The German Marshall Fund of the United States has published a new report exploring the intersection of digital wallets and migration. The fund’s research was published on the same day as the United Nation’s 2021 migration annual report.
Both have examples of effective digital ID systems for migrants, but the GMF report also sounds a cautionary note.
According to the GMF research, digital wallets promise wide implications for global governance of cross-border travel and migration. This would particularly apply to digital ID management and finance scenarios.
This is going to be an uphill struggle just to get basic agreements. There is even a “lack of consensus and clarity around the term” digital wallet.
(For the record, the fund defines digital wallets as “technological systems that store […] information and […] value, enabling users to track and execute transactions.” They are “used to hold and exchange currency, tokens, and coupons, along with passwords, identity information, and credentials.”)
“Digital wallets are widely seen as a solution to the constraints of traditional finance and identity systems, including issues of surveillance, trust, and interoperability,” according to the report.
Digital wallets potentially provide migrants with a safe, organized and reliable way of storing and using digital identity credentials, savings accounts and other resources across borders.
But creating an infrastructure to make this possible is a major undertaking for nations of any size.
“This is currently a challenge, especially in contexts of forced migration, when people’s access to essential (and often paper-based) personal documents and finances, issued by a range of providers, becomes compromised,” the document reads.
The fund’s report links digital wallets to blockchain-based, decentralized database systems.
“The self-sovereign identity (SSI) movement proposes that blockchain will help orient identity management away from corporate intermediaries and instead empower individuals […] to own and manage their own personal information.”
Examples, good and bad
The IOM document spotlights the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) work 31.7 million internally displaced persons, refugees and migrants last year.
The document states that the agency last year published a study on migrant digital inclusion in Canada, one of the three top resettlement countries for the year. The organization says the report ‘Digital Inclusion of Refugees Resettling to Canada: Opportunities and Barriers’ is the first of its kind.
IOM called out a brief it produced to suss out what would be required to create “equitable and efficient” digital health certificates for migrants and travelers.
The organization also outlined the risk management and data protection initiatives it worked on during the year.
Case studies for digital wallets for financial inclusion are presented by GMF, including UNICEF’s Leaf project as a good example of the technology. Worldcoin by contrast is panned as an instance of an “untested and meaningless cryptocurrency.
“Under the banner of wealth redistribution and financial inclusion for marginalized groups like refugees, such schemes pose concerns for privacy and data protection,” the research says referring to Worldcoin.
More broadly, the document says the concerns and risks of adopting digital wallets in the migration sector may fall within three categories: user experience (particularly for marginalized groups), storage and security, and regulatory concerns.
The report also mentions digital wallets for cross-border recognition, particularly the European Union’s new digital identity wallet, the EUDI.
“The consequences for third-country nationals residing in the E.U. are emergent. This scheme represents a new way for public and private entities to coordinate and recognize diverse types of digital identities used within a multi-country environment.”
Worldcoin’s Digital Identity System also gets a mention in the document, if not a flattering one.
“Rather than following data minimization principles, blockchain-based biometric systems like Worldcoin are already of concern as international surveillance tools.”
biometrics | digital identity | digital wallet | humanitarian | identity management | International Organization for Migration | UNICEF | Worldcoin