TECHNOLOGY

When databases get the definition of a family


Error: Unmarried mother The computer screen flashes as 30-year-old Reese begins the process of renewing the Computerized Pakistan National Identity Card (CNIC), a mandatory identification document that works like a Social Security number, driver’s license and passport in one card. Reese’s parents have been married for 31 years, but the database did not agree; There was no way to proceed without this validation. Every visit to the registry ends with one of the officers saying, “Sorry, sir, the computer doesn’t allow it.”

Without CNIC again, Reese couldn’t even buy a bus ticket. In Pakistan, access to diverse sectors and services such as telecommunications, banking, health records, social care, voting, and employment has been made contingent on having a record documented with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).

The Reese ID verification issue was not caused by a system glitch. The requirement for two married parents is, instead, an example of the social judgments encoded in the design of the Pakistani digital identity database. It turns out that to avoid taking her husband’s last name, Reese’s mother did not update her marital status with Rarely. In analog Pakistan in the early 1990s, it passed without a problem. Thirty years later, social expectations are embedded in databases, and Reese will not be able to access basic services unless a query on his mother’s marital status returns “correct”.

Riz’s experience tells the bigger story of how Pakistan chose to structure its digital identity system. The system places each individual within a comprehensive numerical family tree. Digital families consist of pre-coded, socially and legally approved relationships that can be linked to other families through similar socially and legally approved relationships. Each registered individual is required to prove blood ties or marriage to another verified Pakistani citizen. Marriage (state-sanctioned) creates a bond between two families, and children (only through marriage) create a continuing bond with the lineages of both families.

Pakistan’s experience in creating kinship token databases reveals important lessons about the intricacies of building digital identity systems. Database design is not just a computation. At each step, social, political and technical decisions come together.

In 1973, Pakistan He was talking about the War of Independence. Two years earlier, East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Pakistan, having suffered a blow to its legitimacy, now wants “A complete statistical database of the people of this country.” Parliament created an agency responsible for providing every citizen with a state-issued identity card, conducting a statistical analysis of the population, and establishing rules on the identification of citizens.

Who is considered a citizen is a politically risky question for any country, but especially for a country with a complex relationship to immigration. After the partition in 1947 between India and Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of individuals born in the lands granted to Pakistan immigrated to India, and vice versa. Citizenship rules have become a difficult dance between ensuring that the descendants of these immigrants to Pakistan obtain citizenship while not giving precedence to subsequent waves of immigrants to make claims against the state. Thus, citizenship is granted to those born in Pakistan after 1951, and to the descendants of those who immigrated to Pakistan. before 1951. (This deadline was later changed to 1971 to accommodate the wave of immigration after Bangladesh’s independence.) As Pakistan faced more waves of immigration, the largest of which was from Afghanistan, citizenship and identity rules were incorporated. Proof of identity, like citizenship, was related to family and descent.



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