Demystifying technologies for digital identification


This page in:

© iStock

With more than 1.1 billion individuals without official proof of identity, a myriad of technologies is advancing at a faster speed than ever before and becoming more affordable, making it possible for nations to leapfrog paper based approaches of the past. Yet, it is becoming a challenge to understand and keep up with the various technologies and advancements that are especially relevant for digital identification systems. Identification for Development (ID4D) launches a new Technology Landscape report providing an overview of current and emerging technology trends in digital identity.
Whether a country is enhancing existing ID systems or implementing new ones from the ground up, technology choices, when appropriately selected and implemented, can scale #ID4D enrollment and authentication to help reach the missing billion . Technology choices can also enable identification systems to lead to tangible benefits across a range of areas, such as financial inclusion, health services, and social protection for the poorest and most vulnerable. This #ID4D Technology Landscape report reminds us that additional factors and risk mitigating measures need to be considered when choosing certain #digitalidentity technology. These include the need for proper privacy and data protection, open standards and vendor neutrality, that match with cultural contexts, economic feasibility and infrastructure constraints. 

Synthesizing what seems like an endless supply of information, this new #ID4D report provides a landscape of the emerging and existing technology choices for digital identification and helps readers understand how they work and what technology might be useful in each stage of the Digital Identity Lifecycle . This report also summarizes challenges that each technology can and cannot solve and relevant key trends.

© Technology Landscape for Digital Identification report
© Technology Landscape for Digital Identification report
The report offers a framework to assess each technology on multiple criteria, including length of time it has been in use, its ease of integration with legacy and future systems, and its interoperability with other technologies with results presented in a color-coded way.
For example, fingerprint recognition is fairly mature and has wide adoption already. Others are emerging and include contactless fingerprint recognition, infant biometrics or blockchain for identity management, which are still in the pilot-testing stage. 

Smartphones with built-in biometric sensors are becoming less expensive, with global prices decreasing by 27% from 2010 to 2017. With the expected 4.8 BN biometrically-enabled smart mobile devices by 2020, the #ID4D report predicts that mobile identification and authentication technologies will gain more importance, especially in the developing countries.  

Regardless of which technologies are employed, successful digital ID systems must be robust, inclusive, and interoperable to ensure access to finance, healthcare, education, and other critical services and benefits by the more than billion people without proof of ID, as showcased in #EveryID has a Story campaign. Therefore, it’s important that the government adhere to “Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development: Toward the Digital Age” which considers the fundamentals to maximizing the benefits of identification systems while mitigating the risks, and is endorsed by 23 organizations.

This work was commissioned by the ID4D initiative of the World Bank Group in partnership with Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL). Please e-mail your feedback to [email protected].


Anita Mittal

eGovernance Specialist

Wameek Noor

Director, Insights Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL)

Join the Conversation

Jimmy Ocab Ramos
February 27, 2018

Support fight against poverty and support the principle of change or transformation.

Ijeoma Chibueze Victor
March 01, 2018

The over 1 billion individuals without official proof of identity do actually pose a big challenge for sustainable and inclusive development. But a bigger challenge (to security) is the issue of dual or multiple identity as well as identity cloning or snatching, essentially for dubious purposes by criminal elements. While the elimination of these factors might have partly formed the bases for digital ID, designs should be as cutting-edge as possible and at costs governments of developing nationals and fragile and economically unstable countries can fund.

Harelimana marguerite
March 01, 2018

Even there challenges that each technology cannot solve, the importance of identification system is high. The identification system enables citizens to exercise their rights because they have official names, age, ...
Inter-operability of this system with others enable Governments to serve well citizens.

March 01, 2018

It is nice to hear that the world should adopt the Digital method of identifying a real person to prevent hackers and impostors to create crimes and other evil deeds.

Sanjay Dharwadker
March 06, 2018

Excellent introduction to a very useful and timely publication from ID4D. Thanks.

Kwesi Prescod
March 09, 2018

Looking forward for a comprehensive review of the state of the sector.