The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

Outsourcing the state? The shifting involvement of private sector enterprises in legal identity infrastructures

The United Nations has noted that one of the most basic institutional responsibilities of a nation state is providing legal identity for all citizens. It places this requirement alongside vaccinations, clean drinking water and basic education for all. Despite being a function of the state, the implementation of effective legal identity infrastructures increasingly involves allocating key aspects of this process to private sector enterprises. For example, the production of identity cards might be outsourced to a commercial service provider, as might the enrolment of citizens, distribution of identity cards or even the verification of their identities. This involvement of the private sector in key functions of the state raise important questions about the purpose of the nation state. Moreover, effectively managing these outsourced services is often problematic, raising further questions about the role and capabilities of the state. For example, governments need to achieve good value for money from their outsourcing activities whilst citizens need their legal identities to ensure and enhance their basic human rights, including privacy of personal data. This paper will explore these questions by drawing on case studies of evolving identity infrastructures from Latin America, the UK Gov.verify service and the Indian Aadhaar scheme.

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The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity