Digital Identity and the Impact it has on Society (and Human Live)
Identity and Access Management is not just an area within a company where it is decided which employee gets what authorizations (and why). Being in this industry for a long time one realizes that it is actually about Digital Recognition (of an individual). In various use cases and contexts we want to know who we are dealing with, and sometimes we want to be really really sure, and it needs to be a very trusted recognition. In other cases we don’t care that much and basically any IP- or emailadress will be fine.
On a large scale governments are doing this as well. Typically a government already made sure they could recognize their citizens and residents. Identification documents, like passports or drivers licences, are quite commonly used when an individual interacts with the government. They are even trusted to the extend that also car rentals, hotels and other organizations require an individual to use those documents to proof their identity. It’s an accepted method in our society to be identified and recognized. For example, identification documents are used when onboarding new employees (and frequently it is a required to identiy them, at least in the Netherlands, by means of passport) or registering customers (for example when opening a bank account online).
One can imagine that when this identification and recognition fails this can be very impactful for the individual. For example not being able to access your online bank account, your email or logging in with the government for tax filing. Luckily in most cases there is a physical backup route that individuals can use, like going to the branch office of the bank or visiting city hall. But that is not always the case. Increasingly research shows that with digital identity solutions on a large scale groups of individuals are excluded and negatively impact. Governments are working hard to minimize this effect, obviously. Yet in the digital realm things do work slightly differently than in the physical realm, for example a passport cannot truly be digitized. But the functionality can be redesigned in a digital solution.
How to then assess the impact of digital identity solutions, so that we can learn where they need to be improvement and perhaps even propose improvements to their design and operation? You need a lense, a framework that helps analyse the effect of digital identity solutions in terms of impact on human lives. The Capabilities Approach is such a framework, coming from the disciplines of moral philosophy and human development.
This article starts with commenting that this Capabilities Approach has been proven and can be applied to ICT solutions. We aim to continue with articles that will answer how this approach relates to other approaches to assess impact of ICT, and when applied to digital identity solutions what the results are, hopefully leading to improvement suggestions for digital identity solutions.
Henk Marsman is principal consultant with SonicBee where he works with organizations to solve IAM challenges. In addition he’s a researcher on digital identity systems and the impact these have on human lives. His inspiration is to ‘make these systems better’ and for that he combines moral philosophy with digital identity in his research. This article is the start of his research into values in Digital Identity – How Value is Informing and Directing (or not) the Design and Implementation of (Inter)National Digital Identity Solutions. Henk started this research at Leiden University and is currently in an independent track.
Published online by: Cambridge University Press, November 23th 2022