IDINA: community-generated identity

April 6, 2023

In this episode we hear from IDINA, the non-authoritative digital ID system.

IDINA: community-generated identity

What happens to identity in the most remote or most neglected communities? It generally gets overlooked. A group of academics at INESCTEC and the University of Minho, Portugal, have devised a system for communities to create and issue their own IDs.

IDINA, the non-authoritative digital ID system, is gradually built as trusted persons in the community attest to attributes about other individuals. Teachers can add when a person attended school, health workers can add vaccination dates.

António Sousa, one of the project leaders, explains how levels of confidence can be added to each part of a person’s identity such as name.

As the project develops, it is hoped an IDINA would be able to act as a digital foundation for acquiring a state – or authoritative – identity.

Find out more about the ID16.9 Podcast and the importance of legal identity at

Produced and hosted by Frank Hersey at Biometric Update

IDINA: community-generated identity

Frank Hersey [00:00:05] Welcome to the ID16.9 Podcast, where we explore the many issues around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 16.9, the goal aiming for legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030. The number of people without legal ID worldwide does seem to be falling, though it’s not an easy thing to measure. One recent estimate is 850 million people. I’m your producer and host Frank Hersey. In this episode, we’re looking at technology again, an approach called IDINA, and it’s quite different to other types of tech we’ve looked at so far. To explain this all for us, I’m joined by António Sousa, one of the project leaders from the University of Minho, Portugal, and its INESCTEC high assurance software laboratory. Welcome to the show, António.

António Sousa [00:00:59] Thank you very much for inviting me.

Frank Hersey [00:01:02] Well, first of all, what does IDINA stand for? The word IDINA?

António Sousa [00:01:07] It is for non authoritative identification, a proof of identity not provided by a government or an official institution, so called non authoritative.

Frank Hersey [00:01:26] And that’s what I think makes IDINA quite different to the other tech we’ve looked at so far, because I think everything else has looked at things like civil registry and approaches to improving civil registry, but that all feeds into the authoritative ID, whereas this is, as I understand it so far and I’m going to understand it a lot more in this conversation, is, I’m going to use a word like parallel or independent. But well, I’m sure you have plenty to say on that when we get into it. So why is something like IDINA needed? We’ve got all these different projects going on around the world. Countries are doing their things and other organizations are helping. So what are perhaps the problems with the current methods going on to create this need for something like IDINA?

António Sousa [00:02:21] Well Frank, from our understanding and from reports that you have read and also from some knowledge from the field, the problem with identity is that governments are investing in giving people their identity, but the governments don’t reach everyone in the world, at least in some parts of the world. There is no legal entity near the persons. And they are the contacts, the evidence from non government agencies, aid agencies, some religious people also live together and have contact with these populations. And for every statistic that we are used to have every day, these people don’t count in statistics. Also, the United Nations says 15% of us don’t have a legal ID. So I think if we have an informal ID, it is will with this to improve the legal representation of these people. And also, at the end, we hope that if anything, this really is a success, it can be converted in a authoratative ID.

Frank Hersey [00:03:53] Uh huh. It sounds like it’s for use in places which are further out, further from the reach of the state. I think we need to hear how it works. What is this non authoritative approach? What is the ID that somebody could build with the system?

António Sousa [00:04:11] Well, that is, even when we don’t have the state ruling the people, local communities usually have some chief of the community or some of the non-governmental agencies that are working with people. They have knowledge of people and each one has a different knowledge of people. They know some relations between the people. A is the father of B and so on. It is a cousin, it is a brother. There are these informal relations that are already in place and people know them. What we try with IDINA is to get that in the information system and having some of these persons that are interacting with the populations to say you are the source of the information. We trust you to convey this information for the system. And there are different individuals or organizations that interact with the same people. Sometimes they don’t know them in the same way. So we try, in IDINA, our approach is, everyone is saying something about someone and in the end we try to figure, let’s see if this is the same person. When we get several pieces of information regarding the same person, we have a stronger belief that, okay, this information is correct, then we try to build confidence in information as we gather more information.

Frank Hersey [00:05:59] So these people who can attest to somebody’s identity, what sorts of people are they? You mentioned chiefs, village chiefs. Does it extend into professions? Is that you know, is it dentists? Doctors? Teachers? How would the system assess whether somebody is in a position to be able to give this confirmation?

António Sousa [00:06:24] Well, this is, the system has to validate to that person that level of confidence. The system will have someone that are managing the system, that gives that person that privilege to introduce information. But it’s true. It is correct. It’s not only the chief, but it’s the teacher, the doctor, the nurse, and every other service that people interact with. It can be used to build the knowledge that we have about that person and give them an identity. One of the problems that we have been talking with some organizations is that different organizations will peoples differently. So if they all convert that information into IDIMA, we can have a single ID for them in different services. This is one of the approaches that we are thinking of.

Frank Hersey [00:07:31] And I suppose that also means that a local community can create an identity which is based on the values which they appreciate and, you know, is based on the confirmation of the people who they respect, where they are.

António Sousa [00:07:48] Yes, that is correct. One of the possibilities.

Frank Hersey [00:07:52] So say, say there’s a truck, there’s a van, there’s the IDINA truck comes to the village that the IDINA team comes to a fictitious village, just a village in the countryside. Doesn’t matter which country. How how will it start happening? Do people need smartphones? Does there need to be a central computer? Is there any equipment needed locally? And how does an individual living in this village start building his or her identity?

António Sousa [00:08:22] Okay. Several things, of course. You need at least some computer that can store the information. It can be a computer running on the van or it can be a computer in a (inaudible) elsewhere that stores the of information. The first phase of IDINA is to gather information, to obtain information. And for that, maybe we need to give a smartphone to the chief village or the teacher with a feature with app so we can introduce information. This is the first phase we are building, gathering information, consolidating information. The second phase, when we have enough information, we want to give information, do you give identity to someone. It would be nice if everyone have a smartphone. In their remote village, probably there won’t be smartphones in service. Feature phones. Feature phones that can have a picture. We have several approaches for this. Well, you may have a feature phone with a QR code that you present to some identity that are trying to identify you and that QR code is this right and selected into system. And you can have that in the screen of what’s trying to identify you. You can have a piece of paper with the same QR code printed and we can read it. And some of you may have a number, an ID, something like that, that you can present to us. I am this, this guy. Also an SMS text with a number. It would be sufficient for, okay, ideally you have a phone with an app and everything is displayed on your phone, but that’s not a requirement. But that the way we know that in this remote village, maybe that there are not all the technology that you are used to. And so we have to use less technological means to provide identity, I think is not having an electronic equipment to prevent you to have an identity. So IDINA’s supposed to be inclusive so everyone could have an identity even in a piece of paper.

Frank Hersey [00:11:05] So let’s say there is an individual, let’s call him Alex, and he is 20 years old. And so he’s still living in the village. Let’s say he went to school there. Primary school, secondary school. And he’s living there. And then IDINA arrives and let’s say he has a feature phone. A simple phone.

António Sousa [00:11:32] Yes.

Frank Hersey [00:11:33] How does he, well, first of all, is it the individual who goes out to start building their ID, or does it come from, say, the village teacher, a village teacher or doctor? Does there need to be a specific person in the village who is in charge of IDINA? So I think what I’m trying to understand is from day one, how do you start adding things and having confirmation from people.

António Sousa [00:12:00] In the first thing you have to identify someone that will be responsible to start entering information in IDINA, maybe a teacher. The chief village as we progress, we may identify other persons that can provide some other information about that person. The village nurse or doctor is one of those candidates and can be assigned task whenever someone on the birthday of someone enters that information in the system. This is John, his father is Alex, and his mother is Maria. And then Alex goes to school. And then the teacher may say, “Hey, Alex entered the school this day,” five or six years later, and afterwards you finish primary school. And then if you have the secondary school, the same process may happen. Well, if you visit the nursery and they have some shots, some vaccines, the nurse or the doctor may enter the information that all it’s as is vaccine. And we are building this information. IDINA is not only about identity, but we can also have some other information that is relevant for the living of the person, for well-being of the person. We want IDINA to be a part of a more broad system. And we may enhance it with this kind of information. But if someone says, I’ll access the birthday of Alex, and then someone says, he enters to school, if you can relate these two pieces of information, we are having stronger information about Alex. And this is a real person. And this is one of the mechanisms that we are trying to improve in IDINA is the confidence level that we have in this information. And we have as much more confidence as more people are saying the same thing about someone. One of our principles is to have this non-authoritative becoming stronger and stronger.

Frank Hersey [00:14:40] So it sounds like a longer term approach for building someone’s ID.

António Sousa [00:14:45] Yes.

Frank Hersey [00:14:45] And as I was wondering, are different types of information weighted differently. So if something comes from my school records seen as more important than a vaccination record, or, you know, there’s probably other better examples than that. But are there different things which would go into my profile, which are more important?

António Sousa [00:15:08] I think they are equally important. But as we have more people, let’s say your school record, it has two things. It is one is Alex the guy that we created here, or, Alex, (inaudible) so we have more confidence that he’s a person. Probably the school also say he is born on that date and you can check it with the initial record, of okay, are two guys saying that Alex born this day. So we have more confidence that this data is correct. And we are really trying to count as many times we have the same information from different sources to believe that this information is really accurate.

Frank Hersey [00:16:04] And what if Alex has any official documentation? So if he has a birth certificate, does that get entered as well? And when it is entered, is it tagged? Is it noted as being an official document?

António Sousa [00:16:20] Well, that is the case that we think IDINA is not needed anymore. Because you have an official document.  If the state, IDINIA is somehow to replace the state in providing such information. When we have that information, we think IDINA is no longer needed or can we use it for other means, but not directly for identity, because you already have an identity, an official identity. The problem we are trying to solve is when people don’t even exist. More in that area.

Frank Hersey [00:17:06] And is place of birth or nationality recorded in it.

António Sousa [00:17:12] We have many attributes regarding a person, and these attributes are also record, yes of where it was born and the date. If we can also put to our witnesses the birth. We have a flexible number of attributes and we are specifying which confidence we have in each attribute. When you say you have confidence that Alex is a person that his name is Alex, that he is born. But in that we have great confidence but perhaps if you are entereted in school or not, you may not have that level of confidence attributed. So we rate the attributes every single piece of information regarding Alex as a level of confidence that we are trying always to improve. But it depends on how many persons or many entities are saying that same thing.

Frank Hersey [00:18:20] And does it generate an overall score and number? Is there a percentage and can people see that somewhere? I mean, we said Alex had just a dumb phone, a feature phone, Can he text, send a message to a number, or does he need to go to that central initial person in his locality?

António Sousa [00:18:45] Well, yeah, we are also developing some apps for smart and feature phones. If you have a smart phone, you can have every piece of information. You have a confidence level that you have. I think now that we are using 1 to 5, one we have little confidence on that. And five you are pretty sure that this is correct. And you can see it on the app. On the feature phone it will be more difficult to express this. On the piece of paper it will be even difficult. But if you go to a service that uses IDINA, it will have we are assuming at least that they have a computer that has Internet access or that can access the IDINA database and the app in the browser will show the confidence that we have in every piece of information regarding Alex.

Frank Hersey [00:19:48] And does it record the individuals who gave each piece of information or confirmation.

António Sousa [00:19:56] IDINA has that knowledge. You, Alex, don’t know who says what about you?

Frank Hersey [00:20:02] Okay. That’s interesting.

António Sousa [00:20:05] It is. And different sources of information don’t know what each other are talking or saying about Alex. It is IDINA back end that consolidates that information. And the information that you convey to Alex doesn’t disclose any source of information.

Frank Hersey [00:20:32] Will there be a way for Alex, say, to seek redress, to complain, you know, he might think, oh, I should have a very strong identity, but it looks very low.

António Sousa [00:20:45] To being able to issue a statement, you must know who is saying something about him. And he doesn’t know if it is one entity, two, 10, or 100. In this, as in many others, it seems we have to trust the system. I think if you don’t trust IDINA, okay, you are free to not use it. If you are using it because you think or you believe that it brings some value to you.

Frank Hersey [00:21:21] Have you put IDINA into use anywhere as part of the research?

António Sousa [00:21:27] Not yet.

Frank Hersey [00:21:28] Okay. Are you looking at any particular locations or areas?

António Sousa [00:21:33] Yes, establishing some contacts. Portuguese speaking countries. We are establishing contacts with NGOs and people in the field that to whom we presented IDINA project and they found it interesting. And we are exploring some possibilities of making some pilots of IDINA there.

Frank Hersey [00:22:03] I was reading a paper that you contributed to on IDNIA, and one thing I found interesting was talking about resources. We’re talking about how state authorities might have fewer resources in an area than exist locally. I just wondered if you could talk about that a little bit.

António Sousa [00:22:24] We have some remote areas in Africa and Asia. People are very isolated. And the contacts that they have with the exterior world is mostly through NGOs. And when the NGO goes to the field, usually they have lots of equipment, technological equipment that the local governments don’t have there. So we hope to use that kind of infrastructure to start building IDINA. We think we may have more requirements in terms of technology so we can be able to develop IDINA with more resources and whenever possible, some Internet connection so we can bring data and consolidate data and have backups and to ensure that we haven’t lost information.

Frank Hersey [00:23:29] And we hear about more and more NGOs, humanitarian agencies using biometrics, along with nation states using biometrics. Is there a biometric component to a IDINA? Is there anything to match a profile to an individual?

António Sousa [00:23:48] Not yet. We haven’t been thinking about it because biometric IDs somehow requires a lot of equipments that not are always available or possible to use or people have the knowledge to use in such remote areas. I think it is a challenge to have them using a tablet to enter information and if it evolves, probably we could have some biometric information. But right now it is difficult and even in such scenarios it is different cultures have some fear, some reluctance in using it or giving such kind of information. People don’t allow to be photographed even. Even  a simple photo might be complicated in some cases. And we know that are some state led projects of building identity that have failed in cases like that so we tried to to be as low profile as possible and gather information that will be easily available without having to mess with people’s privacy.

Frank Hersey [00:25:15] Can a photograph of the person be included? I don’t mean…

António Sousa [00:25:19] Yes.

Frank Hersey [00:25:20] … for biometric, I just mean for a visual comparison.

António Sousa [00:25:23] Yes, IDINA has that attribute, but it is not mandatory.

Frank Hersey [00:25:29] Okay.

António Sousa [00:25:32] We can have them. Also, we may have biometric IDs (inaudible), but we cannot make any of these attributes mandatory because it is not always possible to obtain this piece of information. .

Frank Hersey [00:25:49] Hm mm. No, that makes sense. And I’m reluctant to give my own biometrics. We don’t have to quite as much in the UK at least. So how do you see IDINA feeding into or being part of authoritative ID at a later stage? So we’re talking about a remote area. People might be building a profile over the years with different attributes. How could this then connect with official ID?

António Sousa [00:26:21] Well, we have seen this 16.9 goal to build ID for everyone. We know that it is difficult for this project. You have to go to the field and gather all this kind of information. IDINA may be a partner in such kind of projects. When we try to reach the people to build this information, IDINA can be absorbed into the system in different parts of the system even, and give a boost in building information for for such people. That’s our vision (inaudible). If there is later project that tries to to build an alternative ID, IDINA can be used as a base to build that? Yeah, it’s kind of a digital record of informal records that are available at every level. I think it is a step in the direction of building an authoritative ID.

Frank Hersey [00:27:30] And I suppose the SDG 16.9 has 2030 as its end date, its target date. So I was wondering, what are the next steps for IDINA in terms of development or funding or going into locations around the world? And do you think you might be ready to start helping towards SDG 16.9 by 2030?

António Sousa [00:28:00] We hope so. As I said before, we are talking with some NGOs trying to explain the problems. The goals all make DINA fits in their activities and we are trying and making some contacts to getting some funds to build IDINA, to build a prototype, a proof of concept of IDINA in the field. And we have been talking of remote locations that in some countries is not even in the remote locations that IDINA is needed. It is also in country capitals, unless in some neighborhoods that have lots of people. And it is almost as if IDINA does not exist. The people. It is not the state that contacts with them, it’s NGOs, hospitals, and so on. And we are trying to talk with these communities, these NGOs and the founders of the project who have anything to project with them and try to make it happen and to see how it would work. It works well in (inaudible), in the field there are other requirements, and other challenges that we think we are able to progress, but we have to be in there to feel how it is and what we need to accomplish that.

Frank Hersey [00:29:40] Well, we will be following your progress from the lab to the field. We look forward to seeing what happens and seeing the development of non authoritative ID in areas certainly different to a lot of what we hear about at the moment. So I’d just like to say thank you very much for coming on the show.

António Sousa [00:30:02] Thank you for having me.

Frank Hersey [00:30:05] António Sousa, one of the project leaders for IDINA, from the University of Minho, Portugal, and its INESCTEC high assurance software laboratory. To find out more about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, to listen to more podcast episodes, we’ll get the full transcripts of our shows. Go to the ID16.9 podcast website at and see if you think we’re on track for legal identity for all by 2030.