AI4D - Digital and Biometric Identity Systems
This policy paper examines issues emerging around the deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Digital and Biometric Identities (BDI) being rolled out across Africa as a central part of digital strategies to meet the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDGs Target 16.9 aims: “to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration by the year 2030″. Digital identity is also seen as key to unlocking various other development goals including universal health and education access, and financial inclusion. BDI systems present opportunities for enhancing the visibility of benefactors of social services, enhancing efficiencies in digital transacting, and a variety of other potential social and digital economy benefits. The literature demonstrates that emergences of AI in the BDI context, however, exacerbate risks already present to both fields that arise from the centrality of personal data, mass collected and analysed, within their systems. And there are broader risks – some of which arise from the centrality of identity, some of which arise from the nature of AI, and some due to the combination of both. These include for instance, exclusion from systems due to bias or inefficiencies; lack of accountability given stakeholder relationships and the nature of the technologies themselves; heightened risks for surveillance or monitoring; improper delegation of functions; and different ramifications of technology dependencies. This paper draws on two cases studies – one in Ghana involving facial recognition software, and another in South Africa involving natural language processing – to add depth to these background findings on the complexities of BDI systems and AI in Africa. Both case studies emerge as largely functional examples of digital identity projects, with only tangential relationships to foundational identity systems. In Ghana, BACE-API has been launched as a form of facial recognition technology specifically trained to identify African faces. In South Africa, GovChat (also a private sector company) has been launched largely as a communications platform for connecting government and citizens. Apparently enhanced by natural language processing AI, one iteration of the product collects identity information for helping to process social distress-relief grants. It does not collect biometric data, but does collect national identity numbers.