By Govind Shivkumar, Principal, Omidyar Network
Late 2018, Omidyar Network invested in International Institute for Information Technology — Bangalore (IIIT-B) to develop a modular, open-source, identity platform (MOSIP). A few months later, the code was made available for free, as a public good through GitHub. And today, we’re can share that three countries — Morocco, Philippines, and Ethiopia — have adopted the customizable, open source digital platform on which they plan to build secure, standards-compliant, vendor-neutral, and scalable national ID systems.
“When pursuing a national ID system, many governments around the world are forced to lock-in to a specific technology or providers’ services, experience unexpected costs, lose control over their data, and cannot switch to new and better technologies later without incurring an additional expense,“ said CV Madhukar, managing director, Omidyar Network. ”And these challenges don’t just affect the government; they ultimately hinder citizens’ ability to fully and freely access basic services and seek out economic opportunities, such as employment, business ownership, trade, travel, and land titles.“
With the building blocks of MOSIP, countries can design their national ID systems to be context-specific and based on local laws and decisions. Morocco’s Ministry of Interior sought out MOSIP with the goal to integrate the system with social safety net programs and help deliver government benefits to citizens. In the next three years, the Philippines Statistics Authority expects to enroll 112 million Filipino citizens and 10 million Filipinos living overseas in their foundational ID system. After the pandemic subsides, they anticipate leveraging the system to transfer social benefits directly to the bank accounts of 18 million households. And Ethiopia’s Ministry of Peace, having just announced their plans in late June, is pursuing a pilot program with 20,000 people before scaling toward an interoperable National Identity Program.
“With all aspects of life moving online due to the pandemic, we’ve seen where digital infrastructure is lacking in emerging markets and how that prevents governments and citizens from coping resiliently to external shocks let alone from growing their economies,“ Madhukar said. ”With digital public goods — that form an essential, private, and secure infrastructure layer in the digital economy and enable virtual services like banking, education, and healthcare — countries can respond more quickly, effectively, and safely to the needs of their people.“
Every week, new countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America engage IIIT-B to learn about MOSIP. As open-source, vendor-neutral technology gains traction, we are committed to exploring ways to support and learn from other forms of digital public infrastructure. Earlier this year, we invested in the Mojaloop Foundation to help scale their open-source, digital payments architecture. Public and private sector leaders in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Myanmar are excited about adopting the interoperable platform and how it can support financial inclusion. It is our hope that both these technologies will become the norm across the globe and help break down some of the barriers governments experience in providing Good ID and basic services for all residents.
“An interoperable identity and payment system is the first step toward building a robust digital economy,” Madhukar added. “But only if they are used and governed wisely, and not leveraged to exclude people, suppress their voices, or otherwise violate their fundamental rights.”
As the first three countries advance their plans and as others consider implementing MOSIP, we are committed to educating decision-makers about all aspects of Good ID and their responsibilities.
- All decisions about how people’s identity information will be used should be made in open consultation with the public, including marginalized communities, civil society groups, and independent experts.
- All countries should have robust privacy and data protection laws in place before they begin collecting identity information to minimize any harms.
- All plans to build on top of MOSIP should be evaluated against legal, rights-based, and risk-based frameworks.
- MOSIP’s open-source code should continue to evolve transparently with help from the growing developer community while still respecting its core tenets of privacy and security.
- All innovations relying on the identity platform, such as digital payments, should also uphold these standards.
- All countries should establish accountability and redress mechanisms should issues like exclusion, privacy violations, and other harms occur.
- Civil society groups — such as Paradigm Initiative, Namati, and Lawyers Hub Kenya — must also keep a watchful eye on the design, roll out, and management of these systems so they continue to reflect society’s interests and people’s rights.
Read more about the five surprisingly consequential decisions governments make about digital ID systems and how to aspire toward Good ID.