What is a Digital Legal Identity and why is it important?

A legal identity officially identifies an individual using factors such as first name, family name, date of birth, nationality and more. As an authentic declaration of one’s existence within society, legal identity is a right.

Having one is key to participation in society – from accessing social services like healthcare or education, to making transactions, opening a bank account or starting a business. But according to the United Nations, over 1.1 billion people around the world still have no form of legal identity. Without one, they can’t take part in society and are left to be treated like ghosts. The problem is such that the UN has recognised legal identity in its Sustainable Development Goals, with the aim of “guaranteeing everyone a legal identity, thanks notably to birth registration, by 2030”.

Lack of legal identity in many developing countries is a result of a lack of capable birth registration systems. The problem is then exacerbated by the cost of providing an identity to all citizens, difficulty in reaching them, and the deterioration of paper archives. But there is an answer: digital legal identity.


The benefits of a digital approach

Shifting legal identity to a digital ecosystem presents many immediate benefits. Firstly, it can simply, securely and more quickly assign everyone a digital legal identity. From there, it enables development of services where each individual can access their rights that are attached to their

identity. It also hugely simplifies information sharing and transmission, benefitting citizens but also businesses who deal with them.

But there are certain standards digital legal identity has to meet to be usable within any given country. These are:

  • Universality and accessibility: Digital identity must be accessible to all, completely without discrimination, and via technologies that are adapted to their environment and citizens access to technology (e.g. with or without internet, on paper or mobile device).
  • Robustness, scalability and durability: Digital identity must be secure and efficient, but it must also be affordable and sustainable. It must rely on open standards and guarantee interoperability with different existing technologies.
  • Security and confidentiality: Digital identity must maintain confidentiality concerning the data collected, and must be part of a legal framework of trust. Participating governments must be able to provide identity verification services to the private sector without compromising security or confidentiality.

These are the foundation of a successful digital legal identity framework. Applied correctly, it can bring huge benefits to citizens, their governments and the private sectors that serve them.

Head to the Thales website to learn more about digital legal identity.

And if you’re interested in other aspects of digital identity, you may want to read these other posts: