In September 2020, it was widely publicised that the Government of Barbados would be introducing a national digital identification (DID) card. As expected, the announcement and subsequent reports have included the usual public service rhetoric about shifting to a digital economy, delivering social benefits, increasing the efficiency of doing business, and transforming the country into an innovation hub. Putting this flowery political language aside, there are a number of questions that remain unanswered regarding the delivery of the DID project. Questions around clear policy objectives, economic value capture, social impact, technology standards and legal requirements that need to be addressed if Barbadians at-large are to truly profit from this initiative.
To be fair, a DID system represents innumerable benefits to the nation. It will serve as a key foundational element in transitioning to more accurate and efficient online delivery of government services (e-government), enhancing poverty alleviation and welfare services, reducing fraud, increasing financial inclusion, and serving national security interests.
However, without proper implementation, oversight and control, DID can inflict great harm on society, including the government or corporations profiting from the collection and storage of personal data, political manipulation of the electorate, social control of particular groups through surveillance, and restriction of access to uses such as payments, travel, and social media. Additionally, in the absence of a qualified and experienced project management team, it will most definitely be a ‘white elephant’ – a massive waste of public funds that does precious little to improve the lives of citizens. In the ensuing sections, I will provide a detailed analysis of critical risk areas that pertain to digital ID systems and what must be done to successfully alleviate them.
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