Digital Identity in the migration & refugee context – Italy case study

A group of researchers – Mark Latonero, Keith Hiatt, Antonella Napolitano, Giulia Clericetti, Melanie Penagos – published the report “Digital Identity in the Migration & Refugee context” focused on the Italian context starting from the evidence that for migrants and refugees in Italy, identity data collection processes can “exacerbate existing biases, discrimination, or power imbalances“.

The study analyzes the challenges arising from this digital ecosystem and identifies three major areas of concern: bureaucratic bias in identity systems; privacy and mistrusted systems; and organizational data responsibility. One key struggle is obtaining meaningful consent. Often, biometric data is collected as soon as migrants and refugees arrive in a new country, at a moment when they are vulnerable and overwhelmed. Language barriers exacerbate the issue, making it difficult to provide adequate context around rights to privacy. Identity data is collected inconsistently by different organizations, all of whose data protection and privacy practices vary widely.

While Digital Identity is grounded in the Italian context, it has implications for refugees and migrants’ data privacy globally. The authors offer recommendations for stakeholders—including international organizations, policymakers, civil society, technologists, and funders—seeking to build stronger data protections.

Report findings are based on interviews in Italy with refugees and migrants, local NGOs, government agencies, and international organizations. It was produced by Data & Society Research Institute, a New York City-based nonprofit focused on the societal implications of automated and data-centric technologies, and comes out of the long-standing Data & Society research project Human Rights, Data, and Migration.

Research in Italy was supported by Data & Society’s local partner, Coalizione Italiana Libertà e Diritti Civili (CILD), a coalition of civil liberty organizations throughout Italy.

Here, the full study.