The Alan Turing Institute has today (29 April) announced the launch of a four-year research and development initiative to enhance the privacy and security of national-scale digital identity systems.

This project is funded through a £4.3million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which works to accelerate financial inclusion globally by broadening the reach of low-cost, digital financial services.

According to the World Bank, approximately 1 billion people globally lack an officially recognised identification and consequently face barriers to accessing critical services and exercising political and economic rights. Robust, inclusive, and responsible foundational identification systems can be transformative for the most vulnerable by enabling financial inclusion, empowerment of women and girls, access to basic healthcare, education, social safety nets and assertion of rights.

Proving your identity is also the basis for accessing rapidly expanding forms of digital financial services—such as digital payment systems—that are essential to advancing financial inclusion and women’s economic empowerment. 

Governments around the world are committed to supporting the roll-out of national digital IDs to enable equity and economic progress, but ‘future-proofing’ these technologies to safeguard against potential harms and risks to consumers, remains a challenge.

The Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, will produce research that can enhance the safety and security of digital ID systems by drawing on the UK’s deep expertise in privacy enhancing-technologies, data-driven cybersecurity as well as evaluation and management of risk in such systems. 

The project will focus on three key outcomes:

  • Research to generate new knowledge aimed at enhancing the safety and security of digital ID systems, including exploratory areas such as encryption technologies, real-time threat modelling, federated models of data storage and processing
  • Development of an open source library of technical tools in collaboration with existing open source digital ID providers  
  • Piloting of new privacy and security features in partnership with technical providers and select countries that are seeking to improve digital ID systems

The Institute is actively building relationships with and recruiting leading teams of data scientists, software engineers and researchers to advance the goals of the project across the above domains. Institutions and researchers interested in the initiative should visit the project page.

Adrian Smith, Director and Chief Executive at The Alan Turing Institute, said, “This project will use fundamental research to develop important new solutions to realise trustworthiness, particularly for those without access to a digital identity.

“We are excited by the potential of this initiative to positively affect the lives of citizens across the globe.”

World Bank Program Manager for Identification for Development, Vyjayanti T. Desai, said: “Inclusive and trusted digital identification systems are critical to enabling societies and to empower people. The World Bank is pleased to see the launch of this project from the Turing. It will deploy important research and build knowledge to support the adoption of identification systems, and can help prevent exclusion from economic and social opportunities.”