International Identity Day began as a proposal and petition launched at ID4Africa 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria, and has grown into a broadly-supported opportunity to recognize and reflect on the importance of legal and functional identity for all people.
The day, September 16, is intended to eventually be presented to the United Nations General Assembly for official recognition, in alignment with Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, which seeks universal legal ID and birth registration. Functional identity is also an important part of the project, however, bringing digital ID into scope.
Biometric Update quickly endorsed ID Day, as did numerous other organizations, a trend which has continued through this year.
Does a specific day of acknowledgement make the world more likely to achieve the SDG? It may, though that is far from certain.
Beyond any direct impact on reaching the goal of universal identity issuance, the day is important as an opportunity for people who do not spend every day talking about civil registries and biometric deduplication to engage with important processes that are going on all around them.
That engagement is important for people who do not possess a way of proving who they are. It is also important for people in countries grappling with influxes of immigrants and refugees.
This is true across the political and policy spectrum, from those who want only to keep out terrorists (how do you know who to accept?) to those who want to ‘send them all back’ (how do you know where to send them?). This example serves to illustrate that, despite the hyperbole-filled protestations of some, ID is not just a normal part of everyday life, but a necessary one.
Engaging with identity is also important for those who have credentials, and those who will receive them, because those credentials vary so widely in effectiveness and safety.
ID4Africa rightly points out this year that ID Day is an opportunity for individuals to consider the state of their own identity, and to consider how well their data and privacy are being protected.
Public dialogue around identity, and digital identity in particular, is highly immature, and prone to hysterical digressions into nightmare scenarios. This not only raises imaginary risks, but glosses over the very real ones that can accompany identity systems.
This brings us to the opportunity ID Day presents to Biometric Update: that of contributing to the maturation of public discussion about working towards universal possession of identity.
That is why we support International Identity Day.