Janaina Costa

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Janaina Costa has a bachelor's degree in Law from the Federal University of Minas Gerais UFMG, a Master's degree in Economic and Social Development from IEDES - Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and a postgraduate degree in Digital Law from the State University of Rio de Janeiro. Her main focus of interest lies in innovative public policies that contribute to the satisfaction, promotion and protection of human rights. In recent years she has been particularly interested in ethics and rights issues embedded in the digitization of population register systems, acting as a senior researcher in Law and Technology at ITS Rio, participant in the Fall 2022 Research Sprint on "Digital Identity in Time of Crisis: Designing for Better Futures” hosted by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and currently as a full time research fellow on "Population, Ethics, and Human Rights" an IUSSP initiative carried out in collaboration with WiSER, ISER & IIGH with the aid of a grant from IDRC.

  • What is your professional and education background? How did you get interested in policy and research at the intersection of population registers, ethics and human rights?

I'm Janaina Costa, a law graduate from Federal University of Minas Gerais-UFMG, with a Master's in Economic and Social Development from IEDES - Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and a postgraduate degree in Digital Law from Rio de Janeiro State University. Since 2018 my career since 2018 focuses on identification systems, particularly eradicating under-registration while safeguarding people's rights. As a senior researcher at Institute for Technology & Society (ITS Rio), I have studied the ethical implications of these systems. My background in human rights and emerging technologies led me to lead projects on the social impact of digital identification. I've also contributed to Harvard's Berkman Klein Center's research on "Digital Identity in Times of Crisis". Currently, I'm a research fellow on "Population, Ethics, and Human Rights". My interest at the intersection of population registers, ethics, and human rights emerged from the digitization of government records. Balancing administrative efficiency, privacy, and human rights in this digital era is a challenge I'm committed to as a lawyer.

  • Through the IUSSP Fellowship on Population registers, ethics and human rights, you are undertaking an individual research project while resident at WiSER and ISER. Can you give us some background on that research project and explain how the fellowship is helping you to advance your project?

My IUSSP Fellowship research focuses specifically on birth registration incentives in Brazil, Mozambique, South Africa, and Uganda. The study explores the impact of policies on birth registration rates, ethical implications, and differing approaches across countries. The fellowship provides crucial resources, funding, and access to WiSER, ISER, and IIGH, enabling comprehensive research. Residency at WiSER facilitates intellectual exchange with field experts, enhancing the project's depth. The fellowship also provides platforms for wider dissemination of my research through workshops, seminars, and conferences, fostering collaborative efforts and feedback. Mentorship from experts across law, public policy, demography, public health, and practicalities of working with population registers further enriches my project and contributes significantly to academic discourse and policy-making.

  • You are already 2+ months into the fellowship. How’s it going? What are you learning from your mentors and fellowship cohort colleagues? 

My fellowship experience has been rewarding and enlightening. The orientation week sparked insightful conversations with colleagues from law, history, social sciences, demography, and public health. This interdisciplinary interaction emphasised the need for a holistic approach to modernising population register systems, expanding my legal perspective to understand the broader implications.

The program's strength lies in its diverse approach, offering a nuanced perspective on the intersection of population, ethics, and human rights. Collaborating with mentors and peers from diverse fields broadens my understanding and encourages innovative thinking. This exchange of ideas is fostering a dynamic learning environment that transcends individual disciplines, leading to a more integrated approach to population registry systems.

Moreover, the fellowship encourages collaboration and communication, vital for our professional growth and the development of effective strategies in population, ethics, and human rights. The first two months have been immensely insightful, with the unique perspectives of each specialty enriching my work and the cohort's collective understanding.

  • Has there been anything unexpected that has come up during your fellowship to-date (e.g. an interesting area of the field that you are getting exposed to during a chance seminar or conversation, or some new insights from interactions from researchers at WiSER or consultations with South African civil society groups and researchers)? 

Interactions with colleagues across disciplines have enriched my understanding of population register systems' societal impact. Notably, discussions on administrative obstructionism and exclusionary policies, such as those presented in Wendy Hunter's article on denationalisation in the Dominican Republic, have been insightful.

I've also recognized technology's dual role in modernising population registers, providing efficiency but also posing risks. Practical cases, like Cameroon's voter registration issues with inaccurate facial recognition technology, highlight these challenges.

My experience at Wits University illuminated key ethical and human rights concerns, like access to services and personal data protection. The need for students and staff to provide personal and biometric data to access facilities, without comprehensive disclosure about potential third-party sharing, raises privacy concerns. This underscores the importance of transparency and accountability in the era of digital data collection.

  • What are you hoping to achieve by the end of this 1-year fellowship? Are there specific research outputs that you will produce through this fellowship? Can you brief us on your expected research outputs and where you see your work fitting into the broader research and praxis at the intersection of population registers, ethics and human rights?

My objective is to use this experience to contribute to the exchange of experiences between academia, civil society, public, and private entities in the majority world in identity projects that pragmatically pursue the enhancement of people's rights. I hope that my research findings can help to the advancement of voices that are dedicated to proposing recommendations for policymakers to achieve human rights grounded public policies that effectively encourage population registration under the axiom of leaving no one behind. 

By comparing birth registration policies in Brazil, Mozambique, South Africa, and Uganda, my study aims to identify potential factors contributing to the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of these policies, as well as ethical and human rights implications, and to inform policy making in these countries and beyond.

The fellowship has been such a transformative journey so far. It has provided me with the opportunity to learn from a diverse group of experts, collaborate with them, and collectively work towards understanding and addressing some of the most pressing issues in the field of population, ethics, and human rights. I am excited to continue drawing on interdisciplinary perspectives that can help us navigate these complexities, and ensure that modernization aligns with ethical and human rights principles, and does not leave anyone behind. I look forward to the learning and growth that the remaining duration of the fellowship promises.

  • Would you like to share a fun fact about yourself or your time so far as an IUSSP Population Ethics, Human Rights Fellow?

I recently discovered profound meanings of the isiZulu words "Sawubona" and "Ubuntu" and it has truly revitalised my approach to collaborative work in population register systems. "Sawubona", which translates to "I see you", reminds me of the significance of acknowledging every individual. In population register systems, this translates to the commitment to accurately represent and include every person, recognizing their unique experiences and identities.

The concept of "Ubuntu", on the other hand, meaning "I am because we are", reinforces the importance of community and interconnectedness. It underlines the realisation that our work isn't isolated but linked with numerous other individuals and communities. Through the lens of Ubuntu, our task becomes a collective endeavour where every data point is not just a statistic, but a story, a part of the collective human tapestry. This perspective has brought a deeper level of empathy and connection to my work, reminding me that we are all part of a larger whole, each contributing in our own unique way.

These two concepts have thus instilled a more humane, compassionate perspective into my work, guiding me towards a more inclusive and meaningful practice in population register systems.