Skip to the main content

Digital Identity

Digital identity – or the ability for people to prove who they are and, in turn, to allow sociotechnical systems to identify them –  is a double-sided coin. It can enable participation by allowing people to receive social benefits from state and civic organizations, engage in economic opportunities such as work and training programs, vote, and access other services. But it can also be used to control, exclude, and target people by removing their social benefits and limiting their rights.

The last few years have seen calamities accelerate – a pandemic, international conflicts, rising authoritarianism, and climate-driven crises – such that the need for safety, security, and communication is greater than ever before. These calamities are likely to continue, and in the maelstrom of crisis, even those decision-makers with the best intentions will make choices rapidly within a limited set of options and under conflicting pressures. Some decision-makers may not sufficiently consider the privacy and security of people’s digital identity. Others may be less concerned with the broader social good, using access to others’ digital identities to serve themselves.

Against this backdrop, the Berkman Klein Center, in collaboration with metaLAB (at) Harvard, the Edgelands Institute, and AccessNow, welcomed 33 early career scholars and practitioners working in 16 countries who participated in a ten-week research sprint exploring the ethical, human rights, and societal impacts of digital identity in times of crisis. The research sprint, “Digital Identity in Times of Crisis: Designing for Better Futures,” challenged participants to evaluate how digital identity systems can best serve communities in times of crisis, how to guard against harms arising either from well-intended plans gone awry or the misuse of power, and how to envision a future in which people's digital identities are respected and supported. The participants, who brought a range of backgrounds and areas of expertise to the discussion, worked with practitioners to create one of three outputs: data visualizations that inform how people’s digital identity is captured or used, pieces of speculative fiction that envision better engagements with digital identity in the future, or policy recommendations for the design of sociotechnical systems that respond nimbly to crisis while treating people’s digital identities with respect and responsibility.

Research Sprint Announcement and Participant List


Research Sprint Syllabus & Materials

Policy Track Participant Work

Data Visualization Participant Work 

Speculative Fiction: Participant Work 

Our Work 04

Mar 30, 2023

Digital Identity During Times of Crisis

What We Learned During the Fall 2022 Research Sprint

BKC hosted a 10-week Research Sprint from October to December 2022 investigating Digital Identity in Times of Crisis, in collaboration with partners metaLAB at Harvard, the…

Dec 15, 2022 @ 8:00 AM

Reimagining Digital Identity: Designing for Better Futures in Times of Crisis

Culminating event for the BKC Fall 2022 Research Sprint on Digital Identity...

Oct 13, 2022

Research sprint examines challenges of navigating digital identity amid crises


The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, in collaboration with metaLAB (at) Harvard, the Edgelands Institute, and AccessNow, is welcoming 34 early-career scholars and…

Aug 18, 2022

Call for Participants: Digital Identity in Times of Crisis — Research Sprint

Applications are due September 5.

Applications are due September 5.

People 13

Point of Contact


Kim Albrecht

Faculty Associate

Beatriz Botero Arcila

Faculty Associate

Yves Daccord


Amy Johnson