An Identity Management System (IMS) is a key system for governments to administrate their country. The lack of IMS and civil registration systems (CRS) – by which governments keep track of births, deaths and marital status of their citizens – means that, every year, almost 35 per cent of 655 million births worldwide go unregistered.1
The implementation of the Civil Register increases the security of national identity management and supports the government with a more efficient administration. It brings huge benefits to citizens by saving them time and money. This provides a secure basis for introducing future e-Government services.
Civil registration is the important act of recording and documenting vital events in a person’s life (including birth, marriage, divorce, adoption and death) and is therefore a fundamental function of governments. Within governments, civil registration systems are the responsibility of a number of ministries or departments, including ministries of the interior, ministries of justice, ministries of health and national statistical offices. Civil registration contributes to public administration and governance by providing individuals with legal identity and civil status and by generating information that can be used as the source of civil registries and population databases.
Civil registration establishes legal identity. This is the first step for obtaining legal documents essential for participating in society: starting with breeder documents (birth certificate, marriage certificate, citizenship certificate and death certificate) and going to ID-cards, driver’s licenses, biometrical e-passports, health cards, voting cards, student cards and weapon holder’s cards.
Civil registration captures the significant moments in people’s lives, and the information gathered by recording these should also be used by governments to generate vital statistics on the demographics. Reliable information on births, fertility and deaths enable the calculation and production of timely and accurate population estimates, which contributes to policy-making and long-term national planning.
Well-functioning civil registration and vital statistics systems, including the timely and accurate reporting by civil registration systems to the national statistics system, enhance the credibility of national and local administrators and their capacity to deliver services by helping them to identify what services are needed and by whom. Because civil registration and vital statistics systems include so many stakeholders from a wide variety of backgrounds, coordination and communication between multiple agencies is a key to the government’s administration performance.
Different reality worldwide
In developed societies we take it for granted that all children are registered at birth and that all people are registered when they die, with a medically assigned cause of death. We hardly think about birth and death registration because we rarely are the initiators; it is usually the institution where the birth takes place that registers the baby, and the undertaker who registers a death. Our involvement is typically limited to choosing a name for the child and signing the registration papers.
In most developing countries, however, the onus is entirely on the family to register a birth or death. Even assuming they are aware of this obligation, it often requires substantial effort and expense and can take several weeks. This in part explains why so many births and deaths go unrecorded. Unfortunately there remain huge gaps in the availability and quality of these crucial data in many parts of the world.
Key facts – The need for change
The lack of civil registration systems – by which governments keep track of births, deaths and marital status of their citizens – means that, every year, almost 35 per cent – or 229 million – of 655 million births worldwide go unregistered.
The situation is even worse for death registration: globally, two thirds – or 38 million – of 57 million deaths a year are not registered. In addition, the WHO receives reliable cause-of-death statistics from only 31 of its 193 Member States.
UNICEF, for example, estimates that only 44 per cent of births among sub-Saharan Africa’s children under five years of age are registered today, and in rural areas, the figure is even lower. Birth registration varies widely, from 3 per cent in Somalia to 95 per cent in South Africa. Globally, only one in four people live in a country that registers over 90% of births and deaths.
Registering life events - birth and death certificate
Certainly, the issuance of a birth certificate is consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that every child should be registered immediately after birth. And in almost all societies a birth certificate is a basic legal document that gives identity to a child, and automatically bestows a number of rights such as the right to health care, nationality, schooling, passport, property ownership, voting, formal employment, or access to banking services. While, for the family of the deceased, a death certificate ensures their right to inherit property, to access business and financial entitlements, and to claim any available insurance benefits.
Similarly, the cause of death data from civil registration systems are vital for pinpointing the diseases and injuries that are cutting lives short and for planning preventive services to avoid premature mortality. Causes of death data are also useful to inform governments about outbreaks of fatal disease. Consider the recent Ebola outbreak. Once the outbreak was spotted it was important to look back in time to see which recent deaths might have been from the disease but not diagnosed, not least to trace those who had contact with the victim. This requires a solid system of registration: without such data policymakers lack reliable evidence to design policies: they are “flying blind”. And when governments fly blind, then they are often making policy on the basis of ideology, anecdotes or for political considerations, rather than based on evidence.
If you build they will come…
To speed up progress with civil registration a new way of doing business is required. Many registration systems are still paper based (Identity Management 1.0). But widespread deployment of mobile phones with excellent cell coverage in many of the poorest countries has considerable potential. Information technology can improve how authorities access, collect and store birth and death registration data, and cause of death information. Indeed, birth registration is already benefitting from new technologies. In several countries ‘geo-mapping’ technologies have facilitated the collection and visualization of birth registration data.
We very much welcome the recent international momentum to register all births and deaths and to monitor causes of death nationally and sub-nationally, by the only sensible means possible - better quality and more complete civil registration data.
Identity management for government administration
Civil registration provides individuals with the documentary evidence often required to secure recognition of their legal identity, their family relationships, their nationality and their ensuing rights, such as to inheritance. Legal identity in turn enables access to essential services, such as health, education and social welfare. Some activities that civil registration can contribute to include seeking employment, exercising electoral rights, transferring property, opening bank accounts, accessing credit and obtaining other forms of identification such as ID cards, passports and driving licenses.
Thanks to his or her legal identity, a person can be provided protection by the legal system and can request state institutions to protect his or her rights. A person’s legal identity can be proven by the presentation of official documents issued by the government.
Purpose of civil registration systems
The purpose of a civil registration system is to create and maintain one or more data sources that will provide legal documents and notifications for establishing and protecting the civil rights of data subjects.
Governments today must do more than simply issue secure and reliable ID documents. They must be able to effectively manage, verify and secure the entire value chain from registration and verification, to issuing and managing an identity.
A data subject in this context refers to a natural person (an individual) whose personal information is processed for the purposes of the civil registration system.
The civil registration system creates and maintains all the institutional, legal, and technical prerequisites required to carry out population registration in a technically sound, coordinated and standardized manner, taking into account the cultural, social and administrative circumstances of the country.
The primary idea of the central system has been to combine the different databases and data sources in a country. The central system integrates the data of the existing databases and all data from these databases are then stored and become accessible in the central system (Identity Management 2.0).
Furthermore, civil register system should be used as the only central database throughout the country.
Typical databases which have been included for electronically capturing, maintaining and querying data are:
Register of births
Register of citizens
Register of marriages
Register of deaths
eGovernment is the application of information and communication technologies (ICT) with the goal of strengthening and improving the quality and efficiency of public administration. Communication is made easier for citizens and businesses, costs are lowered and at the same time internal processes are sped up substantially. The quality and transparency of public services is increased considerably to the benefit of all. Above all, however, eGovernment is also a lever to increase the transparency of state activities and to intensify the democratic participation of the citizens. The term eGovernment has become synonymous for a modern state.
The development and implementation of electronic public services is one of the priorities of the Austrian Federal Government. One of the main principles of the eGovernment strategy is that every citizen in every community should have access to all forms of eGovernment at the federal, provincial and local levels. Secure communication and procedures and confidential handling of personal data have top priority (Identity Management 3.0).
International services are an important instrument for supporting mobility in the domestic market and in European communities. The EU commission has also recognized this and has therefore given eGovernment high priority in the "Europe 2020" strategy and the leading "Digital Agenda" initiative. It is necessary in this international setting to make sure that electronic services are able to meet the needs of all citizens in different countries.
Austria has been at the forefront for many years in the eGovernment arena. The diverse efforts and leading eGovernment initiatives of the Austrian government have been awarded time and again with the top position in the most important eGovernment ranking on the European level.
The continuous expansion of electronic procedures in public administration and increase in trust amongst citizens has led to a steady increase in the use of eGovernment services. In 2009 alone, over 80% of Austrian businesses made use of the electronic public administration offerings within Austria. As many as 74% of businesses downloaded forms in 2009. A total of 58% sent completed forms to public authorities electronically and 43% of businesses carried out entire procedures with public authorities by electronic means. A positive trend (~35%) is noticeable even amongst private persons, despite a somewhat reserved use of eGovernment offerings.
A central register system is the basis for establishing different kinds of eGovernment services. For example, eGovernment services can include:
income tax statement
online authority services and office channels
getting different kinds of forms which can be filled out online instead of printing them out
managing administrative decisions
online help via different authority portals
and many others.
In summary, the benefits of establishing a unique government Central Register in order to administrate identity management properly are the following:
Collection, accumulation, processing and storage of the personal details of natural persons,
Managing and protecting the identity of all citizen,
Protection of rights and freedoms of natural persons,
Interoperability and standards,
Rendering assistance to government authorities for raising transparency and efficiency of operations relating to the implementation of state policy,
Rendering assistance to law-enforcement and control bodies with regard to the maintenance of law and order,
Providing a basic platform for e-government services.
1 UNICEF document: Every child’s birth right. Inequities and trends in birth registration; New York, December 2013;