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The personal cost of accessing Covid financial support in Argentina

The personal cost of accessing Covid financial support in Argentina

This is the fourth field diary entry from Paz, one of our Digital Identity Fellows. Her year-long research project is focused on unravelling what digital identity, and identity in general, means to the unemployed and under-employed individuals receiving support from public job centres and local labour organisations in Gran Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata in Argentina. ***** There’s little doubt that the Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the digitisation of people’s everyday lives, in some places acting as an excuse to push certain groups to engage with technology and institutions in ways that might have seemed unlikely a year ago (just think of tracing apps, for example). In Argentina, one less obvious example of this kind of engagement is with the Emergency Family Income Payment (IFE), a payment the government is providing to vulnerable workers (the self-employed, domestic and informal workers, for example) to help them cope with the crisis. According to those I have interviewed, the payment of 10,000ARG has proved invaluable as they try to stay afloat. But despite any good that has come out of these payments, I believe a closer examination sheds light on some problematic aspects of this newly-established relationship between the state, banks, and vulnerable citizens. This interaction with private institutions might – ironically – expose them to further exclusion as existing information and knowledge asymmetries could be amplified, deepening epistemic inequality in society. The problems with the Emergency Family Income Payment (IFE) The first IFE payment was made to approved applicants by direct transfer to their bank accounts or in person at public mail offices. But for the second payment, the government-mandated recipients could only receive the funds directly into their personal bank accounts. So those who weren’t banked had to very quickly become banked. Today, getting banked is supposed to be easy, at least compared to how it used to be. A new type of bank account was announced by the government before the pandemic, called a free and universal bank account (cuenta gratuita universal or CGU), for any National Identity Card (DNI) holder regardless of their income or job situation. This account is free to maintain and all banks are obliged to offer it (how they go about offering it is another thing altogether – more on that in a future blog post, perhaps). Returning to the IFE itself, one major problem has been how low-income undocumented workers (both migrants and Argentineans) have been excluded because one of the key requirements is that they have a valid DNI. A second set of problems arises when people apply for the IFE, with the process particularly troublesome for the most vulnerable: having to apply online, opening bank accounts, and managing them through the banks’ apps which verify their identities using the SID, the digital identity system Argentina’s RENAPER (The National Registry of Persons) implemented in 2018. SID was built on top of the large and centralised national identity database system. These requirements – being able to effectively find information online, to run complicated paperwork-type tasks, to protect and store personal information and digital identities (such as usernames and passwords) in order to access ANSES (the public agency in charge of IFE) and the banks’ apps over and over again, or needing a certain type of hardware that is their own, and so on – become problematic because of the information and knowledge asymmetries we know exist. People are not being given the option to opt out of these digital interactions, despite the urgency for a benefit like IFE. Let’s think of unemployed workers who have a physical disability and no internet at home, blind people, those with no smartphones or computers, those who just do not know how to navigate the online space and have no-one to ask for assistance. Some of the NGO workers I interviewed mentioned the long hours they have had to spend, at the beginning of quarantine, helping people apply for IFE (despite that not being their job), and their anguish at knowing that some of the most vulnerable would probably not be able to apply for IFE because they didn’t have anyone to help them with the process. Recently, I myself helped one of my interviewees, Lisandro, find information on how to open a bank account to collect the second IFE payment. Lisandro is a clever and highly articulate guy in his twenties who has no wifi at home and unreliable connectivity on his five-year-old, second-hand smartphone. I spent hours on the internet, on the phone with a bank, and using Twitter and Facebook to ask banks about why the apps didn’t work on Lisandro’s phone. For me, I was very aware that I have a laptop and a good internet connection and don’t have the stress of wondering how I’ll eat next week. Handing over personal information You may be wondering why this is different from other situations in which governments handle benefits online, and which might complicate people’s lives. In short, it is because it involves the explicit sharing of highly personal and immutable information. And because of this, it ends up normalising the giving away online of all that we are. It is also different because banks hold a lot of power, and because IFE beneficiaries aren’t given the chance to decide whether they want these banks to have access to their biometric data. And they do not have much of a choice given they can’t afford not to try to access IFE. Higher income citizens aren’t put in this situation by the government. People are being forced to engage digitally in order to verify they are who they say they are to get the IFE, and in the process provide third parties with all the information contained in their DNIs. It’s not unusual to be asked to show some proof of identity whenever we are asked to, and this is a fairly standard (and expected) process here in Argentina. But in this case people aren’t just required to show their physical credential (DNI), they are being asked for much more – and the how and why have not been made explicit.

Social purpose in a time of crisis

Social purpose in a time of crisis

Events over recent weeks have been unprecedented. At Yoti, we have been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and wholeheartedly support calls for the end of inequality and exclusion wherever it exists and in whatever form it takes.  Racial equality is very much an issue of identity, and being a digital identity company the issues at hand are more pertinent to us than for many other companies. As signatories of the Safe Face Pledge, we have made a public commitment addressing harmful bias in artificial intelligence technology and embedded transparency into our business practices.  Today, we are releasing a paper which looks at our own successes and shortcomings, in addition to a wider assessment of social purpose in the corporate world during these challenging times.  More specifically, the paper examines the emergence of social purpose in the corporate world, how businesses define their missions and visions, and how companies have responded to two of the greatest events of recent times – the Coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests. An extensive list of examples of responses from companies can be found in the appendix. You can download a copy of Social Purpose in a Time of Crisis here. As a company, we have made some progress on diversity and inclusion, but it’s clear we need to do a lot more. Today, we reaffirm our commitment to accelerating the work we have already started.  As CEO of Yoti, I am proud of our achievements over the years that have seen us build genuine social purpose into our business. As a B Corp, we meet detailed standards of performance which are benchmarked globally and our Guardian Council play an active role in ensuring our business and products serve everybody. We’re committed to eliminating bias from our biometric technology and take a transparent approach to publishing the accuracy results across skin tone and gender. All that said, the Black Lives Matter protests have forced businesses around the world to look more closely at their own records and despite what we have achieved, our own period of reflection has shown that we have fallen short in a number of areas. As CEO I am committed to putting these right, and today we make a statement of intent towards that goal.

Numbered Humans: the new podcast from our Digital Identity Fellows

Numbered Humans: the new podcast from our Digital Identity Fellows

We’re very excited to announce the launch of Numbered Humans, the new podcast from our 2019 Yoti Digital Identity Fellows. In each episode, you’ll hear from Paz Bernaldo in Argentina, Tshepo Magoma in South Africa and Subhashish Panigrahi in India, as they  reveal some of the key issues that have emerged during the first six months of their research.  Digital identity in marginalised communities The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world and, as expected, the worst-hit are those already living in poverty, and the excluded and marginalised. We know that new technologies have the habit of further exacerbating divides present in the ‘real’ world, but they can also provide new windows of opportunity. Because of this, it feels more timely than ever that our three Fellows are investigating the positive and negative effects of digital identity on local – and often impoverished – marginalised communities. As expected, social distancing policies have severely impacted on the ability of our Fellows to carry out fieldwork, but this hasn’t affected their willingness to explore new ways of collaborating remotely. Numbered Humans is a great example of this. In the first episode Paz, Subashish and Tshepo share stories of how digital identity is playing out among the marginalised communities in the countries where they live and work.   Many digital identity solutions include the ‘tagging’ of citizens with unique numbers, and the storing of this information (along with much more, in most cases) in centralised databases. Our Fellows are interested in better understanding the implications of these systems, and what it means for marginalised communities. The first episode of Numbered Humans explores some of these issues. You can find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify, or you can listen online here. Meet our Digital Identity Fellows Paz is a development practitioner, researcher and activist investigating the meaning of digital identity among unemployed and underemployed vulnerable people living in the Argentinian cities of Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata. Subhashish is  a former community manager, documentary filmmaker and researcher, looking at the perspectives of some of the most marginalised communities across India impacted by India’s national digital identity program, Aadhaar. Tshepo is a researcher, strategist and innovator with experience working with Africa’s small business and social enterprise sectors. He is focusing on the role of South Africa’s digital identity program in fighting fraud, looking at the country’s Smart ID program from a human rights perspective. You can read more about the Fellows and their work at yotifellows.com 

People ask me: What do you mean by ‘digital identity’?

People ask me: What do you mean by ‘digital identity’?

This is the third field diary entry from Paz, one of our Digital Identity Fellows. Her year-long research project is focused on unravelling what digital identity, and identity in general, means to the unemployed and under-employed individuals receiving support from public job centres and local labour organisations in Gran Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata in Argentina. ***** The image at the top of this article is a photo I took of a piece of paper with some phone contacts I was given at a public job centre office. They had ‘recycled’ people’s ID photocopies. I walked away with all the personal data of a person I didn’t know.  When conducting interviews, I try to avoid defining identity or digital identity. Providing definitions, at least at the beginning, might create a barrier with the interviewees, some of whom might suspect that “I am an expert and I only want you to confirm what I already know”. I do not want such a barrier, precisely because of the exploratory nature of my research; the knowledge I am looking for is in the interviewees. This is the case with all the interviewees, including those with no formal technology background whatsoever, or those with vulnerable backgrounds, or those looking for a job. More often than not, however, I am being increasingly asked for a definition. My response has been to paraphrase definitions in ways that can be easy to grasp, and which are also relatable and open enough so that people can be confident that their own knowledge and experiences are relevant.  I am doing my fieldwork in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a full-scale quarantine in Argentina. My interviews are now conducted online or over the phone, which makes it even more important for my narrative to be compelling and to elicit a nuanced conversation (that doesn’t end up turning into COVID-19 coping strategies).  In this post I’ll first provide the formal definitions, and then the informal ones I am mostly using during interviews.  Key concepts Identity I do not provide a clear-cut definition, and I believe I am excused for this because identity is too much of a complex and ever changing concept. As Florian Coulmas rightly explains:  “Individual identities are complex structures combining inherited features with various group memberships, loyalties, values, belief systems, and fashions. These structures adjust to changing circumstances and so does the concept of identity itself. Elements may be discarded or remixed, new ones added on occasion. Hence a definitive definition is not available”. Despite the lack of an all-encompassing definition (as explained, for example, by Aleks Krotoski and Ben Hammersley in Identity and Agency) there is a list of things ‘identity’ might refer to: the way one is recognized as an entity; how we define and express our self individually or collectively; the sum ownership of the tangible and intangible assets of the self;  and the sum of self-referential claims or claims about others made by a digital subject (a concern for computer science). Digital identity Related of course, but different from ‘identity’, ‘digital identity’ seems a little less complex in that it refers to ‘all of the above but in a digital format’. Or perhaps not.  According to Krotoski & Hammersley, digital identity can be defined as: “A set of data that acts as a unique reference to a specific object”, which “can be a person, a thing, a concept, a group, or any other definable entity”. Digital identity’s main role is authentication: verifying whether an entity is who (or what) it is believed to be, and worthy of trust. And in the case of digital identity this authentication is binary: either completely true or completely false. A digital identity relating to a person can be made up of a number of attributes (data) depending on what it is needed for, and could include one or more of: an email address, digital photos, usernames and passwords, biometric data, or any other information that can be accessed digitally (Yoti toolkit). Our email address, for example, can be our digital identity within a specific email system, but it can also work as the digital identity we have on another, unrelated service (Krotoski & Hammersley) (like another platform for which we use our email to sign in).  Your digital identity can be verified using documents or other data such as biometrics or identification credentials, which can confirm you are who you say you are, in legal terms. But not all of our digital identities need to be verified in this way, only those that might be used to access services from governments (e.g healthcare) and the private sector (e.g banking).   Online identity Then we have a third, and equally relevant concept: ‘online identity’: “While digital identity answers the question, ‘Are we sure that x is y?’, online identity continues the statement, ‘I, y, consist of a, b, and c’.” (Krotoski & Hammersley). Online identity relates closely to the offline definition most of us have of personal identity or self-identity: it is the expression of this self-identity as mediated by computers and the internet. And importantly, this expression necessitates editing, a process that is culturally and technologically constrained (or limited):  “Online identities are not limitless in their expressive abilities. Unlike the self-signals shared between strangers on the street, each identity marker on the web is proactively constructed using the tools available, and online identity is not without systems and structures that constrain the individual, both socially and technologically” (Krotoski & Hammersley). The use of a tool to build an online identity (for example, a profile on Facebook) reduces our ability to decide which parts of our online identity(ies) we want to express, and how we want to express them. The choices, and therefore agency, are really in the hands of the designers of the platforms; choices that are political and cultural. We do not have the control we are often told we have. The designers of online services directly define the way we build our online selves.   Digital identity and our fluid online identity As seen, digital identity is necessary to an online identity, but they are not the same:  “Digital identities are fixed and binary; online identities are fluid, and contain multitudes” (Krotoski & Hammersley). The social sciences have long considered an individual’s self-concept as an evolving process, in which we discard aspects that no longer fit us in a given context (Krotoski & Hammersley). This ability to include and discard, allowing our identities to evolve, is essential to what we call ‘agency’. The more constrained we are to do that, the less ‘agents’ we are. The problem is: “the nature of some contemporary constructions of digital identity (notably, for search or social networking applications) does not account for this evolution. Rather, it incorporates all aspects of the self (self-reported or algorithmically generated) and delivers it upon request”. Identities are treated as trackable, unchanged, stable. Thus the need to incorporate the nuances of our experiences into computer constructions of identity (Krotoski & Hammersley).  Such ‘nuance’ might prove even more vital during the processes of editing our online identities, and creating new digital identities, when looking for a job. Among vulnerable groups such editing might be crucial, as career/training paths are not the ‘traditionally expected college-graduate-school’ and discrimination takes place regarding issues such as where people live, where they went to school, what their technical qualifications are, and so on.  The word “Respect”, written by adults and young adults at CEPLA, also called Casa Caracol, a community center in Mar del Plata My narrative during interviews At the start of my interviews I provide many of these same definitions, but make them a little less formal: Identity is something complex, yet we all know what our identities are. We know they relate to things we cannot change (like the country or social group we were born into), but also to other things that can change, like our values and beliefs that change over time. There is sameness, but also difference. We are and are not our 5 year-old self. It is a complex concept we all need to grasp.  Digital identity is something rather different. Digital identities exist because we also live in a digital world. A digital identity is a set of data that defines a specific object: a person, a group or any other thing. This data, or digital identity, is only used to verify someone or something is who or what it says it is; the answer can only be yes or no. There are no in-betweens. When entering Facebook, for example, you are required to verify you are “Paty X” by entering your username (which is your email) and a password. So, in this case your digital identity on Facebook is made up of two attributes, your username and your password. If you enter the wrong password the system determines that you are not Paty X. Period.  Online identity, on the other hand, refers to our ‘fluid’ or changing identities: it is not about “are you or not who you say you are?”, but more of “yes, I am Paty and I am also this and that, extrovert and artist, activist and organizer, and I currently maintain a Facebook page about sharing tools we don’t use too often with our neighbours”. Our online identities are the expression – in the digital world – of our offline and nuanced identities.  So far, interviewees have added a lot more nuance to the digital identity and online identity definitions. This proves that providing simple and informal definitions can help set the stage for a discussion without competing against – or overshadowing – the interviewees’ own understandings. One example of such nuance refers to the fact many people share their digital devices with other people, often family members. More on this in future posts.  Lastly, just to mention: in order to compensate for the lack of in person clues or contextual information during the now-online interviews I am adding two research methods: photo/video/voice elicitation and story completion, which I will also describe in more detail in another post. 

MarginalizedAadhaar: Digital identity in the time of COVID-19

MarginalizedAadhaar: Digital identity in the time of COVID-19

This is the third field diary entry from Subhashish, one of our Digital Identity Fellows. His year-long research project is focused on the challenges and opportunities within marginalised groups most affected by Aadhaar, India’s national digital ID system. ***** Before Indian society had the chance to recover from the hardship of both a financial slowdown and the controversial amendment to the citizenship act, it got hit by COVID-19. Many marginalized communities were already struggling to survive poverty, hunger and systemic exclusions, and things have got even harder as life comes to a standstill thanks to social distancing and wider lockdown regulations.   At the time of writing, 2,293 Indians have died of COVID-19 and 22,454 have tested positive. 24 people, mostly migrant workers who were desperately trying to return to their own houses, were also reported to have died recently because of the lockdown. Most people died in an attempt to walk hundreds of kilometres, in hunger and illness, and some as a result of indiscriminate attacks.  Fingerprint-based authentication (as used by Aadhaar) would almost certainly lead to further spreading of COVID-19, and India’s Public Distribution System (our social welfare service) predominantly uses Aadhaar for authentication. The state of Kerala identified this risk early on and suspended the use of all biometric authentication systems. This, and all the other social, political and transactional risks linked to Aadhaar — thanks to COVID-19 — have put marginalized communities at much higher risk, and furthered calls for a revised look at the digital ID ecosystem. While migrant workers in the cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Surat desperately try to return back to their native homes, many struggle to get the COVID-19 relief and regular support of food grains and rations that they are entitled to – all because PDS is yet to be made universal to ensure an equitable public benefit.    Aadhaar and social services The use of Aadhaar-based authentication – or linking the use of Aadhaar with essential social services – makes exclusions more likely than ever. A 68-year-old disabled woman with missing fingers was denied from enrolling for Aadhaar which resulted in receiving no food grains/ration for 11 months. Another disabled woman was denied rations for other three years, and a five-member family, including an elderly coupled, have been in a similar situation for the past six months. Harshabati Kheti of Lachipur, Sonepur distt., Odisha was denied of Aadhaar first for not having fingers intact. She hasn’t received any food grains or other ration for 11 months, or #COVID19 relief. https://t.co/LXCZYwcyKo @Food_Odisha @rajaaswain @CMO_Odisha #MarginalizedAadhaar pic.twitter.com/W4sC2VduAO — Subhashish P. ସୁଭ (@subhapa) April 30, 2020 Nabrangpur, Odisha: ~100 people denied of food grains + ration due to errors in records, despite of having Ration Cards & Aadhaar. Includes an old couple + family of 5 w. no ration since 6 months and family of a disabled man who is waiting since 3 yrs.#MarginalizedAadhaar (1/n) pic.twitter.com/8CzOkSIsBY — Subhashish P. ସୁଭ (@subhapa) April 13, 2020 Right before the pandemic, India was experiencing a huge financial slowdown resulting in job cuts and price rises. There were also large-scale protests around the country against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), a controversial new amendment to the 1955 citizenship law that promises citizenship to some illegal migrants on the basis of their religious faiths, while denying Muslims immigrants and several other minorities that are excluded under the amended law. India is also in the middle of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), an effort to identify and build a database of “legal citizens”. The initial NRC rollout in the state of Assam identified as “legal” 31 million people out of the 33 million total population while leaving 1.9 million, mostly Muslims, as stateless. The government has plans to implement NRC across the country. The fear of statelessness and another Rohingya-like situation led to nationwide protests and then mitigating acts by both the state and non-state as they tried to defend the CAA and NRC. More than 65 people have been killed in protests that lasted for over 100 days.   Liberty from a database Here lies the use of personal data at the center of everything — be it the identification of protesters who speak against the government, or identifying vehicles owned by Muslims from a government database for selective-targeting during a communal pogroms, or the identification of people who have traveled to a coronavirus-affected country. The government is reportedly in the process of developing a geo-fencing app that can alert local authorities if a person in COVID-19 quarantine or isolation attempts to ‘escape’, using the affected person’s cell tower location.  Attempts to deal with COVID-19 have also resulted in a provincial government agency sharing personal data — including legal names and complete addresses — of 19,240 individuals who were under home-isolation post-foreign travel. Lawyer Rahul Matthan cites the lack of appreciation of personal privacy by the government as a reason for this clear violation of privacy, a fundamental right granted by the Indian constitution. Aadhaar, India’s national biometric-based digital identity program, plays a key role in most mass-scale identification initiatives. A recent three-part investigation report reveals that the Indian government is planning to build an “all-encompassing, auto-updating, searchable database to track every aspect of the lives” of all 1.2 billion residents. The shift from Aadhaar being an identity in its initial design to a system for bettering public welfare to its use in mass surveillance is worrisome. India’s then finance minister Arun Jaitley even renamed the Aadhaar Bill of Indian constitution “Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act”. The civil rights of individuals can become compromised when a secural state – with a Hindu right-wing political party in power – requests Muslim Aadhaar-holders to prove their citizenship. Recent studies suggest that claims that Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) reduces the leakage of grains and other resources are a myth. Findings have also highlighted that the use of Aadhaar adds an additional burden of 17% on beneficiaries, with 10% of genuine PDS holders denied their benefits because of false authentication errors. This has led to a huge number of exclusions. Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), a government scheme that also uses Aadhaar for a direct-to-bank-account transfer, has led to a failure of 690 million INR (9.08 million USD) worth of transactions. Apart from the authentication failures, cases of stolen fingerprint casts being used for fraud have also surfaced — these did not exist before Aadhaar-based authentications were rolled out on such a scale. Also, considering the uncertainty of a return of normality post-COVID, it might be wiser to avoid physical contact by using alternative methods of authentication — instead of fingerprint scanning where the forced use of Aadhaar for public welfare payments would be problematic. Many isolated indigenous communities might not have immunity to even the most common diseases and extra precautions need to be taken in case non-indigenous persons are involved in distribution of resources. Lack of access to emergency healthcare information in native languages also remains a huge obstacle.   MarginalizedAadhaar podcast In the first episode of my MaginalizedAadhaar podcast, rights activist and author Raghu Godavar discusses the systemic exclusions in the enrolment and use of Aadhaar. With help from Parsuram Harijan, Gori Keuta and Ratan Naik of the Taragan village of Nabarangpur dist., Odisha, India tell how they have been denied food grains and ration for months and years. And finally, human rights lawyer and researcher Usha Ramanathan dissects Aadhaar’s fundamental design to pinpoint the system issues with Aadhaar.    Further reading “The complex architecture of DBT transactions is resulting in ….” 29 Feb. 2020, https://kaarana.org/?p=79. Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.  “Mortality from contact-related epidemics among indigenous ….” 10 Sep. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4564847/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.  “‘Data is the new oil, new gold,’ says PM Modi in Houston ….” 23 Sep. 2019, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/data-is-the-new-oil-new-gold-says-pm-modi-in-houston/story-SphHDPQadvF1dJRMXHCkwK.html. Accessed 6 Apr. 2020   Banner image credit: Corona crisis in Kolkata 14. Indrajit Das (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Updates from the field – Tshepo’s diary entry April 2020

Updates from the field – Tshepo’s diary entry April 2020

This is the third field diary entry from Tshepo, one of our Yoti Digital Identity Fellows. His year-long research project is looking at the digital identity landscape in South Africa, with a specific focus on the national smart ID identity programme from a human rights perspective. To follow his whole research project, you can find an archive of his monthly field diary entries here. ***** Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity to collect data from several people in Limpopo province, mostly in the Mopani region, including schools, public departments, NGOs and community members. The participants have all had one thing in common – access to state and private services is predominantly limited to ones’ ability to acquire and disclose an ID to relevant parties.   The role of ID in education I visited rural schools in the Sekgosese area, under the Mopani region in Limpopo. My main objective was to understand what ID fraud means to the learners and to gauge their views and personal experiences. I was particularly interested in issues ranging from digital fraud and the prospects of having a digital ID, and other human rights violations that comes with a lack or loss of an ID. Interestingly, in public schools, learners are encouraged to get their IDs before they reach Grade 11, as it has become mandatory for learners to sit for their exams with an ID document. Most principals in the schools have also noted that the national green ID book poses several challenges for the schools, as some learners tamper with the ID image to commit fraud during exam season. For example, it is not uncommon for one student to sit an exam on behalf of another learner who may be struggling with the subject – for a fee. The government has been pushing for post-2013 high school learners to have a Smart ID card only, and my research has found that most school learners possess one, much to the relief of the schools. To combat fraud these Smart ID cards need to be presented prior to sitting an exam. Yet, despite efforts to have learners present their IDs before exams commence, attempts to access exam papers ahead of exam sittings remain a problem, showing that fraud is a very dynamic issue that requires a holistic approach. The data also shows an increase in reports of loss of IDs during exam seasons, and this raises questions as to whether schools use other forms of identification, instead of an official ID. ID replacement is usually expensive for learners, especially those living in poverty in rural areas, so many have been debating the potential of a digital Smart ID card scanned to their smartphone to prove to their schools during an exam. Interestingly, others saw this as an obstacle due to schools reluctance on learners using smartphones on school premises. That said, I also engaged with the local home affairs office who have noticed an increase in the number of people within communities who now want to shift to a Smart ID card – especially young adults. Deployments have already been carried out in several schools, rural centres and community halls to facilitate and make the process easier.   Accessing social help Unlike many urban areas, rural areas (even in the post-apartheid era) still face quite different issues, predominately for elderly people. Many older people tend to be unsure of their date of birth, with one older participant telling me that all her life she rarely celebrates her birthday because she isn’t sure when it is. An accurate, confirmed date of birth is a key component of any digital identity. I have also noticed that many rural communities predominantly rely on social grants given the socio-geographic challenges they face, and the lack of employment opportunities. In other cases, from a human rights perspective, some elders are denied the right to social grants due to an incorrect birth date previously recorded on their ID. Reasons for this can be down to everything from challenges of literacy, to simple errors from the old home affairs departments. While my research indicates that identity challenges (such as fraud) are less likely in rural areas, identity challenges have existed in another form – for example, where a wrong identity is given to an individual who then ends up bearing the consequences for the rest of their lives. The ways NGOs deliver services to communities is also changing as ID increasingly becomes a requirement before receiving aid. This, of course, can end up excluding those with no form of identification, mostly foreign nationals, refugees, displaced people or simply those who have lost their IDs. Presenting ID to local clinics before treatment is now mandatory. Subsidised government services such as provision of electricity, food and other basic needs also require people to be able to prove who they are. These are just a few of the issues that drive people to commit fraud by faking their identities.   Missed opportunities I also discovered that some children have been given false identities intentionally by their parents in order for them to receive specific social grants and benefits reserved by the state for more disadvantaged groups. Having a basic ID also makes it possible to obtain a driving licence and, coupled with completion of a matric certificate, gives the holder a better chance of gaining from some of the primary employment opportunities. A number of young people I spoke to have missed out on several opportunities because they lost some of these documents.   Green ID book vs Smart ID card I have also learnt that, despite the introduction of the Smart ID card and the push for everyone to upgrade to one, South Africa has yet to scrap the older green ID book completely. As a result it is possible to use both IDs interchangeably.  In many rural areas, most older people prefer using their green ID book whereas younger people are more comfortable using their Smart ID card. Increasing numbers of young people will only ever know the digital version of their identity given their age.   Identity theft Despite efforts to switch to a Smart ID card, identity theft is a growing problem in South Africa. Cases are reported every week of criminals selling fake state IDs, licences, passports and other forms of identification. Furthermore, the number of people who simply ignore the fact that they have lost an ID and never report it to the relevant authorities simply adds to the problem. The lack of urgency in reporting ID theft is probably not helped by the lack of easily available information on the dangers, and impact, of having your identity stolen. Education is a key part of the equation here, an area where considerably more time, effort and resources are required if we are to begin to combat ID fraud in South Africa.   If you have a question for Tshepo or are interested in his research, you can reach him here.