Building Digital Identities

Our identities as individuals are largely built on how we live our lives – where we have been, significant life events and daily routines. These aspects of our lives, behavioural attributes, are increasing seen as a resource to help prove our identities in new digital systems.

In countries with a comprehensive digital infrastructure, behavioural attributes sit alongside existing identifiers (e.g. home address, phone number, date of birth) to improve security and convenience. In developing countries, where traditional identifiers are not as widely available: births are not all registered, the location of home may be transient or unofficial and access to communications technology might be on a community rather individual basis. Behavioural attributes captured with digital technologies may play a profound role. They will provide the first line of data that many individuals can use to assert their identity – simultaneously granting access to legal protections and a digital future.

On the 8 February 2017, Exeter University and Coalition with funding from the ESRC convened a multidisciplinary one-day workshop entitled Building Digital Identities. The workshop aimed to bring together and mobilise leading researchers across the social sciences, alongside technical and commercial specialists to explore the challenges and the opportunities for the digital collection of behavioural attributes for new digital identity systems.

Drawing on discussions and key themes arising from the workshop, alongside a rapid review of the literature, we worked with Dr Ana Beduschi, Dr Jonathan Dr Jonathan Cinnamon and Dr Chunbo Luo and Joss Lanford from Coelition to help facilitate the workshop, capture discussions and create a report detailing the key priorities for research and action this emerging area.

The report was framed around three key areas, and is available for download.

  • Dynamics of legal identity: What is legal identity? What legal frameworks exist both nationally and internationally to define identity? How might these enable or constrain the use of behavioural attributes for identity provision?
  • Implementation environment: What are the conditions required for successful implementation of identity systems? What are the different roles that public or private sectors can play? How might we learn from failure?
  • Infrastructures, scientific and technological innovations: How are behavioural attributes being used to verify identity? What are the key frameworks required to ensure privacy, dignity and trust? What are the key scientific innovations?

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