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A growing number of developing countries are using biometric technologies to create national identification programs or for more specific needs, including cash transfers, voter registration, and disaster relief. CGD’s research shows how biometric ID can help improve public service delivery, advance progress on many of the Sustainable Development Goals, and helps shape global best practice in applications that use the technology. Our work on India’s pioneering Aadhaar system aims to understand how it has impacted a billion Indian lives, and how the technology could be useful to other developing countries.
Elections have emerged as a leading area for the application of biometric technology in developing countries, despite its high costs and uncertainty over its effectiveness. This paper finds that a reduction in the probability of post-election violence by only a few percentage points could offset the cost of the technology. However, this is possible only in particular situations.
The biometrics revolution has allowed more countries to create strong ID systems for their citizens. These systems have mostly relied on fingerprinting, but with the advent of low-cost, highly effective iris readers this is about to change.
CGD, along with Data2X and the World Bank Group, recently hosted an event on the intersections of civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS), legal identification, and gender equality. That sounds like a mouthful, to be sure, but it all comes down to one simple idea: both men and women need to be able to prove who they are, so that they can exercise their rights as citizens and be counted by their governments.
There is growing recognition of the importance of identification for sustainable development. Its role is recognized formally in target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which calls for providing “legal identity for all, including through birth registration” by 2030. Identification is also an enabler of many other development targets, from social protection (delivering support) to financial inclusion (opening bank or mobile accounts and establishing a credit record) to women's empowerment.Having a recognized identity is crucial for achieving several development outcomes.
The importance of ID for empowering women and girls is spot-on, but so far discussions about identification and gender haven’t given equal attention to the other side of the equation. And new data shows that when it comes to identification and gender equality, we encounter a two-way street. Identification isn’t just critical for achieving gender equality; addressing underlying gender discrimination is essential to making sure that all people have identification and the benefits that come along with it.
Some 2.4 billion people lack widely-recognized forms of legal identity. Over 600 million are children whose births have not been registered. How can wider access to identity – now recognized for the first time as a development goal in SDG target 16.9 -- help to achieve the SDGs?
Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric ID program, is at a crossroads. After a remarkable effort to enroll almost the entire Indian population of 1.25 billion in just over half a decade, its impact on privacy and distribution public benefits are being called into question.
In the wake of Zimbabwe’s disputed reelection of Robert Mugabe, it is alleged that dead voters accounted for one-third of the voter rolls, that 63 constituencies had more registered voters than actual inhabitants even though 2 million potential voters under 30 went unregistered. The elections have left many asking if biometrics are the future of voting.
India’s shift towards direct benefit transfers (DBTs) is on the fast track. According to official statements, in the 2015-16 fiscal year the central government deposited nearly $5 billion of subsidy and welfare payments directly into the bank accounts of 300 million beneficiaries. It has also set an ambitious target to transfer all payments to the Aadhaar-based biometric DBT platform by the end of 2017. This will surely be the greatest subsidy reform in the world, but we need more data to accurately evaluate its impact.
These recent developments in identification, combined with rising mobile phone ownership, broadening Internet access, and innovative payment delivery mechanisms, can be harnessed to transform the way states implement poverty-reduction programs and improve the lives of their citizens. Digital payments promise faster, more transparent, and lower-cost delivery for existing cash-based government transfers, and can also transform the way governments deliver subsidies. In a new background paper, Dan Radcliffe reviews the evidence on the gains from digital payments and pinpoints four ways in which they can improve development outcomes.
Johnny West describes how an oil-dividend program could be structured by, for example, taking advantage of Iraq’s existing rationing system, ubiquitous mobile phone networks, and new biometric ID cards.