Demystifying technologies for digital identification

Fingerprint Binary MicrochipWith more than 1.1 billion individuals without official proof of identity, a myriad of technologies is advancing at a faster speed than ever before and becoming more affordable, making it possible for nations to leapfrog paper based approaches of the past. Yet, it is becoming a challenge to understand and keep up with the various technologies and advancements that are especially relevant for digital identification systems. Identification for Development (ID4D) launches a new Technology Landscape report providing an overview of current and emerging technology trends in digital identity.


Whether a country is enhancing existing ID systems or implementing new ones from the ground up, technology choices, when appropriately selected and implemented, can scale #ID4D enrollment and authentication to help reach the missing billion. Technology choices can also enable identification systems to lead to tangible benefits across a range of areas, such as financial inclusion, health services, and social protection for the poorest and most vulnerable. This #ID4D Technology Landscape report reminds us that additional factors and risk mitigating measures need to be considered when choosing certain #digitalidentity technology. These include the need for proper privacy and data protection, open standards and vendor neutrality, that match with cultural contexts, economic feasibility and infrastructure constraints. 

Synthesizing what seems like an endless supply of information, this new #ID4D report provides a landscape of the emerging and existing technology choices for digital identification and helps readers understand how they work and what technology might be useful in each stage of the Digital Identity Lifecycle. This report also summarizes challenges that each technology can and cannot solve and relevant key trends.

The report offers a framework to assess each technology on multiple criteria, including length of time it has been in use, its ease of integration with legacy and future systems, and its interoperability with other technologies with results presented in a color-coded way.

For example, fingerprint recognition is fairly mature and has wide adoption already. Others are emerging and include contactless fingerprint recognition, infant biometrics or blockchain for identity management, which are still in the pilot-testing stage.

Smartphones with built-in biometric sensors are becoming less expensive, with global prices decreasing by 27% from 2010 to 2017. With the expected 4.8 BN biometrically-enabled smart mobile devices by 2020, the #ID4D report predicts that mobile identification and authentication technologies will gain more importance, especially in the developing countries. 

Regardless of which technologies are employed, successful digital ID systems must be robust, inclusive, and interoperable to ensure access to finance, healthcare, education, and other critical services and benefits by the more than billion people without proof of ID, as showcased in #EveryID has a Story campaign. Therefore, it’s important that the government adhere to “Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development: Toward the Digital Age” which considers the fundamentals to maximizing the benefits of identification systems while mitigating the risks, and is endorsed by 23 organizations.

This work was commissioned by the ID4D initiative of the World Bank Group in partnership with Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL). Please e-mail your feedback to id4d@worldbank.org.

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