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Digital Identity During Times of Crisis

“The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society hosted a 10-week Research Sprint from October to December 2022 investigating Digital Identity in Times of Crisis, in collaboration with partners metaLAB at Harvard, the Edgelands Institute, and Access Now. BKC Research Sprints are an educational format developed at the Center that connects early-career scholars and practitioners with leading subject matter experts and stakeholders to troubleshoot specific social, ethical, and policy challenges related to digital technology. Each Sprint culminates in the production of outputs developed with the guidance of external experts and a partner organization. For the purposes of this Sprint, digital identity refers to the methods, systems, and policies used to verify and authenticate people over digital channels, as well as sociotechnical systems used to remotely identify individuals. This broad perspective includes digital IDs issued by both governmental and private institutions and a wide range of technologies, such as the universally familiar username-password system, biometrics, and decentralized identity solutions. The adoption of digital ID systems to mediate access to fundamental aspects of public and private life holds great promise as well as risks. Understanding and scrutinizing the impacts of specific policy and design choices, particularly on historically vulnerable or crisis-impacted communities, was a core objective of the Sprint.  Members of the global research sprint cohort included 33 early career young scholars and professionals based in 17 countries across five continents. Their backgrounds included experience in law, public policy, social work, philosophy, and other disciplines.  The Research Sprint on Digital Identity was ambitious, involving a greater number of partner organizations than previous sprints and dividing participants into three distinct methodological approaches. Led by Dr. Kim Albrecht, one group worked with designers and data scientists on data visualization projects. The second group, led by Dr. Amy Johnson, a linguistic anthropologist, created works of speculative fiction. The last cohort worked in small groups alongside advisors Santiago Uribe Saenz and Laura García Vargas from the Edgelands Institute, Jad Esber a BKC Affiliate, and Adam Nagy a BKC staff member to produce policy documents or web-based resources…”

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