Digital IDs Are More Dangerous Than You Think

from Wired

THERE ARE SIGNIFICANT, real-world benefits to having an accepted and recognized identity. That’s why the concept of a digital identity is being pursued around the world, from Australia to India. From airports to health records systems, technologists and policy makers with good intentions are digitizing our identities, making modern life more efficient and streamlined.

Governments seek to digitize their citizens in an effort to universalize government services, while the banking, travel, and insurance industries aim to create more seamless processes for their products and services. But this isn’t just about efficiency and market share. In places like Syria and Jordan, refugees are often displaced without an identity. Giving them proof of who they are can improve their settlement, financial security, and job prospects in foreign lands.

But as someone who has tracked the advantages and perils of technology for human rights over the past ten years, I am nevertheless convinced that digital ID, writ large, poses one of the gravest risks to human rights of any technology that we have encountered. Worse, we are rushing headlong into a future where new technologies will converge to make this risk much more severe.

For starters, we are building near-perfect facial recognition technology and other identifiers, from the human gait to breath to iris. Biometric databases are being set up in such a way that these individual identifiers are centralized, insecure, and opaque. Then there is the capacity for geo-location of identifiers—that is, the tracking of digital “you”—in real time. A constant feed of insecure data from the Internet of Things may well connect you (and your identity) to other identities and nodes on the network without your consent.

In addition, systems using artificial intelligence and machine learning are used to make decisions based on our identities. Those systems are often built on data that can reinforce bias and discrimination, and are wielded without sufficient transparency or human review. Ultimately, social credit systems, such as those that are currently being developed in China, will be based on digital ID, thereby enabling or disabling our full and free participation in society.

By developing these technologies in parallel with systems for a digital ID, we are not simply establishing an identity to access basic social services. Digital IDs will become necessary to function in a connected digital world. This has not escaped the attention of authoritarian regimes. Already, they are working to splinter the internet, collect and localize data, and impose regimes of surveillance and control. Digital ID systems, as they are being developed today, are ripe for exploitation and abuse, to the detriment of our freedoms and democracies.

We can make another choice. In the design and deployment of Digital ID systems, we must advocate for the principles of data minimization, decentralization, consent, and limited access that reinforce our fundamental rights.

More here.

Posted in Privacy, Technology and tagged , , , , .


  1. At this point, the world has become too tech-savvy. No a days you are able to be tracked and spied on through your phone, as well as spied on by the new Amazon Alexa’s in your home. The government most likely knows everything about most people’s life just from the everyday things that we use. Now that Digital ID is even a thought blows my mind. I wonder if those people who come up with these ideas read about the things that have been going on recently. For example, Facebook has been hacked for the second time and influencing more people than the first time. Facebook has billions of people using this site with their personal information on it. With Facebook being hacked a second time it makes you wonder if they are actually able to keep your data safe from hackers. The Digital ID is a disaster waiting to happen. Everywhere you walk there will be a camera on every corner, that is able to detect who you are by your ear, or hair, or the way you walk. This is a whole new level of invasion of privacy. One example of Digital ID that came to mind was Fast and the Furious 7. Though it is a movie, it presented us with Digital ID, but instead, they called it Gods Eye. Gods Eye was a satellite that was able to find a person wherever they were in a matter of seconds. Once Gods Eye found you, it was able to pull up multiple things about you such as where you live, what kind of car you drive, your last occupation and many more things. Throughout the movie, people were fighting over who could get their hands on the device that could control Gods Eye because it gave you some of the most significant power in the world. In my eyes, the movie did a great job depicting what could happen if something like Gods Eye was made possible. Countries would be fighting over who would get it and how one could make a better version of it. As for the people being watched, there is literally nowhere you can hide and nothing you can do to stop yourself from being observed. Gods Eye hacked in to all of the local cameras to find where the person looking for was last seen. It hacked into things such as ATM cameras, store surveillance, and streetlights. With Digital ID and “Gods Eye” there would be no such thing as privacy which would be inflicting our Fourth Amendment rights. The one good thing that I can see the Digital ID being useful for is in the sense of catching criminals. For example, Amber Alert would no longer be necessary because you would be able to find the criminal as soon as they pass some sort of running camera. This goes along with keeping people out such as terrorists with a record of being known for doing very harmful things or having terrorism as a background of theirs. Digital ID would be right in the sense of catching criminals but horrible in the sense of not having privacy and one day maybe getting hacked and ALL of our information getting into the wrong hands.

  2. Technology has been rapidly improving throughout the world in the past few years, and Digital ID’s can change the world. I use technology everyday whether it is for school, work, or for personal use there is a need to use technology. I can see both the positive and negatives of Digital ID’s and how it could be violating citizens’ rights. The article discusses how near perfect facial recognition is developed and being used to create biometric databases. These data bases could violate rights but can also give the government and certain companies more information about people. I think Digital ID’s could have a positive impact on society if the technology is not abused and used for the wrong reasons. Having a lot of information about individuals through biometric databases could be dangerous and cause citizens to feel like their freedom is being violated.
    I read an article “World’s Largest Digital ID Operator Faces Suit for Data Leaks” by Upmanyu Trivedi and it was about world’s largest biometric database in India leaking data. The database had biometric data for over 1.1 billion people and the database did not have adequate security measures. This digital biometric database was mentioned in the other article and it discussed how the system would be an easy target for hacking. Hackers are a main concern of Digital ID’s and could leak information of billions of people. Overall, Digital ID’s are a good concept but need to be perfected before they are really used throughout the world.

  3. Digital IDs are important for organization. It is essential that we digitalize ourselves if we want to achieve efficiency. The only concern that arises is when people use that stored information for malicious purposes. That is why cybersecurity is of vital importance. However, people don’t want to protect it because they have not had the opportunity to explore the technical aspect of the internet. In 2017, only 30,000 cybersecurity majors were hired despite the fact that 2 million spots were open. The reason for this is because people aren’t being educated on cybersecurity because it isn’t that popular among students. The most interesting thing to me is how much we use the internet and how little we understand it. Technology is only going to become more digital which is why more people need to be aware of how the internet works so more people can protect it properly. Once people understand the technicalities behind the internet, they can learn to protect it. While I was reading up on cybersecurity, I learned that a job that cybersecurity majors can obtain is an ethical hacker. This is a hacker that is hired by companies to test out their firewalls and other security protocols. What the ethical hacker does is try to get into their system and show them where their soft spots are in the firewall. The amazing thing about being an ethical hacker is the creativity involved in such a job. Sometimes, these hackers can even crack a password only using the textbox used to log in. When I say password, I don’t mean that they guess it right. What I really mean is that they manipulate the source code from the html file and use that to gain entry. If Digital IDs start becoming a thing, that would be another piece of information these hackers could use against us. Something as simple as a little bit of manipulation could potentially ruin your reputation. That is why Digital IDs aren’t the concern. The real concern is the encryption behind your information.

  4. This article contains all of the paranoia that I’ve felt over the last couple of years due to the development of digital IDs. At the moment, I can’t think of a concrete reason as to why precisely a company would need vitals, such as our fingerprints or our faces, and that should present an immediate problem. We simply don’t know when, where, or how this information is stored and/or used, and that itself is super anxious.

    The case of everyone having a personal “score” in China especially gives me the creeps. Besides the idea being copied STRAIGHT from an episode of Black Mirror (Episode 1, Season 3 if someone is intrigued to watch it), this is such a huge compromise to their national security. For them to track your personal score, public places and squares will be outfitted with so many cameras, all of which equipped with facial recognition. The installation would leave their citizens with no place to run or hide. It will concern me more as to what will dictate a “bad” score in the end, and the fact that the score can be edited at any time or place and could hinder a person’s basic rights heavily because of the score. Some people might say “Well, how different is it from a credit score”? and they might have a slight point. Having a credit score is essential for buying and utilizing luxuries, such as buying a new car or buying your first home. Note that these our luxuries, however, and do not have to necessarily be utilized in order to live your day-to-day life. With China using the scores to limit travel from inside and outside their countries, using it to affect children’s schooling, and literally prohibiting you from earning certain jobs regardless of qualification, its easy to see which is worse.

    A surprising example that this article refused to mention was the up-and-coming addition of microchip IDs. Microchip IDs are getting used mainly in the workplace, where workers voluntarily (for now) sign up and have a microchip injected into them. This microchip has a plethora of benefits, such as buying food at the workplace without use of payment, or using the microchip as an access card to get to certain areas in the workplace. However, this is also a problem in so many ways. What if employers make it mandatory to get the microchip to receive the job? What exactly can the microchip do? What information does it possess?

    The advancement of technology is a curse and a blessing. Let us just hope and pray Big Brother isn’t watching our every move.

  5. The article makes a great point that having a digital ID may be beneficial for someone who is a refugee and may not have all necessary documentation to identify themselves. However, in first-world countries like the U.S., facial recognition technology and other identifiers are becoming more frequently available. “Biometric databases are being set up in such a way that these individual identifiers are centralized, insecure, and opaque.” Another problem with having a digital ID in the first-world is having applications, especially social media applications, which track your location. Some of these applications, like Snapchat, even track your location in real time. I have this setting enabled so my friends can see my location on a map. It worries me however, that there are more than likely servers full of data with people’s locations and biometric identifiers that could potentially be ripe for exploitation. Sometimes I think about deleting all forms of social media that I have and try to remove myself from the digital grid but it is almost necessary now to have a good social presence online for potential employers to see. This has to do with representing oneself and one’s brand. Without this digital ID, one has less presence in the world, unless, they are like completely capable of succeeding independently.

  6. In today’s society, everything is about time and efficiency. This is because of the rapid advances in technology over the last couple of years. Technology has become an everyday occurrence. Currently, technology that is being looked into is creating a digital ID for everyone. These ID’s could be useful and possible make daily life more efficient. This would give personal identities, health records, and many more. With instant access to these records it could make everyday life run smoothly, allowing the user to have instant access to this information.
    A major issue that comes out of technology is privacy. With someones information being digitized will it be easy for information to be stolen. It also questions will this affect our human rights. With this digital ID it could potential track people and collect data off of them. The government and private parties could potential use this to track and have unwanted data on people. I think digital ID could potentially be beneficial as long as there is no unnecessary data tracking.

  7. Honestly, I feel rather impartial about Digital ID’s. There are two sides to the argument and this is the type of technology that we can’t find a common ground on. This technology either exists or it doesn’t. Granted everybody wants their privacy, but what falls within the boundaries of our privacy is an enormous grey area. And on the other hand, we live in a world where there are some very sick people that wish nothing but harm on the United States. Technology like this and facial recognition could save thousands of lives. Technology like this could stop the next 9/11 and that’s the very truth of it. But the fact is, Digital Identification, Digital Tracking and near-perfect Facial Recognition is out there and it’s going to be used by governments and other agencies (foreign and domestic) whether we like it or not. I, personally, would rather be informed that it’s being used on me/with me than to be kept in the dark on something this big.

  8. In this day of age, our technology development is evolving at such at a rapid pace that we tend to forget about our protection and rights. First off, anyone knows that our internet, computers, or any technology connected to the internet can be hacked in some shape or form. We need more regulations and restriction on the internet. Humans need restrictions on what the government can do and companies too. We, human beings, have the right to privacy.

    Now to read this article about digital IDs are becoming more apparent in the world, it is very alarming. The author is correct with the fact that as the world uses digital IDs more, it will soon be necessary to digital IDs to function in this digital world or in reality itself. Our social security, health, and private information would be linked to this ID that the government and companies could view. This article also highlights the use of digital ID linked with Social Credit Systems in China. I recently read that article and it is a scary technology as it seems to govern Chinese citizen’s life. What they can financially purchase to where they can travel, it is an intimidating factor that I do not think these citizens realize. A very straightforward maneuver from the Chinese government to gain control over their citizens.

    Also, companies already have customers or users operate face recognition or biometrics off their phone or computers. I do not doubt that companies will find a way to use digital IDs in America if it were to be established. Again, it would be very horrifying to acknowledge that these companies are able to see my information at real time. Yet, the alternatives or solutions by Mr. Solomon are impressive and insightful. There were two concrete points that Mr. Solomon states. First off, I agree that we, human beings, need to have the right to deny the use of our digital IDs at certain times or demand that we have one. Secondly, in my opinion, the most essential, is the idea of having a strong digital security to protect all our sensitive information. Human data linked to a digital ID is a very serious matter that should not be hacked so easily. The Aadhaar program is one that needs cybersecurity and strict regulations to be effective. I am happy that the Supreme Court of Inda is trying to put regulations or restrict the Aadhaar. It is needed for the vast program that could lead to dangerous results without a watchful eye. The world needs to understand that the world is delving deeper and deeper into the digital world. We must never forget to protect our basic human rights and especially our privacy. As it is effortless to hack into someone’s personal information and use it for corrupt handling.

  9. Anyone with a smartphone has most likely already given up their Digital ID’s or biometrics to their phone company. In order to protect your cell phone, consumers have the option to add a passcode, use a fingerprint scan, or face identification depending on how advanced the phone is. People willingly give up their biometrics everyday without knowledge of who has access to the information. Theme parks such as Disney and even Six Flags Great Adventure have added biometrics to their services. In Disney, guests use their finger print as tickets to get into the park and if someone wants a Six Flags season pass, they need to scan their fingerprint. In general, it is very easy to give up personal biometrics, but people who do should understand what exactly they are giving up.
    Biometrics is used as protection to individuals personal information and helps companies handle fraud, for example, so people do not share their season passes with others. But at what cost will this technology affect consumers? Many people are already in the system and had to give up their biometrics to government sources for whatever reason, but a great amount of people give it up voluntarily. People who voluntarily give up their biometrics should question how safe the companies security is to hackers and how the company stores their personal identification.
    It is important for individuals to understand their rights and what liberties businesses and companies have with this information. I agree with the author and believe that it is necessary for federal and state governments to create a specific biometric privacy law that makes companies and individuals aware and responsible for their actions when dealing with personal identification. I also agree with fellow blogger Jonathan R that Digital ID’s can help save lives when it comes to potential terrorist threats or wanted criminals. When used by the government, Digital ID’s can play an important role in finding criminals and Digital ID’s make it easier for people to protect their phones and save passwords, but it is a very complicated security and privacy issue that needs to be further researched and new laws and restrictions should be introduced.

  10. In today’s day and age, technology is advancing faster than we as a society can adjust and understand the potential consequences of the implementation of the technology. I remember when I first arrived to United States, airport security had a standard procedure where the passport was checked and the finger prints were taken for “first time” individuals entering the country. Now, individuals entering the country for the first time have their picture taken and their retina picture/scan taken to store in the data base. When I first heard of that, I thought of how impressive the security system has become. Moreover, when I saw this article I was intrigued because I never thought of Digital IDs as “dangerous.” However, this article brought light to aspect of Digital IDs that never crossed my mind, such as violation of human rights, hacking targets, and information security. As technology is developed, governments and large organizations utilize top available technology to improve efficiency and quality of their databases, but the potential risks of security issues and pre-exposing individuals to becoming hacking targets is something that has only recently surfaced as a side effect of Digital IDs. Therefore, it is crucial for that the authorities put efforts into securing individuals’ identifies, because otherwise their human rights will be violated. As the article mentions, cybersecurity should be built on our human rights and not the other way around.

  11. Digital ID is the thing of the future. It is something that is being integrated into everything. Specifically, technology, for example with my phone I have it set to unlock only by using fingerprint, facial recognition, and or iris scanning. I enjoy the fact that I am able to have my phone securely locked. However, after reading this article I am not so thrilled that that data is on my phone, and someone could get it. Digital IDs are not just for unlocking cellphones. They are now being used for healthcare, banking, and government identification.
    This is a scary thought as to now the government is able to track people anywhere and anytime. However, there are pros and con to the age of digital IDs. Some of the pros are that fact that it is harder for hackers to steal information. As peoples faces and fingerprint are now connected to bank accounts and other personal information. A con to this though, is that if there is one center where all of the digital IDs are stored and it does get hacked, then everyone’s identity is permanently damaged. There is the chance that digital ID will be required by the government. This is not something that should be mandated. While it is understood that it will help provide smooth transactions for banking, healthcare systems, and more it goes against human nature. It should be someone’s choice as to whether or not their digital ID exists.
    In order for us as a society to transaction smoothly into the very near future of digital IDs being what replaces social security cards, and drivers’ licenses, there need to be a few adjustments. One adjustment that needs to be made is that cybersecurity needs to be improved before this is taken into place. Hacking cannot be possible at all if there is going to be a place where the data can get uploaded. Also, there need to be laws made that can protect people from being forced into having a digital IDs. There need to be laws placed into effect describing how has to access the data, what it can be used for, and even more. Digital ID is an exciting future that I believe will be very useful for banking, healthcare, and even more. However now is not the right time to intergrade digital ID into society fully. There need to be improvements made with security and human right laws need to ensure that no one is forced into digital IDs.

  12. Digital IDs, while increasing in popularity, are a substantial risk to citizens. The thought of having a digital ID of all citizens in the country on hand sounds very attractive to governments and agencies. Having a citizens information on hand is very helpful for multiple reasons, including distribution of benefits as well as restrictions due to demographics and history. In a world full of technology we are going to have to move to a more digital version of everything, including identification. Governments are going to have seriously improve their security because not only is cyber crime a serious violation of personal space, but it also very difficult to track. A large concern is social media companies selling their users data to other companies such as advertising companies. While the benefits of using these digital IDs are unique, the drawbacks of such are also unique in matter of bias and discrimination. As said by the author, “systems using artificial intelligence and machine learning are used to make decisions based on our identities. Those systems are often built on data that can reinforce bias and discrimination, and are wielded without sufficient transparency or human review.”
    While convenient and efficient in nature, these computerized systems that use artificial intelligence are subject to make decisions based on only the data given to them. Human intervention and review of all AI driven decisions is necessary to avoid biases and unlawful discrimination.

  13. This article was about digital identities for everyone are online and how they are used for many different reasons. Although on the surface digitizing ids does make things efficient and makes it more streamlined, there can be some issues. Overall the digitizing of identification keeps all of people’s information and everything the same across all platforms like banking, travel, and insurance. This is helpful to keep track of everyone, especially in countries where there is a lot of people coming in and out. It helps these people to have a more smooth transition into jobs, homes etc if their information/identity is easily accessible to the various parties who may need it. While it is extremely convenient for purposes such as these, the fact that everything is connected poses an extreme risk for identity theft, where people can basically get all of the information about you from just one crack in the system. One hack into one system that has access to your identity and your banking info, social security number and many other important identifiers are exposed and many more people are vulnerable to this because of the way technology has everything intertwined. The fact that there are also extremely accurate facial recognition services out there, makes it all the more important that the servers handling everyone’s data is secure because this puts people at even more of a risk. People are constantly being tracked and having this information used to analyze the behavior of people. People’s privacy seems to be at stake, and while you can see why this may be beneficial for safety reasons, in other ways in makes people very vulnerable. To have a digital footprint of yourself, as well as having security cameras digitizing your face into a system as you go about your day is pretty interesting to think about, but ultimately I feel like it is an infringement on people’s privacy. Especially due to the fact that the information is stored and used against our will basically.

  14. I completely agree that digital ID could be the end of a free society as we know it. With organizations like governments, banks and insurance companies possessing this complete digital identity of everyone would implement a complete totalitarian regime without anyone knowing. This level of personal identification could lead to things as small as having a fine for jaywalking automatically deducted from your bank account, to things as severe as speaking out against this tyranny and having nowhere to hide. That is basically what all of this boils down to, having nowhere to hide. It is unknown to the public as to if public surveillance has yet reached this level. Most people, including myself, assume that this is true because it is better to act like your being watched when you aren’t, rather than act like you’re not being watched while you are. Who knows how long it will be before you can be charged with crimes caught on secret surveillance. There are already records of criminals being caught by phone tapping and triangulation, even while they were using pre-paid or “burner” phones. Meaning that the number of that phone had no connection to the person using it whatsoever and under legal principle, should not have been traceable. This could imply that there is someone always listening on the other end of every call. Hearing this just makes me more suspicious of what I say or even how I say it. We must fight against this level of control at all costs, in order to let free will prevail.

  15. Being that technology is such a broad topic, there are so many different areas to discuss within in because there is constantly new developments being exposed. For instance, with technology, the use of paper and having a physical object is becoming less and less utilized. This is due to technology being able to just digitalize it. Now around the world, the use of digital identity is being incorporated. With everything that is going on in the technology world, it does not seem that the world is ready to transfer over to this because there are already unresolved issues with how to preserve user’s data information. The last thing the world needs is for hackers to be stealing identities left and right. The benefits that are laid out in this article include governments seeking to digitize their citizens to try to universalize government services, the banking, travel, and insurance industries want to better how their products and services operate (Solomon). In addition to that, digital identity has the potential to aid refugees in places like Syria and Jordan because they are sometimes found without ID.
    Although the benefits of having digital ID can be seen as a positive solution to some of the issues that this world faces, it can also just add to the bad problems that come along with technology. Since most of the world has not been able to get a handle on how to stop the internet from being easily corrupted, digital IDs would just make it that much more accessible for abusers to use their power to take advantage. That is where the importance of cybersecurity plays a crucial role in technology. Before the use of digital IDs become the new thing in circulation, the right type of safeguards needs to be in place so the likelihood of a breach occurring is extremely minimal.
    The most common trend with anything related to technology or the internet is the desire and need for data protection. That is such a key ingredient for all the new developments that are arising because without proper security the world will continue to go down the wrong path. There needs to be a balance between freedom and privacy because human’s rights need to come first at the end of the day. The article presents a standard that seems important to include which is the “Necessary and Proportionate” principles. This does not seem like it would a bad idea considering that would mean one’s information would not be looked at unless it met the standards provide under the “Necessary and Proportionate” principles. Digital IDs at this point in society do not seem to be productive or do the negatives weigh out the positives for this implementation. Cybersecurity needs to up its game and the right laws need to be put in place before this can be used for the right reasons.

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