We all have an identity, a series of features that uniquely and unmistakably define us and make us stand out from all other human beings. This is no different in the digital world: each user or person corresponds to a set of data, activity, and behavior on the Internet that is unique and inseparable from his or her physical self.
The problem with verifying digital identity does not stem from identity itself, but from the methods and systems that have been in use up to now. For example, a username and a password are not enough to verify a person’s identity. Furthermore, this data can be forged or stolen relatively easily.
Identity verification systems have progressed wondrously in recent years, blending different methods of the likes of biometrics, social network analysis (SNA), and geolocation to achieve increasingly accurate verification. Namely, we have the technological ability to interconnect the entire context that identifies a person on the Internet.
But digital identity goes far beyond this. Projects designed to create a unique identity for every person in a country or region have the potential to exhaustively change society and the economy. Going one step further, the future will see the creation of a universal digital identity verification system, valid for anyone and anywhere.
What point are we at? Various projects are currently under development to provide people with a unique identity, which will be our first step towards the future universal unique digital identity.
Switzerland has promoted the creation of a unique digital identity for its citizens, the Swiss ID, which lets them use various functions on the Internet, such as making online purchases, booking flights or hotels, and making banking transactions, with a unique digital profile.
The advantage of this project lies in the fact that it is backed by nine large corporations which, together, are used by three quarters of the population. This is expected to greatly facilitate the acceptance of the new system.
Furthermore, the government is playing a crucial role in developing the project, given that it will certify the users’ identity and it plans to change the current legislation in mid-2018 to make this new system possible.
In this case, the involvement of the government and big businesses and corporations that handle large databases of users is essential to streamlining the project, particularly with regard to the willingness to change the legislation to adapt to the new digital context.
The Big Bet initiative “A Unique Digital Identity for All”, which is being spearheaded in India by Nandan Nilekani and Varad Pande, also has greater social implications. It is estimated that, in this country alone, the unique digital identity system will benefit billions of people, enabling them to prove their identity to access basic services such as health care, government subsidies, and simply opening a bank account.
In this case, the unique digital identity not only facilitates and secures actions over the Internet, but it has a social grounding, since it gives visibility to millions of people who were invisible to the system up to now. In turn, it constitutes a tool for social inclusion and for the fight against corruption.
One major advantage of this model is that it is scalable. This is mainly due to the democratization of technology - cell phones are increasingly more economical and there is greater access to an Internet connection - and to the maturity of biometric technologies.
In a more global context, that of Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030), the ID2020 project responds to the challenge of improving the living conditions of millions of people across the world through digital identity.
This alliance, which includes governments, NGOs, and companies from the private sector, sees digital identity not only as a way of facilitating or improving digital actions, but also an answer to a fundamental human right: the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
The digital identity proposed will result in the improved economic and social conditions of many countries, and it will also be a key factor for global sustainable development.
Thus, we should not associate the concept of digital identity solely with convenience, comfort, or even security. It is much more far-reaching. It will play a crucial role in worldwide social and economic development.