What if we centralise something else?

by | Jul 27, 2021 | ICT4D, Identity |

decentralised needs centralised

This post follows on from an earlier post called ‘Decentralisation needs Centralisation

When we centralise information for deduplication (and potentially referrals) we run into a few challenges. First off, what do we centralise. And secondly, who ‘governs’ or manages that which is centralised.

To answer the first, we have options. As traditionally done, we can centralise all data. Or we can choose one piece of data (an identifier or credential) which is common across the population set. Centralising all data is high risk as the database will be breached at one point. Choosing one data field still carries risk, but less so and follows the principle of data minimisation. However, in most humanitarian contexts, not everyone in the population set has a foundational ID issued by their government body. Refugee contexts lends themselves to using the UNHCR ID but that leaves out host communities which we are often working with as well.

So what would happen if instead of centralising the data, we would centralise the repository into which it is put? And by repository, I mean a wallet. The historic challenge of digital and physical wallets is that it is easy to have more than one. So what happens if we create standards for digital wallets, but that the wallet has to be given a unique ID for the humanitarian context and it is one wallet per person. And we can use standards so that any agency can issue a wallet, it’s the unique number that ensures deduplication. Would this work? What are the opportunities and risks this opens up?

It stills brings us to governance. Data Trusts are a good method, but legally do not exist globally. However, the principle of a collective governing the centralised data can, and should, be applied. However, the incentives to change for the ‘powerful’ are currently few, therefore we need to explore this too.

Photo by Omar Flores


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