Digital Identity – Regulatory trends and the role of mobile

The GSMA has just published a new report exploring various Regulatory and Policy trends impacting Digital Identity and the role of mobile.

The ability to prove that you are who you say you are is a fundamentally important building block of economic, financial and social development and inclusion. Proof of identity is generally necessary to access basic services such as healthcare, education and financial services, and to vote in elections. Yet the World Bank estimates that more than 1.5 billion people do not have access to formal identification documentation – and this disproportionately impacts vulnerable groups in developing countries across Africa and Asia.

Recognising this, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically goal 16.9, aims for every individual to have “free and universal legal identity, including birth registration by 2030.” Because they can be used to access multiple different public and private services, effective identity systems are instrumental for realising other SDGs.

It is widely recognised that identity systems increase in utility as they become digital. Widespread availability and adoption of digital identity is necessarily a key element in reducing the divide between those who have access to and use digital services and those who do not.

Mobile operators have unique resources enabling them to offer secure and scalable forms of mobile-based identities, catalysing greater socio-economic impact in emerging markets and helping mobile users access life-enhancing services even if they lack a formal identity document.

By leveraging these resources, mobile operators may be particularly useful in helping governments establish identities, and in introducing or complementing national identity systems, such as for birth registration, driving licences and a variety of other public sector uses. Mobile operators have been involved in birth registration systems for instance in Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Senegal, Pakistan and several other countries, playing a vital role in bringing the population into a government identity system.

To facilitate the introduction and take-up of mobile-based digital identity solutions, key stakeholders need to take into account several emerging trends that are influenced by – or help shape – policy and regulation. The GSMA’s latest report examines identity-related developments and groups them into five broad trends:

  • 1. The gathering momentum towards digital identity programmes and the implications for mobile operators’ role in enabling identity solutions.
  • 2. The diversity in approaches to digital identity and the need for harmonised standardised and interoperable solutions.
  • 3. The realisation that identity-related requirements, such as mandatory SIM registration and know-your-customer (KYC) obligations for mobile financial services need to converge, and the role of Public Private Partnerships.
  • 4. The need to build robust ‘trust frameworks’ by aligning several components of digital identity creation including: the technical specifications, standards and procedures, data protection, privacy and other identity-related laws, regulations, and consumer expectations.
  • 5. Finally, the impact of the increasing reports of government requests to access communications to consumers’ trust and perceptions of digital identity solutions; And the consequent need for regulators, policymakers and mobile operators to promote transparency and proper lawful management of government access requests.

The report further highlights key regulatory policy issues and offers guidance for regulatory policymakers in building an enabling environment for mobile-based digital identity services. It concludes by proposing recommendations for governments and mobile operators on how to establish and spread the uptake of digital identity, foster greater digital engagement between citizens and their governments, promote financial inclusion and accelerate realisation of the SDGs.