immunisationBy Sanjay Dharwadker, WCC Smart Search & Match.

How nations record individuals is subject to constant evolution. In recent decades we saw the rise of biometrics, but the next wave looks to take a more holistic approach comprising foundational identity, civil registration and vital statistics closely coupled to functional systems riding on the latest technologies. How should identity systems cope with this phenomenal evolution? And which issues must be addressed on the road to sustainable, safe and smart identification?

History of identity registration

The history of civil registration goes back to ancient Egypt, Rome, India and China. The first modern national identity systems emerged in the 19th century. The vital events typically recorded are live birth, death, fetal death, marriage, divorce, separation and annulment of marriage, adoption, legitimization and recognition. Legal documents derived from these events include birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates.

Standards for identification

Unfortunately, there is little international standardization of identity systems and civil registration, and of laws governing citizenship. For civil registration, there is the UN’s Principles and recommendations for a civil registration and vital statistics system. For legal identity, the 2014 “Seoul Declaration” of the Global ID Management Conference recommended the formulation of such principles. For preventing statelessness, the recently developed UNHCR guidelines are an excellent reference. The electronic passport is a good current example of an international identity document, being accepted in 191 countries for border crossing.

Complex foundations

Several complex issues are rooted in the foundations of identity. For one, legal identity does not have a concrete uniform definition in international law. Its scope is often unclear in contexts such as social development and national security. Birth registration is universally understood and defined, but usually addresses two different functions: statistical (baseline data for government planning), and legal (foundation document for establishing identity).

Countries create and maintain legal identity and birth registration records through varying infrastructures and organizational arrangements: under one or several departments and on federal, regional, provincial and local levels. Besides aligning with national legal frameworks, governments also need to recognize international conventions, for example child rights and statelessness.

The coverage of civil registration varies; many countries use reliable and complete systems, but others still need further strengthening. While the world average coverage of birth registration has improved from 58% in 2000 to 72% in 2015, there is still a long way to go.

Grim consequences

Failure to address these issues will rapidly erode the credibility of legal identity and civil registration systems. At the same time, such systems must operate within both the requisite legal framework and universally acceptable principles of privacy.

People without identity documents are often deprived of education, work, ownership and entrepreneurship. Their children risk inheriting this lack of status. Especially in developing countries whose legal frameworks and identity records are still in their infancy, the inability to establish an identity can have grim consequences, such as:

  • Governmental challenges in extending welfare benefits
  • Inefficiency and corruption
  • Failure to protect vulnerable population sections
  • General economic decline
  • Wrongful disenfranchisement

In short, guaranteed identification with enforcement of proper checks is an urgent socio-economic necessity.

The importance of breeder documents

The UN seeks to fast-track national identity programs per its Post- 2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: “by 2030, provide legal identity to all including birth registration”. Framing the objective in this way puts an even sharper focus on linking people to their legal identity through key breeder documents like the birth certificate.

An estimated one billion individuals around the world lack even basic identity documentation. It is this yawning gap that the UN urges nations to close in the next 15 years. In birth registration alone, at least 37 million children are not registered per year. This leaves them at risk of missing out on essentials like immunization and basic education.

Comprehensive civil registration also includes inter alia, registration of marriage, divorce, adoption and death, as these affect the civil status, rights and duties of a person. While birth registration is crucial for establishing legal identity, other breeder documents are often equally important in many contexts.

Legal and administrative aspects of identity

Effective identity registration must meet requirements in five key areas.

  • Certification: Certificates – undisputable legal proof of identity or civil status – function as breeder documents to obtain other identity documents (e.g. passports, driver’s licenses).
  • Permanence: Records must be transferred from old to new systems without fail to protect their legal value.
  • Continuity: The system must render a reliable and up-to-date civil status of each person and of the population at large.
  • Consistency: Data quality must be consistent across multiple identity systems for the same population.
  • Privacy: Stringent data security is crucial to safeguard the human right to privacy.

WCC – Adding Value

WCC offers remarkable software and industry expertise to address a wide spectrum of identification issues for governments. These include biographics, multi-biometrics, integrating with multiple data sources and systems, linkage to statistical dashboards, and context-specific identity data. WCC’s software platform ELISE deploys powerful tools such as ELISE Insight and Explorer, and proprietary features such as fuzzy search, multi-cultural name-matching and matching on a mix of different modalities.

Easy to integrate, ELISE works equally well in foundational identity, birth registration, and functional systems such as voting and payments. To optimize results, WCC also provides consultancy expertise for managing the complexities of identity programs. WCC understands identification issues and instills best practices for policy-makers, administrators and operational managers.

The evolution of identity and birth registration systems demands far-reaching and long-term solutions. These must be simple and sustainable to address individuals, and yet robust enough when aggregated – often into hundreds of millions of entities. Several national governments are already thinking in this coherent manner. For the industry it means working closer together than ever before. WCC provides the ingredients and impulse for identity programs that meet everyone’s needs and ambitions

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