The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) this month said it will invest $200 million in digital ID projects, encompassing “digital public infrastructure, including civil registry databases and digital ID” to help meet the 2030 target date for reaching the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The $200 million in new funding — part of an overall $1.27 billion commitment by the BMGF in support of “global health and development projects,” is closely tied to Goal 16.9 of the SDGs, for which “digital identity programs are supposedly needed,” Reclaim the Net reported.
The funding adds to several existing BMFG-supported global digital ID initiatives, even as such initiatives come under fire for violating people’s right to privacy.
Michael Rectenwald, author of “Google Archipelago: The Digital Gulag and the Simulation of Freedom,” said that far from promoting an improved digital infrastructure or “global health and development,” digital identity will have more onerous applications.
Rectenwald told The Defender:
“Of all the other means of identifying and tracking subjects, digital identity poses perhaps the gravest technological threat to individual liberty yet conceived.
“It has the potential to trace, track and surveil subjects and to compile a complete record of all activity, from cradle to grave.”
Rectenwald said these more onerous applications of digital identity are what the BMGF and other similar entities find appealing:
“Digital identity will serve as a means of coercion and enforced compliance with the outrageous demands of a vaccine regime that will have no end.
“It is no wonder that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding this invasive, rights-abrogating technology, given Gates’ investments, both financially and ideologically, in coercive neo-Malthusian and arguably eugenics-friendly methods.”
Report claims biometric technologies required for ‘equitable redistribution of wealth and resources’
Commenting on the $200 million investment, the BMGF said:
“This funding will help expand infrastructure that low and middle-income countries can use to become more resilient to crises such as food shortages, public health threats, and climate change, as well as to aid in pandemic and economic recovery.”
Additionally, according to the BMGF, such infrastructure “encompasses tools such as interoperable payment systems, digital ID, data-sharing systems, and civil registry databases.”
The announcement came during the two-day Goalkeepers event in New York City held in parallel with the annual session of the UN General Assembly, and one week after the release of the BMGF’s “Goalkeepers Report” for 2022.
The 2022 Goalkeepers Report warned that progress toward achieving most SDGs by 2030 is off track, in part due to a myriad of global crises in the past two years that reversed previous progress in meeting the targets.
The report also highlighted biometrics as one of the technologies required to achieve the equitable redistribution of wealth and resources in economically developing countries — a goal also contained within the SDGs.
Participants in this year’s Goalkeepers event — the first held in person since 2019 — stressed the need for a renewed commitment to meeting the SDGs by the 2030 target.
BMGF CEO Mark Suzman, speaking at the event, said:
“We can get back on track toward the SDGs, but it’s going to take a new level of collaboration and investment from every sector.
“That’s why our foundation is significantly stepping up our commitment to helping confront crises now and ensure long-term impact across critical determinants of health and development.”
Gates, BMGF, Microsoft involved in multiple global digital ID initiatives
Gates is invested in digital ID initiatives around the world, not only through the BMGF but also personally and through Microsoft.
For instance, the BMGF is a supporter of MOSIP, an India-based open-source digital ID platform.
On its website, MOSIP provides “a robust scalable and inclusive foundational identity program” and “an open source platform on which national foundational IDs are built.”
These platforms, claims MOSIP, help “governments and other user organizations implement a digital, foundational identity system in a cost effective way.”
The BMGF is also a partner of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, which in 2018, through its INFUSE (innovation for uptake, scale and equity in immunization) initiative, advocated in favor of digital IDs for kids:
“Imagine a future in which all children have access to life-saving vaccines no matter where they live — a future in which parents and health workers ensure their timely vaccination, a future in which they have their own digitally stored health record that cannot be lost or stolen, a future in which, regardless of gender, economic or social standing, this record allows each child (and parents) to have access to a bank account, go to school, access services and ultimately build a prosperous life.
“This future is possible today. With the latest advances in digital technologies that enable more effective ways to register, identify births and issue proof of identity and authentication for access to services — we are on the brink of building a healthier and more prosperous future for the world’s most vulnerable children.”
This would be accomplished by “calling for innovations that leverage new technologies to modernize the process of identifying and registering the children who are most in need of life-saving vaccines.”
The INFUSE initiative supports a digital ID for children from the moment they are born, claiming that “digital records can make it convenient to track a child’s vaccines and eliminate unnecessary paperwork.”
According to INFUSE, as children grow, “their digital health card can be used to access secondary services, such as primary school, or ease the process of obtaining alternative credentials.”
“The digital health card could, depending on country needs and readiness, potentially become the first step in establishing a legal, broadly recognized identity,” INFUSE concluded.
Investigative reporter Leo Hohmann described the initiative as “all about data collection,” having “nothing to do with health” but instead bringing “the current generation of children into the blossoming global digital identity system.”
Gavi, in turn, closely collaborates with the ID2020 Alliance, founded in 2016, which claims to advocate in favor of “ethical, privacy-protecting approaches to digital ID,” adding that “doing digital ID right means protecting civil liberties, and claims to support “ethical, privacy-protecting approaches to digital ID.”
Microsoft is a founding member of the ID2020 alliance (in 2018) and appears to partner with it, while Kim Gagné, ID2020’s board chairman, is a former Microsoft executive.
Other founding partners of ID2020 include Gavi, the BMGF, the World Bank, Accenture and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Bill Gates also backed Aktivate, a “software-as-a-service” platform that “powers student-athlete administration for over 1,300 K-12 schools and 1.5 million athletes across 30 states.”
Aktivate recently generated controversy in one Florida school district, which quietly made the platform mandatory for the registration of student athletes, before walking back this requirement.
Gates has drawn fire in India for his support and funding of various digital ID schemes there.
For instance, on his personal blog, Gates praised Aadhaar, a national digital identification card system launched in 2009, which today is the world’s largest biometric identification system.
Gates described Aadhaar as “a valuable platform for delivering social welfare programs and other government services” — and Nandan Nilekani, who developed the Aadhaar system and now works with the World Bank Group to help other countries develop similar schemes.
The Aadhaar identification number was linked with numerous public and private services, including the opening of bank accounts, verification of electoral identity, filing income tax returns, making digital payments, receiving government pensions, subsidies and welfare payments and registration of mobile SIM cards.
Aadhaar generated controversy in India over the government’s plans to link it to the national voter database, and the alleged coercion of HIV patients to submit their Aadhaar numbers, leading them to drop out of treatment programs due to privacy concerns.
Gates has dismissed privacy concerns surrounding Aadhaar, stating that “Aadhaar in itself doesn’t pose any privacy issue because it’s just a bio ID verification scheme,” adding that “We [the BMGF] have funded the World Bank to take this Aadhaar approach to other countries.”
A counterpart system to Aadhaar, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission — a system that would complement Aadhaar by providing a unique digital health ID to all citizens and would be linked to their personal health records — was launched in 2021.
Gates also publicly praised this platform, claiming it will help “ensure equitable, accessible healthcare delivery and accelerate progress on India’s health goals.”
The BMGF gave the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission a $350,690 grant to support its “rollout and strengthening,” despite concerns regarding privacy, informed consent and data leakage.
A report released July 2022 by New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice entitled “Paving the Road to Hell? A Primer on the Role of the World Bank and Global Networks in Promoting Digital ID” specifically linked digital ID programs such as Aadhaar to “severe and large-scale human rights violations.”
According to the report, such digital ID programs “may in fact exacerbate pre-existing forms of exclusion and discrimination in public and private services” and “may furthermore lead to novel forms of harm, including biometric exclusion, discrimination, and the many harms associated with surveillance capitalism.”
The report added that the benefits of digital ID are “ill-defined” and “poorly documented,” and their repercussions may be “severe and potentially irreversible,” adding that the “ultimate objective” of such programs is to “facilitate economic transactions and private sector service delivery while also bringing new, poorer, individuals into formal economies and ‘unlocking’ their behavioral data.”
The same report also highlighted the role of entities such as the World Bank in promoting digital ID schemes — highlighting broader efforts to continue developing such programs despite the controversy they have created.