Program Goals

Launched in September 2013, the National ID Number (NIN) Project works to to examine the scientific, technical, social and political aspects of national ID numbers. Under the leadership of Jacqueline Bhabha, Director of Research at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, along with Conference Co-Chair and Visiting Scholar Deborah Rose, the program aims to build an interdisciplinary body of knowledge on national identification numbers, examining the necessity, benefits, challenges, feasibility and implications of the growing adoption of such as system by countries worldwide.

The NIN project is consistent with pursuit of a central FXB Center goal: the advancement of scholarly inquiry at the boundary between normative and scientific research on the one hand and pragmatic policy related implementation and progress on the other. Scientific progress, innovation and a robust adherence to international norms of human rights and social justice are essential elements to achieving prosperity and reducing inequality in our century.


Identification can enable a right to namenationality and recognition before the law and the stateright to government participation and improved access to services. It effectively establishes the foundation of state capacity and citizens’ entitlements.  Nevertheless, under-documentation is particularly pervasive in the developing world.  Globally, 48 million children are unregistered at birth. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 53% of children remain unregistered, and South Asia is cited as having the highest number of undocumented children, with about 63% of children lacking identification.

Global stakeholders are recognizing the need for effective policies to close the identification gap. UNICEF, UNHCR and World Bank, among others, have focused efforts around improving legal identity around the world, recognizing it as an instrument to achieving development. This assertion is reflected in the development arena’s push and pressure to include an identification target in the post-2015 development agenda. Governments all over the world are also becoming increasingly invested in the use and exploration of national identification numbers as an effective tool of modern governance.  States as different as India, Norway, Brazil and Nigeria have energetically adopted variants of universal national identification.  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 very limited registration infrastructure.  In all cases, as security and border concerns escalate globally, a responsible, consensual approach to national identification numbers (NINs) remains elusive.

The Conference

As part of its project mission, the Harvard FXB Center for Health & Human Rights in collaboration with other Harvard schools will convene a high profile international conference of experts drawn from academia, government, business and civil society to examine the scientific, technical, social and political aspects of national ID systems. Set to take place from November 19 to November 21, 2015, this two and half-day conference will provide a forum for intellectual exploration and discussion, complementary to but separate from convenings on the topic by government or industry representatives.

The conference is envisaged as a forum for opinion leaders and policy innovators to address some of the most pressing conceptual, technical and ethical issues that arise.  We anticipate several high level intellectual products coming out of the conference, products that may lead to other institutionally driven fora and eventually to the possible establishment of an international expert commission to review development of national identification systems globally.


Dr. Julio Frenk, Dean Emeritus of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Heath, who supported and encouraged the formulation of this conference from its very start on a bus ride in Botswana to his welcoming video for the Conference.

Arlan Fuller, JD, MA, Executive Director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, who cheerfully and unfailingly helped us fine-tune both the conceptualization and its implementation.

Michael Voligny, AB, AM, Vice Dean for External Relations who did much to keep us focused on the original vision.