Alan Turing Institute appoints global advisory board to aid digital identity schemes project

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The Alan Turing Institute has announced an international advisory board for a four-year project that will investigate digital identity schemes.

In a statement, the institute described the formation of the board as an effort to bring together authorities on government schemes that are blazing a trail for “opportunities with digital identity”.

Mark Briers, programme director for defence and security at the institute, said: “This advisory board is a unique forum set up to enrich understanding of our growing reliance on digital identity systems and the robust considerations needed to avoid harm, address inequalities and protect the citizens these systems are being set up to serve.

“Today, numerous approaches to digital identity are supported by complex ecosystems of data stores, networks and interfaces with services. Data science techniques are creating strong opportunities to underpin the trust assumptions required of governments, service providers and the many businesses and organisations that rely on these systems.”

The members of the board are Joseph Atick, chairman and co-founder of ID4Africa, and founder and chairman of Identity Counsel International (ICI); Michiel Van Der Veen, director of innovation and development, for the National Office for Identity Data in the Netherlands; Vyjayanti Desai, practice manager of identification for development (ID4D) and G2Px at World Bank Group; and Pramod Varma, chief architect of Aadhaar and India Stack, and CTO for EkStep Foundation.

The board will oversee a four-year ATI project aimed at establishing “digital infrastructure” that will underpin identity systems. The project has received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In the statement, the ATI noted that 161 of the 175 countries that have a national identity programme already have a digital aspect.

The project aims at establishing what would be required for identity systems to be trustworthy, as well as identify technologies to make that possible.

Among the global identity programmes the project team will look at are the World Bank Group’s global ID4D; Aadhaar, which is the world’s largest national digital identity programme that has enrolled more than 1.26 billion residents of India; and ID4Africa, a humanitarian NGO. The European Union’s eelectronic ID (e-ID) regulations operative across its 27 nation states will also be looked at.

The board will be chaired by Atick, who said: “Covid-19 has highlighted and accelerated the role of digital identity in extending social safety nets and managing economies as populations and businesses alike adapt and permanently move interactions and commerce online. Digital advances in identity, particularly biometric technologies, have become essential to the functioning of a healthy society.”  

Desai said, in the same ATI statement: “By building the next generation of identity systems to be inclusive, trusted and digitally enabled, countries can build safer and fairer societies where all people can more easily and securely access services face-to-face and online, and take advantage of new opportunities in the digital economy.”

The stated ambition of the Turing project to produce a set of tested and accessible tools, best practice guidance and design references based on six criteria for assessing the impact on trust in national identity programmes: security, privacy, ethics, resilience, robustness and reliability.

Alongside the formation of the board is the publication of a 17-page report, downloadable from the ATI website, called Trustworthy digital infrastructure for digital identity systems: the global imperative.   

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