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

Multiplicity and legibility: Questioning uniqueness in identity infrastructures

The design of many identity infrastructures is based on a reified notion of a unique identity. Identity schemes such as the Indian Aadhaar scheme use biometrics to uniquely identify residents, while other civil registration systems draw on official records (birth, marriage, death certificates) to achieve this same goal. Uniqueness is presented a policy objective that removes the risk of fraud and misallocation of resources. Unique identifiers, however, can also raise significant social welfare issues including privacy risks. A unique identity can be particularly problematic for individuals in witness relocation programmes, those affected by abuse who have a new identity to ensure their safety and transgendered individuals. The UK Gov.verify service is a high profile identity infrastructure that is explicitly not based around uniqueness. Instead, it is explicitly designed to be privacy enabling and is based on multiplicity: citizens can have multiple verified identities managed by multiple accredited identity providers. This paper uses this UK scheme to question the assumptions and consequences of uniqueness as a lead policy driver for identity infrastructures.

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The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity