Digital identity key to unlocking value


The recent conversations following a call by the Communications Authority to its mobile network operator licensees towards a renewed SIM Card registration drive show that we are ready to have a deeper dialogue on personal data covering both individuals and businesses.

Personal data is generated, collected; first-hand, aggregated, curated, mined, and peddled. Enriched, it unlocks tremendous value in legitimate and illegitimate commercial activities.

Regulation and user education reveal the underbelly of a thriving market for data, driving everything from new product development, pricing, recommendations, targeted advertising, segregation, surveillance, and even crime.

In the case of mobile network providers, where the top three in the local context have financial service subsidiaries, the issue of detailed Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) tools is critical.

The GSM Association representing the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, reports that Africa accounts for 70 percent of global mobile money value, whose total stands at $1 trillion.

Setting up new financial rails and closing on partnerships coupled with a projected increase in intra-Africa trade will only grow this. Critical to this trade and any other value addition is the issue of trust. At the core is digital identity – verifiable, portable and accessible.

We are now more aware of data privacy, data security, and data protection issues and have a legal framework that the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner can execute.

While the spirit is right, I see challenges on the ground when it comes to function for the majority who suffer macro infractions, situational breaches, and various limitations daily with no direct or effortless path to remedy.

How can we ensure that citizens and businesses are confident enough to provide and allow information sharing for social and economic interactions that are increasingly global?

The first is to agree on a protocol and framework to ensure interoperability, transparency, and accountability. The second is to establish ownership of native data and guarantee attribution to a legally identifiable entity.

The third is visibility on request, access, use, and tools for running updates. Fourth is to think through incentives, as there are costs involved in setting up and maintaining reliable, highly available infrastructure.

It may sound simple, but the singular and multiple relationships between individuals, businesses, governments, and their environments get highly complex with every interaction and transaction.

Cracking digital identity at scale will yield innumerable benefits for all.

Njihia is the head of business and partnerships at Sure Corporation | | @mbuguanjihia