Please how may we apply?

  2. Kieran says:

    This is really cool – and the missing bit (… link?) in so many development services for so many years. Whilst traditionally physical objects (birth cards etc) are often criticized for their practicality, in the developed world we all rely on cards etc every day. A digital and physical object like this could bridge the gap, and will be really interesting to see the next set of research.

    • Ken Banks says:

      Thanks, Kieran! We’ve been very careful to not reinvent wheels and to speak to as many grassroots organisations as possible. The feedback was overwhelming that something like this didn’t exist and likely needed to. We’re excited to see how it’s used out there.

  3. Benjamin Bach says:

    Dear Ken Banks – How is this Yoti better than a paper ID? Or maybe instead, could you respond to the reverse question: How is a paper ID actually better than this pilot?

    And why is this Yoti employee wearing a physical name badge? 🙂


    • Ken Banks says:

      Hi Benjamin

      Thanks for your comment. Firstly, a key target user for this offline solution would be someone without any kind of verifiable ID at all, even on paper. So in many cases it’s better than paper ID because they won’t have one. That aside, paper IDs easily wear and are easily forged, so it makes sense to leapfrog legacy systems and use something digital if you’re going to do anything at all (which also, incidentally, helps organisations integrate interactions electronically with internal systems, something you can’t easily do with paper).

      In addition, the offline solution we studied, researched and have now proposed would allow supplemental information to be stored, which was highlighted as being something of great use and value to hospitals, microfinance institutions and others we spoke to.

      As for the name badge, the badge hanging around my colleagues neck is an electronic ID card which allows access in our London office. I guess he also has a sticker with larger letters which makes his name easier to read during the meeting/workshop he’s in.

      • Benjamin Bach says:

        Hi Ken Banks – thanks for taking time to respond! Having just heard about this tech pilot, I am intrigued by the seemingly one-sided way that the product is communicated, so that’s why I feel like jumping to the keyboard. You’re welcome to refer to external studies on this, I am sure that this talk resembles something more general.

        > . So in many cases it’s better than paper ID because they won’t have one.

        But then paper IDs are better, too, because people don’t have digital IDs, neither.

        I think the conversation and analysis would have to start like this: Why are governments failing to provide citizens with (paper) IDs?

        Because those are the same reasons that they will fail to provide citizens with digital IDs. On top of that, there are all the technological risks that come with digital IDs.

        And would this mean that now that everyone in Malawi has a paper ID, the digital ID is nonessential? And the whole problem is solved and digital IDs don’t actually solve anything beyond the challenge?

        But thanks for creating something that’s offline. I assume that it means that no internet connectivity is required, right?

        Since you didn’t say a lot about the paper IDs here are some quick reasons, that I could think of:

        1) Citizens can verify each others IDs, so you get a sense of people power + low tech requirements
        2) Citizens know what information is on their paper ID and that it’s real. No one can claim otherwise. If someone decides to deny a citizen their Yoti key, they can in no way inspect the claim.
        3) You can hack the perception of a Yoti key (the app that reads it), you cannot hack the eyes of someone looking at a paper ID, although you can manipulate them.
        4) Paper IDs don’t have unknown bugs
        4) Paper IDs don’t require a specific device and software and technological implementation to be used. So when power is out or the battery is drained, it can still be verified.

        For the issue of forgery: There are many human factors that could manipulate the data on a digital ID. So yes, you may have encryption technology. But people are the problem, and once they decide to rebel against the system to create fake keys for their friends etc.

        So I will remain doubtful as long as someone wants to provide digital identity without digging into the reasons why any kind of identity proof seems to be neglected by governments and an honest comparison of paper IDs is skipped.

        But good luck, I can’t imagine that this wouldn’t be an interesting supplement for some cases!

        • Ken Banks says:

          You raise a lot of questions here, many of which are beyond the scope of what we’re trying to do and the gap we’re trying to fill.

          The research I refer to is research we carried out ourselves this summer which shows a strong demand and interest in a very specific kind of identity solution which serves a very specific (and organisational) need. We wouldn’t be building this without it.

          Check out the research summary referenced in/linked to in the article for details of what we’re doing and why.