View the full series here.
On Thursday, December 17, the GeoTech Center hosted the sixth installment of the Data Salon Series in partnership with Accenture to discuss the future of digital identity. The panel featured Mr. Dante A. Disparte, Vice Chairman and Head of Policy and Communications at the Diem Association, Ms. Dakota Gruener, Executive Director at ID2020, Mr. David Treat, Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and Ms. Sheila Warren, Head of Blockchain, Data, and Digital Assets, and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum. GeoTech Center Director Dr. David Bray co-hosted the Data Salon with Mr. Steven Tiell, Senior Principal, Responsible Innovation and Data Ethics at Accenture.
The discussion focused on both the possibilities and problems that digital identity poses in the COVID-19 recovery and beyond. Panelists and participants discussed the role of standards and the need for private companies to create solutions that are interoperable with systems provided by other vendors. However, many of the difficulties with digital identity are issues of public policy rather than underlying technologies.
Given the desire to restart international travel, vaccine passports have received a lot of attention for tracking vaccination. However, some panelists felt that it could be counterproductive, as a significant proportion of the population is not likely to travel abroad soon or even have a traditional passport. While vaccine passports are critical to restarting international travel, if used to regulate access to public services and workplaces, they could end up causing exclusion. Over the coming months, people might end up living in one of two worlds as the lack of a digital identity, a mask, or a recent COVID-19 test could lead to freedoms being curtailed. One panelist noted that this would further complicate the “freedom vs. security” tradeoff that has long existed and exacerbate existing inequalities.
Data security was discussed at length, particularly how the existing system often pays for the cost of breach notification to the company, rather than the harm to the individuals whose data was exposed. Policy decisions about how to value data could include methods for ascribing financial cost to damages, thus pricing in the harms to individuals of data breaches. One participant wondered both whether personal data might be more like “radioactive material” than “oil” given the risks of its exposure, and whether greater interoperability might create a larger target for attackers.
Later in the conversation, panelists discussed the scope of an alternative internet architecture that encrypts data at source and of models under which organizations only hold parts of information. Users could then control their data relationships by remotely revoking access to portions of the data collected about them as they see fit. Over the course of the discussion, conversations about gauging population health through digital identity were intertwined with a broader focus on technology, mobility, privacy, data governance, individual rights, financial liability, law enforcement, and public policy, among other issues.
Arjun Mehrotra is a Young Global Professional at the GeoTech Center and holds a Bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where he majored in Regional and Comparative Studies focusing on geoeconomics in Asia, along with a certificate in International Business Diplomacy. With previous internship experience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Brookings Institution, Invest India, and the Government of Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Office, he is interested in the role that technology will play in geopolitics, the structure of international trade and investment, and changes in domestic politics and political economy.