Digital identity and the right to opacity

SciencesPo Law Clinic 2022-2023

Since the pandemic, the mandate for digital identification has rapidly extended. To gain access to physical spaces and services, as well as digital platforms, means to offer up details for digital identification. This normalizes the sharing of legal/state issued identities in grey situations that might not actually require identification of this nature as such. Digital Identity introduces new forms of policing into every day life, facilitating conditions of vigilantism through the everyday management of citizen movement, optimisation, population flow and control. It potentially demands teachers, health-workers, and protest organisers to act as if they were police. The digital ID-mandate further deepens dependencies on computational infrastructures, often owned by Big Tech.

Disconnection (or the right to be not present digitally) is increasingly not an option, as visibility on platforms has become a prerequisite for many to get through life. This creates issues for those who rely on platforms for their profession and activism, especially when this involves financial transactions. It gets even harder, now accessing physical spaces can involve being asked for digital identification too. They risk unwanted exposure, or the blocking of movement to perform work or organise. At the same time platforms can refuse any activity which they decide is risky or in conflict with their interests.

Together with Other Weapons who are a Sex Worker Organising group who work towards material strategies for autonomy and liberation, TITiPI has been researching how digital identities affect possibilities to move across borders, access healthcare, participate in political organising and the role of computational infrastructure in this. Other Weapons decided to write accounts of their legal-infrastructural interactions and publish them on-line. These stories are meant to serve as proxies for the implications of digital identification on actual lives.

The clinic is an occasion to better understand how we might contest the normalized use of legal identity documents in on-line spaces. We would like to bring different types of expertise in conversation, while keeping with the complex practices of those that depend on digital platforms, but cannot afford to expose or link their legal identity documents to their online activities.

With: Anamaria Munoz, Ayse Yasar, Emma James, Julia Vieira and Sarah Roman-Jakob