Digital Identity in Africa and in the Middle East

How are the GDPR’s principles reconciled with national laws and digital identity programmes where levels of development, education, and democratic norms are different from Europe? Stewart Dresner and Oliver Butler report from the CPDP conference in Brussels.

Legal identity should be distinguished from digital identity. Although both types of identity raise sensitive issues, the concepts are very different. A legal identity for everyone is a right advocated by the United Nations and the Council of Europe and a digital identification technique is a way to identify individuals. Fingerprints are well-known biometric identifiers but are traditionally associated with people entering the criminal justice system and therefore may not be generally welcomed as a mandatory identifier in a national legal identification system. But cultural norms are changing and digital identification can be useful for granting access to health services and transport systems and to combat fraud. Should the adoption of digital identification be normalised? Should fingerprints, iris scans or facial recognition systems be used, for example, for borrowing a book from a library or paying for a meal? If so, which safeguards would be appropriate? How can DPAs promote DP rights in societies where digital identities are being developed?

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