October 2019

Climate Change, Identity, and Human Rights: LIGHTest’s Importance to the Global Community

By Timothy Reiniger, LIGHTest Advisory Board Member

In June 2019, the UN High-Level Commission on Digital Cooperation posed an important question to the global community – whether and how digital technologies can ensure the possibility of applying human rights principles. What are the necessary policy and software configurations to ensure the possibility of human rights in the overall digital domain?  In my previous blog, I posed a similar question with respect to digital technologies and human freedom.  

For both human rights and freedom, the answer is ‘yes’ because of human rights policies championed by Europe as reflected in the GDPR, eIDAS, and LIGHTest. Combined, these EU efforts recognize that digital identity must be configured to enable human agency and autonomy with the support of a distributed global trust assurance infrastructure. 

Leveraging the DNS infrastructure for distributed and networked trust management enables the promise of digital identity as a human right. As seen in three emerging use cases, LIGHTest unleashes the possibility of a global trust assurance infrastructure for digital identity in support of persons who are physically uprooted from their communities by climate change, lack of financial inclusion, and violence.


First, last week, the United Nations Climate Summit explored the effects of climate change, to include populations being uprooted by drought, rising sea-levels, disrupted growing seasons, and increased storm severity. Persons forced to migrate due to climate change will face the need for a new legal identity but with trust assurances forged on actions undertaken with the old identity. The LIGHTest is proving to be well-suited for extending the EU information trust management model in such contexts where trust is distributed instead of centralized.

Second, NGOs are now taking interest in using LIGHTest as a method for enabling trusted digital identity to help achieve financial inclusion throughout the developing world. Recognizing that the lack of a legal identity is a barrier to accessing basic health and financial services, the UN has included target 16.9 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration by the year 2030.” Approximately 1.1 billion people currently do not possess a legal identity or birth registration with which to participate in the global information economy.

Third, LIGHTest infrastructure for trust translation and validation is now poised to be used by the UNHCR. UNHCR officials plan to deploy the use of LIGHTest to enable data protection and consent-based sharing with respect to personal information collected for UN-issued identity credentials. Thus, LIGHTest promises to give refugees an essential tool by which to control their UNHCR-provided digital identities and attributes.


The LIGHTest stands for the principal that digital technologies are not the ends to which human beings are to be made the means. Rather, humans must be the measure of all digital technologies. It is, therefore, fitting that Stuttgart will have hosted the first and last meetings of the LIGHTest team. As the birthplace of Friedrich Schiller – Europe’s poet of human freedom and inspiration to Beethoven in composing what would later become the EU anthem – Stuttgart can now claim Europe’s heart for maintaining human rights and freedom in the digital domain for the benefit of the entire global community. 

Comment from The Right Reverend Thomas  J. Brown Bishop of Maine, the Episcopal Church

"As the climate changes the need for digital identity and trust of same will be a necessary component for safety and life. We already know that communities are changing, rapidly, and that migration and displacement are likely to increase. Thank you LIGHTest for showing us the way. Your thought leadership strengthens the whole human community."