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Research sprint examines challenges of navigating digital identity amid crises

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 practitioners working in 16 countries who will participate in a ten-week research sprint exploring the ethical, human rights, and societal impacts of digital identity in times of crisis.

Participants for Research Sprint on 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 three 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.

The “Digital Identity in Times of Crisis: Designing for Better Futures” research sprint will challenge 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 from the misuse of power, and how to envision a future in which people's digital identities are respected and supported. The participants, who bring a range of backgrounds and areas of expertise to the discussion, will then work 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.

“Digital Identity in Times of Crisis: Designing for Better Futures” is the latest sprint in the BKC Research Sprints program. The program enables the rapid development of new research ideas and policy ideation through a community of burgeoning experts committed to collaboratively tackling difficult tech policy problems.


Abbas BagwalaAbbas Bagwala
Independent Researcher

Anh Le AnhAnh Le
United States
The New School

Bhumika BillaBhumika Billa
India/United Kingdom
Faculty of Law and Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge

Cesar AugustoCesar Augusto Fontanillo Lopez 
Center for IT and IP Law, KU Leuven

Charlie SmithCharlie Smith
United Kingdom
Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Chelsea ButkowskiChelsea Butkowski
United States
Center on Digital Culture & Society, University of Pennsylvania

Churchill OngereOngere Churchill
Hivos/United States International University - Africa 

Elena CasaleElena Casale
United Kingdom
Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Eslin OzlemEslin Özlem
Istanbul Bilgi University

Gabriel FonilladosaGabriel Fonlladosa
National Agency for Territorial Cohesion (ANCT)

Ibrahim SabraIbrahim Sabra
The British University in Egypt/Columbia Global Freedom of Expression

Jack SmyeJack Smye
Trent University

Janaina CostaJanaina Costa
Institute for Technology & Society (ITS)

Jennafer RobertsJennafer Roberts
United States/Cambodia 
Accel AI Institute 

Joseph BrandifinoJoseph Brandifino
United States
Truman National Security Project/Harvard Kennedy School

Jyotsana IyerJyotsna Iyer
India/United Kingdom
University College London

Lilian Olivia Orero Lilian Olivia Orero 
Kenya School of Internet Governance (KeSIG)

Mardiya Siba YahayaMardiya Siba Yahaya
Pollicy/Team CommUnity

María Cristina Timón LópezMaría Cristina Timón López
University of Murcia/ Explicit Selection/ External consultant (European Commission) 

Maria LucianoMaria Luciano
Independent Researcher

Mariana Rozo PazMariana Rozo Paz
Datasphere Initiative, Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network/ Universidad de los Andes

Max NeuMax Neu
Ernst Abbe Hochschule Jena | Landesverband Kinder- und Jugendfilm Berlin e.V. 

Nicholas GatesNicholas Gates
United States/United Kingdom
Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), United Nations Foundation (UNF)

Nicolás Llano LinaresNicolás Llano Linares
Fundação Getúlio Vargas (ECMI) / Programming Historian en Español

Nicolas Marin NavasNicolas Marin Navas
London School of Economics and Political Science

Oskar SzydlowskiOskar Szydlowski
Polish Institute of Foreign Affairs/BlockFi

Pavel NabutovskyPavel Nabutovsky
United States
Tufts University/Fletcher

Sean ChenSean Chen
New York University School of Law

Sophie Bennani-TaylorSophie Bennani-Taylor
United Kingdom/France
The University of Edinburgh

Sourav PandaSourav Kumar Panda
India/United States
Tufts University/Fletcher & CEIBS

Valencia ScottValencia G. Scott 
United States
University of Oxford/UC Davis 

Vanessa GathechaVanessa Gathecha
Baraza Media Lab

Will AbramsonWill Abramson
United Kingdom
Edinburgh Napier University and Legendary Requirements


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