What Does Your Identity Mean To You?

February 2019
You might be prone to overlook it, but really, your passport, your driver’s license, and your national ID card are pretty remarkable things. Let’s say you want to open a bank account. All you have to do is take one of these documents to a local branch and present it to an employee. Know if your up for another dose of a vaccine? Show your ID to a doctor and he’ll pull up your file.

The thing is, you’re actually in a very privileged position here. In fact, more than one billion people alive today have no valid government-issued identity. An entire one-seventh of the world population cannot prove their identities to service providers - and this has sweeping implications. This article goes over just a few of them.


Limited access to healthcare

We don’t often think about it, but our identities are absolutely essential to our medical care. In some ways, too, our medical care is essential to the establishment of our identities.


The very first medical care we receive, of course, is at our birth. A record of this - our birth certificate - lays the foundation for our identity. One of the major contributors to the massive amount of people without provable identities, however, is the fact that fifty percent of low- to mid-income countries have inadequate birth registration systems.


This is problematic because it leaves millions of children in anonymity until they hopefully get entered into the system at some future date. In the meantime, infant mortality rates increase, since any early health issues go unrecorded.


Another issue relating to identity in healthcare pertains to vaccination histories. For many vaccines - such as the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3) vaccine - three doses are required. In these cases, records must exist in order to contact patients who require their second or third dose.


Financial Exclusion

Financial services are nearly universally regulated, requiring the customer to be able to prove who they are. In situations where people have no access to identity documents, financial exclusion is nearly always a given.


For example, without identity documents, it is simply not feasible to open a bank account. According to the World Bank - owing to a number of factors, including identification - 31% of adults worldwide were unbanked as of 2017.


This is a problem, of course, because it greatly stifles upward mobility. In countries that are still industrializing or developing, one of the key ways that people can improve their lives is by saving until they have enough capital to purchase a home, access education, or start a business. This becomes exceedingly difficult when those people have no ability to keep their money safe.


Aside from general banking, microloans, which have been shown to be highly effective in stimulating economic prosperity at a grassroots level in developing countries, are not possible without provable identities. Lenders want to be able to know they can track down their investments, while regulators know that lending environments are not sustainable without knowing the identities of borrowers.


Political Exclusion

It is not uncommon for political parties to use citizens’ inability to obtain identity documents to their advantage and in many countries it is a legal requirement that a passport or ID be presented at the voting booth.


Even in many developed countries where the majority of people have identity documents - such as in the United States, certain vulnerable communities do not have adequate identification. This can leave millions of people disenfranchised and can result in radically undemocratic election results.


What can be done?

Well, a lot of progress is actually being made. To learn more, check out another article on our blog - Three Technologies Democratizing Identity