I’m back home in Brazil after a fantastic and illuminating world tour where I learned so much about how nations approach digital identity in fascinatingly different ways. This sort of inspires me to put Brazil’s digital identity challenge under the microscope next…

brazil’s big promise

As we know, Brazil is big, bountiful, bustling. Right now, it’s also an empire of digital initiatives, prolific in laws and regulations, platforms and projects, multiple strategies and policy frameworks to realize the promise of a transformative digital economy for the world’s fifth largest country by size and population.

Brazil has been at it for the longest time, too. As early as 1995, the government had created the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee to guide internet development and security. In 2000, Brazil became the first country to hold elections completely by electronic voting. There’s also an annual Information and Communications Technology Household Survey taking the public pulse on ICTs since 2005, yielding valuable data for digital capacity-building.

According to a 2018 OECD report on Brazil’s digital transformation, the country has made great strides in developing a digital economy and digital government, addressing issues of interoperability, service delivery, data-sharing and data protection. Brazil certainly has the vision in place with a comprehensive policy framework (Digital Governance Strategy, 2016-19; Brazilian Digital Transformation Strategy; Efficient Brazil) and a plethora of action plans, strategies and policy documents, including the e-Ping architecture, which, impressively, establishes standards for interoperability for public-sector institutions.

sorting out the national identification challenge

However, vision is one thing and implementation, quite another. This abundance of strategies can lead to that old devil of bureaucracy – inefficiency, a constant charge against the Brazilian government (you’ve heard it said – Brazil is wonderful, it’s bureaucracy, not so much). Without close coordination on strategic direction and a razor-sharp focus from the top, the many initiatives on digital transformation threaten to diverge into incoherence.

You can see clearly the government wrestling with this problem with the seriousness it’s attacking the digital identity challenge. There’s a lot at stake here. Recent estimates by the McKinsey Global Institute put the potential for value creation of a basic digital ID in Brazil at a whopping eight percent of GDP in 2030, the highest in a study of seven economies (Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India,

Nigeria, UK and US). If Brazil is able to implement advanced digital ID systems like those found in developed economies, the value goes up to 13 percent of GDP in 2030, again, topping the country league table.

Brazil is one of those countries squarely behind a vigorous national identification system to provide citizens access to public and private services. ID cards are mandatory to avail of social benefits and exercise political and social rights (Voting, by the way, is also mandatory for those over 18 and under 70).

However, a country as huge and diverse as Brazil is bound to have an extensive identification structure to address a broad range of citizen needs. And that leads to ID sprawl.