Implications of New Technology for Civil Registration and Identification: Research and Policy

Johannesburg, 14—16 February 2017







Local Arrangements

Bhalisa list

Bhalisa 2 : Johannesburg Agenda

Deadline for proposals : October 30, 2016

Presenters and participants should please complete the forms here: and, for catering,

At the conclusion of the The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity in April 2015 the participants agreed on the importance of a follow-up workshop to examine global developments in state systems of registration and identification.  The rapid development of very large scale identification schemes and increasing general interest in identification initiatives — whether aimed at domestic security, regulating immigration, civil registration, elections, financial services or welfare — provide compelling reasons for a further collaborative assessment and evaluation.  This two-day workshop will be an effective way to gather evidence and hear analyses of these current practices and policies and their local and global effects. 

Picking up from the themes covered in the first colloquium and the OSJI / CRC4D Workshop on Legal Identity for All (October 2015), social scientists and policy researchers will examine how recent developments in civil registration and identification around the world are affecting the forms and capacities of states.  They will consider the opportunities and implications of the choices confronting states and peoples in poor countries and the likely effects and constraints these will have for rich governments and their citizens.

The conference will foster careful consideration of what is now a formidable body of established research across many fields, it will identify gaps in our existing knowledge, and it will map out a set of comparative questions to help frame future research. It is our intention to ensure that people working on policy questions in this field from a range of different backgrounds and institutions (including law, social science, and development studies) have an understanding of complexity of the issues as seen from other perspectives, regions and time periods, so that they can present policy makers with the best possible recommendations as states confront the on-going, and intractable, difficulties of mass identity registration and the secure management of records. Thus, we hope to contribute to the understanding of the principles that should guide the implementation of SDG16.9 “to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration”.

In this spirit, we intend further to develop and host a web site that supports short, clearly written summary postings on this significant topic.

Problems and questions include:

  1. Are biometric identification systems for all “residents” of a country, on the Aadhaar / UID model best understood as supporting civil registration and national identity cards; or for what purposes can they be considered as substitutes for such systems?

  2. Are there drawbacks of biometric identification systems, as opposed to paper-based systems, in terms of ensuring that registration in inclusive across all sectors of society, in particular the most vulnerable groups? How can they be mitigated?

  3. How can the potential for these biometric systems to support very large-scale database coordination—for better management of public health, government revenues, welfare payments, or migration—be optimised in the absence of, or in order to support, effective state administration? Do states have the technological expertise to manage large scale and complex databases?

  4. What are the dangers of introducing biometric identification systems in the absence of effective legal frameworks and institutions for oversight of surveillance by state or private actors, and how can they be mitigated? In particular, what are the privacy and data protection laws that are needed to regulate and manage centralised biometric systems, especially in the poorest states? When the private sector collects or accesses biometrics, what rules, regulations and standards apply to that activity and the safekeeping of biometric data?

  5. What is the relationship between biometrically verified legal identity and citizenship and how should other forms of authentication (including witness testimony, civil registration and other official documentation, but also digital identification through eg mobile phone records) be integrated across these systems?

  6. What is the relationship between statelessness and lack of proof of legal identity, both for migrants and for people who are in their “own country”? What is the potential for biometric identification systems to increase or reduce statelessness? What are the laws, policies and administrative systems that are needed to ensure that statelessness can be eradicated as the new systems are rolled out?

  7. What are the economics of digital identity? What is the relationship between financial services and biometric registration? Who is paying and what will they get out of it? Do other sectors, such as telecommunications, also drive such change? What relationships of dependency on particular providers does the use of technological systems create, and what are the consequences? How is the relationship between legal identity and corruption affected by the use of technology?

  8. Will the developing schemes of biometric registration and identification strengthen the responsiveness of states to their citizens and other residents? Under what circumstances can the building of national registration systems promote the empowering of citizens and civic society, while at the same time strengthening the state?

  9. What role do elections and voter registration play in the generation of legal identity and state capacity? When is integration of the voter register with other registration systems (civil registration, national population register) desirable, and when should it be avoided? How can the potential of biometric registration to minimise election fraud be maximised?

  10. What is the role of regional or sub-national institutions in addressing these questions: can regional bodies serve as effective supplements to the laws and institutions of individual states in relation to questions such as privacy and data protection, the oversight of state and private institutions, or the resolution of statelessness? How do sub-national identification programmes (city ID cards etc) relate to national systems?

Proposals: Researchers and practitioners who would like to present papers should submit paper titles and abstracts to the on-line form at An editorial committee consisting of Keith Breckenridge, Mia Harbitz, Jonathan Klaaren, Bronwen Manby and Jaap van der Straaten will select those that seem most likely to enrich debate.