National Identification Number Project

The National ID Number (NIN) Project aims to build an interdisciplinary body of knowledge on national identification numbers, examining their necessity, benefits, challenges, feasibility, and implications. Like other Harvard FXB projects, our hope is that the NIN project will influence the practical spheres of policymaking and program implementation


An identification system sets a foundation on which citizens can claim their entitlements – their right to name, nationality, recognition before the law, civic participation, and improved access to services. Identification systems can also help states strengthen their capacity to develop and deliver services.

Under-documentation remains pervasive in the developing world.  Globally, 48 million children are unregistered at birth. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 53 percent of children remain unregistered. South Asia has the highest number of undocumented children – about 63 percent.

Stakeholders around the world are recognizing the need for effective policies to close the identification gap. The World Bank, UNICEF, and UNHCR, among others, have focused on improving legal identity mechanisms. This focus is reflected in the push to include an identification target in the post-2015 development agenda.

More and more governments are using or exploring the use of national identification numbers, recognizing their potential as an effective tool of governance.   India, Norway, Brazil, and Nigeria have energetically adopted universal national identification in various forms. To date, over 100 countries have introduced an ID system.

In some cases, these systems build on comprehensive birth and civil registration records developed over centuries. In others, they take the place of failing or limited registration infrastructure.  In all cases, as security and border concerns escalate globally, a responsible, consensual approach to national identification numbers remains elusive.


Harvard FXB will develop – in consultation with leading experts – a series of working papers setting out some of the key conceptual and methodological issues surrounding the development and implementation of national identification numbers. The papers will be prepared by an interdisciplinary group of graduate or post-graduate students/practitioners representing the fields of law, social science, public health, and humanities.


The working papers will inform the thematic agenda for a two-and-a-half day conference, to take place November 19-21, 2015.  Harvard FXB and partners will convene a global panel of experts drawn from academia, government, business, and civil society to examine the scientific, technical, social, and political aspects of national ID numbers.

We expect that this gathering will result in various resources — white papers, best practice guidelines, and so on — and inspire other institutionally driven fora on this topic. In the long term we envision the establishment of an international expert commission charged with reviewing the development of national identification systems globally.