Everyone Counts!

The Everyone Counts! initiative was launched in the fall of 2020 with a firm commitment to a simple principle: the digital transformation of the state can only qualify as a success if everyone’s human rights are respected. Nowhere is this more urgent than in the context of so-called digital ID systems.

Research, litigation and broader advocacy on digital ID in countries like India and Kenya has already revealed the dangers of exclusion from digital ID for ethnic minority groups[1] and for people living in poverty.[2] However, a significant gap still exists between the magnitude of the human rights risks involved and the urgency of research and action on digital ID in many countries. Despite their active promotion and use by governments, international organizations and the private sector, in many cases we simply do not know how these digital ID systems lead to social exclusion and human rights violations, especially for the poorest and most marginalized.

Therefore, the Everyone Counts! initiative aims to engage in both research and action to address social exclusion and related human rights violations that are facilitated by government-sponsored digital ID systems.

RESEARCH: Empirical human rights research that investigates how the introduction of a digital ID system leads to or exacerbates social exclusion and violates human rights. Our research is based on the notion that there is inherent and instrumental value in listening to and documenting the experience of individual human beings when confronted by digital systems and to how those experiences affect their rights and dignity.

ACTION: Our presence at a leading university and law school underlines our commitment to high quality and cutting-edge research, but we are not in the business of knowledge accumulation purely for its own sake. We undertake targeted advocacy at the national, regional, and international level to ensure that digital ID systems are not used to exclude and violate human rights.

NETWORK BUILDING: Creating physical and virtual spaces for civil society organizations, as well as public and private actors, to come together to exchange information and stories, collaborate, and shape collective action on digital ID systems and exclusion of the poorest and most marginalized.

Photograph taken by ISER and used with permission.

Our latest research – Chased Away and Left to Die

Our report, Chased Away and Left to Die, documents the wholesale exclusion of large swaths of the Ugandan population from its national digital ID system, Ndaga Muntu. It argues that the Ugandan government has sacrificed the potential of digital ID for social inclusion and the realization of human rights at the altar of national security. Based on 7 months of research together with our Ugandan partners the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) and Unwanted Witness, the report takes an in-depth look at the implications of exclusion for (pregnant) women and older persons attempting to access their human rights to health and social protection. Since Ndaga Muntu is now required to access government and private services, including to access health care and social benefits, to vote, get a bank account and obtain a mobile phone, exclusion from the national digital ID has become a life and death matter.

Below, you will find our report, a short documentary, a press statement and individual profiles of victims we spoke with.

Report Resources
The Many Faces of Digital Exclusion in Uganda

Our Latest Workshop Series — How to Resist Exclusion from Digital ID in Africa

In early 2021, we organized a series of workshops in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the Open Society Justice Initiative on the topic of digital ID and exclusion in Africa. The workshops invited human rights activists from twelve African countries to come together and discuss how the advent of digital ID systems is impacting their work and their communities. Participants came from civil society organizations working on a diverse range of issues—including health, education, social protection, and social justice—but found common ground in recognizing that digital ID and digital governance brings the potential to generate significant exclusion and human rights concerns. Each workshop in the series aimed to open space for discussion of personal experiences and viewpoints, opportunities to learn from external experts and other participants, and joint strategizing about what actions human rights activists can take to resist exclusion from digital ID systems for the most poor and marginalized.

If you are interested in hearing more about this series or participating in future workshops, please contact Katelyn Cioffi at katelyn.cioffi@nyu.edu.


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