Linking ID and civil registration

One of the primary systems with which ID systems should interoperate is CR. Although CR and ID systems have a different focus (see Box 41), they are mutually reinforcing, and the accuracy and sustainability of an ID sxystem is significantly enhanced by being interoperable with a CR system that is universal, timely and accurate. For example, a newborn should have a legal identity from birth, and an ID system should know when someone has died so their identity cannot be fraudulently assumed. At a minimum, interoperability and broader coordination with the CR is needed to ensure the accuracy of identity data over time. Furthermore, interoperability may be one of multiple linkages between ID and CR systems that help to provide access to proof of legal identity to everyone within a jurisdiction throughout their lifetimes.

Box 41. Understanding CR and ID

As defined by the United Nations, civil registration is the … continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events pertaining to the population, as provided through decree or regulation in accordance with the legal requirements of each country (UNDESA 2014, p. 65).

In practice, this means that the scope of civil registration is vital events that take place within the territory or jurisdiction (and potentially also for citizens abroad). As a result, they do not cover people for whom vital events—e.g., birth, death, marriage—did not take place within the country, such as migrants and refugees.

In contrast, digital ID systems and the population registers or databases on which they are based are designed to cover people residing in the territory or jurisdiction regardless of where they were born (or sometimes a subset of this population, such as adult citizens). They are therefore inherently dynamic. While the unit of importance in a CR system is the event, the unit of importance in an ID system is the person.

Furthermore, because the primary goal of ID systems is to identify people, they involve additional processes, such as the capture of certain data (e.g., biometrics) and identity proofing, as well as the issuance of credentials that are designed to be used for authentication during transactions.

Technical interoperability and broader coordination between ID and CR can take multiple forms, including:

  1. Creating an identity record in an ID system through birth registration

  2. Notifying an ID system of the legally-recognized death of an individual through death registration

  3. Updating biographic attributes in an ID system based on vital events (e.g., marriage registration).

Furthermore, cooperation between ID and CR can also extend to joint administration which is discussed further under Section III. Administration.

Data exchange or notifications from CR to update identities

Timely updating of existing ID records based on the CR is critical for ensuring the integrity of data over time and avoid costly re-registration and updating campaigns. Notifications regarding the death of a person following death registration are particularly important, as this allows the ID system to retire these identities and reduce instances of fraud. Updates could also include notifications of new births (where birth registration is linked to the creation of an identity), and other error corrections. Importantly, legal and technical controls for data protection and privacy need to be in place for any data-exchange between CR and ID, particularly because most civil registers collect more (and more sensitive) data than ID systems for statistical purposes (e.g., information of relative, birth weight, cause of death, etc.).

Figure 31. Interoperability between CR and ID for death notifications

Interoperability between CR and ID for death notifications


Linking ID creation to birth registration

In some cases, countries have opted to issue identities from birth as part of or triggered by the birth registration process. This could include, for example, the generation of a UIN for a newborn by the ID system, following a notification—again, through a direct connection or open APIs—of a child’s birth. In some cases, this UIN could then be communicated back to the civil register. By seamlessly creating a digital ID from birth during the birth registration, this process can help ensure the inclusion of people of all ages in the ID system, increase the consistency of identities over time, and help incentivize birth registration.

Figure 32. Linking ID creation to birth registration

 Linking ID creation to birth registration


A “stock and flow” approach to simultaneously strengthen ID and CR systems

When introducing a foundational ID system, countries should assess the readiness of the CR system to support such an effort. For example, the CR system should be sustainable, sufficiently digitalized and the data it holds should be reliable enough to play a role in the Identity proofing process. However, CR systems in many countries—particularly low- and middle-income economies—have historically been of poor quality and low coverage because of, for example, underinvestment, legacy legal frameworks and processes, and limited incentives for people to register their vital events and for governments to strengthen CR systems. As a result, many people alive today were not registered at birth or their birth registration records have been lost or destroyed. Many people only register a birth when they have to (e.g., to apply for their first passport, which requires someone to prove where they were born). Likewise, a country’s CR system only covers births and other vital events that have occurred in that country’s territory and jurisdiction (that may also include vital events of nationals residing overseas), which means that migrants and refugees who were born overseas are most likely to be excluded.

Countries have therefore implemented practical alternatives to provide establish legal identity of their existing population (i.e., the “stock”) and new arrivals from outside the territory through implementing foundational ID systems or legally recognizing functional IDs issued by the private sector or international organizations with relevant mandates (e.g., refugees registered by UNHCR). In the long-term, countries must improve CR systems to ensure the universal and timely registration of births of young children and future newborns, and of deaths (i.e., the “flow”).

As discussed in Section III. Registration & Coverage, a country with an underperforming CR system and non-universal coverage should not necessarily require the applicant to have been registered at birth or to have a birth certificate before they can access a foundational ID system. Such requirements create barriers and unnecessary costs to accessing the foundational ID system and will lead to exclusion. When the foundational ID system reaches a steady state, however, it can be linked with the CR system to ensure timeline updates based on deaths and other vital events and—if desired—the creation of unique identities linked to birth registration. The “stock and flow” approach of simultaneously building a foundational ID system and strengthening CR systems is a practical one. Furthermore, it creates an opportunity to make a strong business case for investments in a CR system because a well-functioning CR system underpins the accuracy, sustainability and efficiency of a foundational ID system.