International Conference, “Person Identification, a Global Issue”

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On 21 September 2016, in Paris, the Conseil Supérieur du Notariat (High Council for the French Notariat), the Association of the Francophone Notariat, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development and the World Bank held a conference on person identification.

Before drawing up any document, notaries check the identity of the individuals consulting them. This action is essential for the legal certainty of the document that will be issued by the public office-holder. In Europe like elsewhere in the world, new questions linked to identity are being asked. The very notion of identity is being questioned and reinvented.

Speaking for the International Francophone Organisation, Caroline Nokerman underlined the need to first establish the rule of law before any economic development. The rule of law involves transparent elections and therefore trustworthy electoral registers, which is not possible as long as the whole population of a country does not have a civil status: “Not registering a child born today creates an electoral problem in 18 years’ time”.

In some countries, it has long been a tradition not to name children at birth. Sometimes it is necessary to wait a week to do so, sometimes a year. Solutions must therefore be found to give a child an identity, even if it does not yet have a name.

Several speakers stressed that the appeal to register births should be made as much to the policymakers as to the populations of developing countries.

Adama Sawadogo presented the iCivil Africa project ( which allows birth registration by encrypted SMS.

During the workshop on ID documents, it became clear that no biometric element was infallible. Regarding the ID photos we have on our passports and ID cards, it is possible today for a fraudster to build photo montages that can enable two people to travel with the same image on their ID. The machine that automatically checks that the photo on the passport corresponds to the face before it will let the person through.

Géraldine Auvolat, legal adviser – central service of civil status and of French citizens abroad, elaborated on the relatively recent complexity of civil status in European countries and insisted on the need to train practitioners. The rules regarding the transfer of surname change regularly. There are also questions linked to sex changes, with two identities sometimes cohabiting in a population register, which is the case in Belgium. Civil status is becoming an extremely complex subject and deserves specific teaching at university. The Catholic University of Lyon is currently the only place in France to offer a “Civil Status” university qualification.

Our identity is also made up of all the digital trails we leave behind us. Paul Herbert, Deputy Director of the “Commission nationale informatique et libertés”, the French Data Protection Authority, elaborated on the European regulation on data protection applicable from 25 May 2018. The regulation establishes the right to be forgotten and strengthens the sanctioning powers of national data protection supervisory bodies. He also spoke about the question of digital death provided for by the French draft law “for a digital Republic”. This new law will allow individuals to organise, during their lifetime, the conditions for conserving and communicating their personal data after their death.