NYU School of Law Warns Digital ID “Paving a Digital Road to Hell”

New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice has issued a chilling warning about the potential dangers to human rights posed by the push for digital identity.

In mid-June, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, a “hub for human rights study” at New York University (NYU) School of Law, issued a 100-page report detailing the growing dangers of a reliance on digital identity around the world. The report, titled Paving a Digital Road to Hell?, examines the role of the World Bank and other international networks which have been promoting the use if digital ID in recent years.

 

The report notes that the World Bank has been “energetically promoting biometric and other digital ID systems that are increasingly linked to large-scale human rights violations, especially in the Global South.” The researchers warn that digital identity schemes “promoted in the name of development and inclusion, might be achieving neither”. Despite ostensible good intentions on the part of some promoting these systems, they “may well be paving a digital road to hell.”

“Governments around the world have been investing heavily in digital identification systems, often with biometric components (digital ID). The rapid proliferation of such systems is driven by a new development consensus, packaged and promoted by key global actors like the World Bank, but also by governments, foundations, vendors and consulting firms.“

The report states that many of the digital identity schemes are taking inspiration from the Aadhaar system in India. This specific digital ID model has prioritized digital ID as an “economic identity”, according to the report. “The goal of such systems is primarily to establish ‘uniqueness’ of individuals, commonly with the help of biometric technologies,” the release states. This in turn allows for bringing in impoverished people from the “informal” or “counter-economy” to the formal economy. This also has the effect of “unlocking” their behavioral data that can then be used by governments and other parties.

The report also notes that the Executive Chairman of the influential ID4Africa, a platform where African governments and major companies in the digital ID market meet, noted at the 2022 Annual Meeting in June that digital ID is no longer about identity alone but, “enables and interacts with authentication platforms, payments systems, digital signatures, data sharing, KYC systems, consent management and sectoral delivery platforms.”

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