Identify Constraints

The choices that a country makes for its ID system are shaped by multiple constraints. Understanding and addressing these constraints through system design is vital for ensuring that the ID system is successful and fit-for-purpose. Adopting technologies that are impractical for the country context or unusable by a large share of the population will seriously limit the potential benefits of identification.

1. Assess the country’s digital infrastructure

Many aspects of a modern ID systems rely on digital infrastructure, including internet connectivity, mobile phone coverage, smart phone ownership and electrification. Weak connectivity and digital infrastructure therefore have important implications for design choices:

  • Without reliable internet connections at registration centers, data must be stored locally and then physically transferred to a location with connectivity for uploading to the ID system. This can create risks to data security and loss (and inaccuracy if data is collected on paper first and subsequently entered into a database) and lengthens the timeline for identity proofing.

  • The capture of digital data—such as biometrics—also requires power, either through permanent electrification or solar or battery-powered kits.

  • Many forms of digital authentication, as well as ID-related services such as personal access portals, require internet or mobile phone connectivity, to which many people may not have access, and a connection to a reliable national backbone, which may not exist in all countries. Other solutions require the distribution of hardware (e.g., card readers) that may also require electrification.

  • ID systems require secure data centers with a constant electricity as well as back-ups and disaster recovery solutions in the case of power outages, riots, or natural disasters.

Practitioners should assess the country’s overall digital infrastructure and consider the implications for key decisions presented in Table 10.

Table 10. Design implications of digital infrastructure

Digital infrastructure
Implications for Key Decisions
Low internet connectivity across the country


  • Registration strategy and cost, including the choice of registration points and technology

  • Identity proofing requirements and processes

  • Ensure that if internet crashes, data is temporarily saved locally (and encrypted) on enrollment kits for asynchronous uploading

Credentials and Authentication:

  • For credentials that are not issued on the spot, will need to devise offline methods of ensuring that the credential is bound to the person who enrolled

  • Online authentication may not be feasible in remote areas, requiring alternate authentication mechanisms

IT Systems:

Low electrification across the country and/or frequent blackouts


  • Registration strategy and cost, including the choice of registration centers and technology (e.g., battery or solar-powered kits)

  • Identity proofing requirements and process will need to operate in low-power environments

Credentials and Authentication:

  • Some digital authentication may not be feasible in remote areas, requiring alternate authentication mechanisms

IT Systems:

  • Data centers and disaster recovery sites require backup power sources; cloud-based technologies may be an option

Low internet/mobile coverage among segments of the population

Credentials and authentication:

Public engagement:

2. Evaluate needs based on geography and population size

A country’s geography and population—including total size, population density, terrain, road conditions, and high-risk areas—can have important implications for the strategies and technologies required for registration as well as the overall cost of implementing an ID system. For example:

  • The logistics and timeline of an initial registration campaign increase with the size of the territory as well as the frequency of sparsely populated areas, with implications for cost.

  • The size and demographics of the population has implications for overall system cost and technology choices (e.g., if a country is using biometrics, multimodal biometrics are needed to strengthen the accuracy and efficiency of deduplication for large populations).

  • Difficult terrain—e.g., dense forests or jungles, mountains, islands, rivers, deserts, etc.—and poor road conditions may necessitate supplementary modalities and technology for registration, such as mobile units in trucks, boats, motorbikes, helicopters, etc.

  • Areas with security concerns may need additional strategies for registration, as well as measures such as enhanced security of personnel and assets.

Given the potential difficulties associated with certain geographies, as well as difficult roads and transportation, there is a high risk of exclusion for remote or difficult to reach populations. To mitigate these risks, practitioners should consider the implications of certain geographic constraints on the design and rollout of their ID system, including those outlined in Table 11.

Table 11. Design implications of geography

Implications for Key Decisions
Large territory and/or many sparsely populated areas


  • Registration strategy, timeline, and cost, including measures to reduce the direct and indirect costs of people having to travel long distances, and bring enrollment services close to the people

Population size and growth rates



  • Sufficient data points are needed to deduplicate the population (e.g., multiple biometrics if using biometric recognition)

  • Data storage and systems capacity must be appropriate to handle the current and projected population

Difficult terrain and/or areas with security risks


Public engagement:

  • Information campaigns and outreach must be tailored to and accessible to remote populations

  • Special efforts should be made in high-risk areas to ensure sufficient outreach and trust with the population

3. Consider socioeconomic characteristics

Ideally, an ID system will help contribute to inclusive economic, social, and political development. However, current levels of social and economic development and overall population characteristics—including poverty rates, general and technological literacy levels, and the prevalence of persons with disabilities—also have important implications for the architecture of ID systems. If these factors are not incorporated into design, the ID system may not be easily accessible to large groups of marginalized people, increasing the risk of exclusion. In particular:

  • The direct and indirect costs of registration and obtaining credentials will disproportionately affect poor and rural people; who may make up a large portion of the population and are also those for whom identification may have the highest marginal benefits.

  • People who cannot read may have trouble completing registration forms and remembering or using ID numbers and PINs.

  • Persons with disabilities may constitute a large portion of the population and will require specific accommodations for registration and utilization of the ID system; if biometrics are being used, persons with disabilities as will elderly persons and manual laborers and other groups, may have difficulty giving fingerprints.

  • Digital illiteracy and poverty may also make it difficult for some people to access or use certain features of ID systems, such as mobile or internet-based applications.

Table 12 presents some important implications of socioeconomic development for design. In particular, registration and outreach strategies should be designed to foster inclusion of marginalized groups.

Table 12. Design implications of socioeconomic development

Implications for Key Decisions
High poverty rates


  • Fee charging models must not price people out of the ID system either through access to the ID system or related services

Credentials and authentication:

  • First credentials should be free of cost to the individual


  • Registration strategy should attempt to mitigate direct and indirect costs of enrollment and collecting credentials

High rates of elderly persons, general illiteracy, technological illiteracy, and/or disability


  • Staff should be trained to assist the elderly, people with low levels of literacy, and people with disabilities to complete applications and other requirements

Credentials and authentication:

Privacy and Security:

  • Platforms for personal oversight over data (e.g., personal records) may not be universally accessible

Public engagement:

  • Information campaigns should involve methods of communication (e.g., radio, television) that are accessible to illiterate people and those with disabilities

  • Civil society and other organizations should be engaged to assist people with registration

In addition to these socioeconomic characteristics, the general wage levels within the country will also have important implications for the cost of the ID system associated with labor and human resources.

4. Consider cultural and historical relationship with ID

There may be certain social norms, cultural and religious practices, and historical factors that need to be considered when designing an ID system. These vary dramatically by country, but could include:

  • A linguistically diverse population who will need outreach in various languages

  • Traditional practices regarding the naming of newborns that affect timely birth registration

  • Certain groups who are opposed to identification for cultural or religious reasons or because of past discrimination

  • Social norms that limit the mobility of certain groups, such as girls, women and persons with disabilities

Addressing these issues—as indicated in Table 13—is crucial for ensuring the inclusion of potentially marginalized groups and building trust in the ID system.

Table 13. Design implications of cultural and historic factors

Implications for Key Decisions
Linguistically diverse population


  • Registration agents should include staff who speak local languages and/or sign languages

  • Registration forms should be translated into local languages

Public engagement:

  • Information campaigns should include multiple languages and through multiple channels (e.g., radio, television, and print)

  • CSOs and other organizations should be engaged to assist minority language speakers

Identification is a cultural or religious taboo or historically sensitive (for certain groups or the entire population)


  • ID provider should be a neutral entity that instills trust in the system


  • Data collected should be minimal and not include sensitive information that may be perceived as a tool for discrimination (e.g., religion) or violates cultural norms (e.g., biometrics)


  • Registration procedures and data collection should be done in a culturally and religious appropriate manner (e.g., female-only enrollment teams may be required in some communities)

Public engagement:

Low mobility for certain groups (e.g., girls, women, persons with disabilities)


  • Registration strategy (e.g., mobile and/or female-only units) that bring ID services closer to the people and conform with social norms

Public engagement:

  • Information campaigns should involve outreach to low-mobility groups and religious and community leaders as appropriate

  • CSOs and other organizations should be engaged to assist low-mobility people and persons with disabilities with registration

5. Assess timeline requirements

Implementing an ID system with full coverage generally takes time, from multiple years to a decade. However, there may be pressing needs for the ID system, such as an election or the rollout of a cash transfer linked to subsidy reform. Although rushing the rollout of the ID system will likely reduce the inclusivity and trustworthiness of the system and is not advised, there may be certain design choices that can provide staggered functionality without compromising quality and longer-term coverage.

Table 14. Design implications of timeline constraints

Implications for Key Decisions
Short to medium-term use-case for specific populations (e.g., elections, social transfer)


  • Registration strategy could involve a staggered approach, targeting relevant populations first (e.g., voters over age 18, or low-income residents for a cash transfer), and also include mobile units and mass-campaigns

Public engagement:

  • Intensive information campaigns and outreach to facilitate high coverage in a short amount of time

  • CSOs and other organizations should be engaged to people to speed up registration and reduce the potential for exclusion