“With just over 12 years to go to meet UN Sustainable Development goal 16.9 of providing universal legal identity by 2030, technology purpose-built for the developing world is bringing the ambition within reach. The biometrics market for the developing world, however, is distinct from that of the developed world in some significant respects, and the developing world market will have to mature for the full benefit of these advanced technologies and good intentions to be achieved.
With the recognition that insufficient identity systems are not just a symptom but actually a factor contributing to underdevelopment, access to investment in identity schemes and biometrics has increased in the developing world. The number of people globally without a legal identity is decreasing rapidly, from 1.5 billion in 2016 to 1.1 billion in 2017, according to World Bank estimates, as electronic identification (eID) systems backed by biometrics are implemented in developing nations, most notably India’s Aadhaar program.
The last billion people to be registered in legal identity schemes, however, will be the most challenging. The stakes are high, for those people, their governments, and by extension all the societies they reside in.
“If they don’t exist officially, they cannot have a stake in society, and as a consequence it’s a priority to rectify. It’s a priority for development agencies because of the opportunity to empower the development indicators,”says ID4Africa President Dr. Joseph Atick, emphasizing the scope of the issue all the way from individuals to global efforts.
While the biometrics market in the world’s most developed economies evolved originally from law enforcement, through border control, to broader use, the technology is being introduced to most developing nations as a vehicle for service delivery. “The original concept of biometrics, which was to bring in the bad guys, is moving rapidly to helping the good guys,” observes Integrated Biometrics CEO Steve Thies.
Most of the world’s largest biometrics companies are based in the world’s richest nations, as are most of their customers, and most of the industry’s revenue is drawn from those same countries. The products and solutions therefore, tend to serve significantly different needs, often in very different circumstances.
Developing world identity systems often necessitate enrollment programs carried out in challenging environments, without the social or technical infrastructure that enable biometrics in the developed world. They also necessitate difficult decisions, from procurement to deployment, that are made all the more difficult by the immaturity of the market.
The importance of strong digital identity to development and global agendas has been recognized, and the opportunity to pursue universal legal identity is already knocking….”
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