There may be no single factor that affects a person’s ability to share in the gains of global development as much as having an official identity. Identity unlocks formal services as diverse as voting, financial account ownership, loan applications, business registration, land titling, social protection payments, and school enrollment. Robust identity systems can help protect against human trafficking or child marriage. In many ways, the roughly 1.1 billion people who lack official identity are invisible, discounted, and left behind. The need for clear understanding and informed engagement around ID technologies has never been greater.

Today, donor investments in digital ID (DID) systems are often confined to sector silos. These systems are built to support specific programs, which leads to a proliferation of fragmented systems. At the same time, technology is changing at a rapid pace. Emerging trends like blockchain, advanced biometrics, and algorithmic identification will transform the DID landscape.

The future of DIDs is not predetermined. Fragmentation may persist. The gap between those who benefit from emerging technologies may grow, compounding existing inequities. Privacy breaches may overwhelm any benefit enabled by new data types. Donors like USAID have a tremendous opportunity to help ensure a future wherein digital identity is infrastructure for inclusive development and no one is left behind.

This report was written by the Strategy & Research team within the Center for Digital Development at USAID. 

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