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.


On November 19-21, 2015, Harvard FXB and partners convened 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.

The multi-day gathering offered a rich dialogue on the many forms of identity and the systems to support them. In the context of the conference website, we have made available many of the resources gathered at that time:

From any of those pages, you can navigate to further information about the speakers and the agenda.

More Recent Research

We remain concerned with identification systems. Most of our recent research has taken place in the context of India’s National Identification System, Aadhaar, and the related questions of data protection and a national framework for the exchange of health data.

Our ongoing research in the protection of childhood and in distress migration is also relevant, as is FXB Intersect which applies data science and analytics to support Harvard FXB research.