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

Who are you? Issues and processes when determining the identity of a person

The context for this note is that an individual (I) presents herself/himself to a case officer responsible for registering individuals who are to be granted certain rights and/or to be subject to certain responsibilities. A typical example is that I is applying for a visitor’s visa or a residence permit in a foreign country, Another is that I presents claims to certain benefits or is considered for carrying out certain duties. In such situations the case officer has to decide whether the conditions for granting the rights or imposing the obligations are satisfied for this particular I. To do this s/he also has to consider whether s/he has identified the correct I for the rights or obligations, on the basis of the available evidence of identity (EiO). For that task narrowly considered the ideal situation would be if all newborns came equipped with a unique as well as easily observed and understood mark, e.g. in their forehead. As that situation is neither realistic nor, for many reasons, desirable the case officer will have to consider the EiO presented, using the available technical equipment and guidelines as well as her/his training. A basic issue, that is seldom discussed, is which identity the case officer should establish for I: e.g. whether I is Mark Twain or Samuel Clemens. Most relevant legislation and guidelines seem to ignore that many of the characteristics used to establish an identity for I may have been changed over time for perfectly acceptable reasons: both some of the biometric characteristics and the ‘social’ characteristics. However, the rest of this note will also assume that there is only one identity for I that (potentially) is to be established or verified.

Event reference: 
The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity