Paving a Digital Road to Hell? A Primer on the Role of the World Bank and Global Networks in Promoting Digital ID

This document discusses a revolutionary and dangerous new approach to digital ID systems. Through the embrace of digital technologies, the World Bank and a broader global network of actors has been promoting a new paradigm for ID systems that prioritizes what we refer to as ‘economic identity.’ These systems focus on fueling digital transactions and transforming individuals into traceable data. They often ignore the ability of identification systems to recognize not only that an individual is unique, but that they have a legal status with associated rights. Still, proponents have cloaked this new paradigm in the language of human rights and inclusion, arguing that such systems will help to achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals. Like physical roads, national digital identification systems with biometric components (digital ID systems) are presented as the public infrastructure of the digital future.16 Yet these particular infrastructures have proven to be dangerous, having been linked to severe and large-scale human rights violations in a range of countries around the world, affecting social, civil, and political rights. The benefits, meanwhile, remain ill-defined and poorly documented. Indeed, those who stand to benefit the most may not be those “left behind,” but a small group of companies and security-minded governments.17 The World Bank and the network argue that investing in digital ID systems is paving the road to an equitable digital future. But, despite undoubted good intentions on the part of some, they may well be paving a digital road to hell.