Why are we innovating to safeguard children’s identities?

by | Aug 26, 2016 | Blog, Our Investments

Have you ever asked someone what makes up their identity or thought about what makes up yours? Some of the things that may come to mind are family, community, personality and occupation. And what is it exactly that makes you a person? Perhaps it’s your ability to interact with others, to learn, to love. As people, we think of our identities as very personal and subjective configurations of who we are. And ownership of that identity, is most definitely with us, the individual.

If we think in more practical terms, there are a number of things that give us ‘recognised’ identities. Birth certificates and identity documents register us legitimate people in the eyes of governments and a host of other organisations. Various manifestations of these types of documents grant us access to privileges and services; access to social grants, ability to open up a bank account etc. There are certain things we simply cannot do without proof of our identities.

As we navigate life and various institutions, we also build up these identities; like our identity CVs, and various links are made to construct a picture of this identity. For example, our identity number is associated with our credit record and our credit record impacts our ability to access credit in the future.

Importantly, when it comes to ownership of these documents, it is the issuing authorities, not the individual themselves, who can claim ownership.

The importance of identity management becomes particularly evident when it comes to young children in marginalised communities.
When it comes to accessing health and education services for children, identity documents and personal information are of utmost importance. Registering a child’s birth and giving them a name establishes a child’s right to their identity, becoming an assertion of their existence in society. Furthermore, it determines what other rights, privileges and opportunities may be enjoyed, or from which they are excluded in future.

Considering all of the above, current methods used for managing and administering identities are questionable. In the context of children attending early childhood development (ECD) centres this reality becomes particularly evident. The image was taken at an ECD centre in Delportshoop in the Northern Cape. This is the form of storage used by the centre (and probably many other centres) for children’s documents that provide them with their identities (birth certificates, registration at the centre, progress reports etc.).

For information that is so essential to the future of a child to be managed in this manner is extremely problematic and concerning. Individual children are disadvantaged when they are left without essential identity documents, due to documents being lost or destroyed. While security and storage of these identity documents are already problematic, there are further issues to be considered.

Identity and personal information about a child’s family, where they live and other key data are needed by every organisation and service that they will interact with. Over time, these interactions build the person’s profile and credibility in society (like a CV or credit record) and are the foundation for trust agreements — such as being accepted into a school, or opening a bank account. This information is also used to provide services and interventions that are timeous and appropriate.

Today, social benefit and service providers are still duplicating the work of registering and validating the identity and eligibility of each of their ‘clients’. Moreover, they retain this information privately and the individual parent or child gains no personal ownership over their own information, which could enable them to transact with other service providers, or to benefit from increased credibility.

The information these organisations collect about what benefits each child actually receives tends to be analog, fuzzy and lumped together in averages — such as when this is reported on or used for accountability and planning. And their digital identity and personal information can be exploited by third parties, without benefit to the child.

The question then becomes, what do we do about this?

For Trustlab, the solution is self-sovereign digital identities, grounded on the belief that individuals have the right to ownership of their personal information, especially in the context of ECD. Trustlab is currently prototyping a distributed, decentralised digital identity solution based on revolutionary blockchain technology.

In short, having a unique digital identity benefits individual children because they can prove their eligibility to receive services and benefits from a range of service providers. Any information that is collected in the process is owned by the child for their own future benefit.

A production-scale open and decentralised platform, based on the Ethereum blockchain is currently under development. The identity management platform will provide a scalable and low-cost back-end infrastructure, which ECD applications can interact with. Furthermore, the generated real-time data will be stored and encrypted to ensure decentralised ownership of the data.

This is really just the beginning. Establishing a digital identity system is the starting point for more transparency and legitimate, measurable impact in social development.

Lyndsey Petro, Project Coordinator, Innovation Edge