May 4, 2018

Using biometrics and blockchain technology, iRespond provides personal identification to vulnerable populations

Woman in Thailand standing next to a river, using a machine to provide a unique identity to a man wearing a hat

Photo courtesy of iRespond

The inability to positively match a person to their identity is one of the most fundamental barriers to the delivery of humanitarian services. For refugees and other vulnerable people who lack documentation of their births, health history, education, or any record to prove their basic personhood, accessing aid, establishing a life in another country or returning to their country of origin may not be possible.

A Seattle-headquartered technology solutions nonprofit called iRespond has created a proprietary process that combines biometrics with blockchain technology to provide such individuals with a unique identity (UNiD), which enables them to receive healthcare, education and financial inclusion services. iRespond’s identity solutions capture the body’s own signature – namely the unique signature of the iris – and convert that into an encrypted information code comprised of a twelve-character numeric sequence. The files of the encrypted IDs are so small that UNiDs for the entire population of the United States could fit on a single micro USB card.

The iris signature does not change significantly during one’s life and, protected by the blockchain, it can never be corrupted or forged. This built-in security system thus prevents duplication or fraud and protects the privacy of every individual’s identity. The databases can operate without an internet connection and can be used off the grid and then synched back once in contact with a wireless or other network.

In Thailand, iRespond is now providing identity to stateless persons from Myanmar. Roughly 100,000 people are living as refugees in nine UN-run camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. With the camps slated to close within the next couple of years, the refugees’ futures are yet to be determined. Since late 2017, iRespond has been collaborating with the UN International Organization for Migration and the International Rescue Committee to capture the biometric data of the people living in the camps before they close to provide the identification they will need to gain access to social services from government agencies. Without an official identity, undocumented persons are at greater risk of “disappearing” into the grey economy of commercial sex work or other unregulated domestic and service industries. The IDs can also be taken with them if they return Myanmar or if they resettle in a third country.

Man in a hat and blue shirt standing next to a river in Thailand, holding a biometric machine up to his eyes

Photo courtesy of iRespond

iRespond is also working with the Thai government to create identity solutions to reduce human trafficking and slavery of migrant workers, particularly from neighboring countries, including those who work in Thailand’s seafood and fishing industry. In Myanmar, iRespond is improving infectious disease delivery and care to at-risk populations and to support anonymous and privacy-protected HIV testing across the country.

The Stability Innovation Atlas team, led by FHI 360 and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, will release their finished product in Spring 2018. The complete Atlas will feature economic stability-enhancing innovations that empower the world’s poor and vulnerable people in managing and investing with confidence in their future. We will be profiling several innovators and innovations that were identified during the research and crowd-sourcing process over the coming weeks and months.