Digital IDs Make Systemic Bias Worse

14 February 2020

Digital Content


Last week, the Kenyan High Court blocked the country’s new digital ID initiative from moving forward in its current form. Other nations’ judiciaries have taken on similar biometric ID programs—the Indian Supreme Court set limits on the subcontinent’s massive Aadhaar program, which has scanned the irises of over a billion people. But never before has a court halted a digital ID scheme on the grounds that it could exclude a segment of the population.

It’s high time. Kenya is one of many countries (including the Philippines, Nigeria, and Mexico) looking to digitize their national ID systems. The privacy concerns related to digital ID are well known; they were the focus of India’s Supreme Court ruling, for example. Less known is the way these digital systems are often being built, as in Kenya, atop discriminatory regimes.

Vivek Maru, Laura Goodwin, Aisha Khagai, and Mustafa Mahmoud work with Namati. Namati helps convene the Global Legal Empowerment Network, which is open to people everywhere. Vivek is co-author of Community Paralegals and the Pursuit of Justice.

We should all be worried. Tech-utopian schemes don’t make systemic bias disappear. They make it worse. Read the full article on Wired here.