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Introducing the Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development

By Wayan Vota on January 29, 2018

digtial identity card

The estimated 1.5 billion people in developing countries who lack proof of identity may be denied access to rights and services – they may be unable to open a bank account, attend school, collect benefits such as social security, seek legal protection, or otherwise engage in modern society.

Like individuals, governments also need robust, secure identification systems to perform core state functions and administer many of the programs and services vital for development, including social transfers, education and healthcare, and emergency and disaster response.

The organizations endorsing these shared Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development recognize the potential of strengthened identification systems to support development and the achievement of Target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals: “by 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration”.

Digital Identity Benefits

We believe that creating inclusive, secure, and trustworthy identification systems can empower individuals and enhance their access to rights, services, and the formal economy. It can also strengthen the capacity of governments, the private sector, NGOs, and development partners to administer programs and deliver services transparently, efficiently, and effectively.

The development benefits of improving identification systems may increase substantially with the adoption of digital technology, and many countries are already moving in this direction. However, at the same time that building identification systems – particularly digital identity – creates opportunities to further development goals, it may also create a number of challenges and risks.

This Declaration therefore identifies a set of common Principles fundamental to maximizing the benefits of identification systems for sustainable development while mitigating many of the risks.

These Principles are intended to apply to the broad concept of “legal identification” systems: those that register and identify individuals to provide government-recognized credentials (e.g., identifying numbers, cards, digital certificates, etc.) that can be used as proof of identity.

Under this inclusive definition, legal identification need not be linked with nationality or citizenship.

Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development

Inclusion: Universal Coverage and Accessibility

  1. Ensuring universal coverage for individuals from birth to death, free from discrimination.
  2. Removing barriers to access and usage and disparities in the availability of information and technology.

Design: Robust, Secure, Responsive and Sustainable

  1. Establishing a robust – unique, secure, and accurate – identity.
  2. Creating a platform that is interoperable and responsive to the needs of various users.
  3. Using open standards and ensuring vendor and technology neutrality.
  4. Protecting user privacy and control through system design.
  5. Planning for financial and operational sustainability without compromising accessibility.

Governance: Building Trust by Protecting Privacy and User Rights

  1. Safeguarding data privacy, security, and user rights through a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework.
  2. Establishing clear institutional mandates and accountability.
  3. Enforcing legal and trust frameworks though independent oversight and adjudication of grievances.

Future Progress

The goal of these Principles is to foster cooperation around the implementation of identification systems according to a shared set of values and standards.

These Principles build upon existing international norms, and we recognize that they will need to evolve over time to incorporate a broader range of stakeholder perspectives, as well as new technologies and lessons from implementation.

We hope that the Principles will be endorsed by a progressively wider range of stakeholders- including governments, intergovernmental organizations, private firms, local and international NGOs, and development partners.

By using these Principles to shape a common approach to identification, stakeholders including the World Bank Group, through its ID4D initiative, will be better able to align and guide their support, facilitate discussion at a country, regional and/or global level, and work together to foster robust and inclusive identification systems that further sustainable development outcomes.

Endorsing Organizations

  • African Development Bank
  • Asian Development Bank (ADB)
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)
  • Center for Global Development (CGD)
  • Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL)
  • ID4Africa
  • International Organization for Migration (IOM)
  • Mastercard
  • Omidyar Network
  • Open Identity Exchange UK/Europe Organization of American States
  • OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)
  • Plan International
  • Secure Identity Alliance (SIA)
  • The GSMA
  • UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency
  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
  • World Bank Group


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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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3 Comments to “Introducing the Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development”

  1. While you stress all the positive potential impacts of improved identification, you have failed to consider any of the negatives. Given the recent high profile coverage of certain of the negative impacts of new technologies (social media etc) this would be wise. For example, who is going to store and protect this data ? Will it be Central Government. In that case, there is ample evidence globally of governments using this type of information to clamp down on the civil liberties of certain individuals and communities. Now your turn. Can you imagine any other negative consequences and expound on them ? regards.

  2. Peter Njuguna says:

    This is good piece of work and the principles create fundamental minimum to have in digital identification systems.

    there is also lot of synergy with principles for digital development

  3. These principles are not enough to secure a desirable future treatment of the data generated by the world’s poor. Open Source needs mentioning. People need to own the technologies, not just access them. Platform Coops have much to teach ict4d