Nepal is rapidly transitioning into digital governance, introducing various mandatory documents such as smart-driving license, e-passport, voter ID, embossed number plate, and Nagarik App to its digital projects. This study proposes to focus on what forces are driving the idea of digital governance, who decides and priorities digital projects, in what capacity digital projects are expected to improve transparency and accountability, how digital projects are to benefit the populace, and why digitized projects are considered as a desirable need by actors who influence public policy. Put concisely, this study proposes to examine the idea and implications of introducing digitalized identity systems beyond the classificatory character of simply electronic sorting.

This research will take the National ID card and its biometrics use as the main empirical reference. Instead of predominantly narrow focus on the technical and operational character of the digitized projects and their spill over across different social practices and spaces, this undertaking will explore a wider political perspective taking into consideration the embodied ramifications of biometrics. While exploring in ways in which biometrics are being both an ‘exception’ and ‘normal’ practice in Nepal, this study will try to understand how biometrics affect Nepal’s population, especially the marginalised communities, through the lens of data privacy, among many.             

This is a follow up research that builds on Body & Data previous study, Nepal’s Biometrics National ID Card, that have mapped out the uses, benefits, and costs of digitalized programs in Nepal. Drawing from the Phase 1 study, the current research will look at the idea and interest that has given impetus to the NID program and the implications of the digitalized identity system across spaces and population. In so doing, it will examine the move towards governance through biometric technology which is simultaneously guided by a quest for verifying/authenticating ‘identity’ and how this process transforms citizenship practices, conditioning access to rights, resources, bodies, spaces and so forth. It is this wider political and embodied process of governance this study will focus on. 

The research explores three main research questions:

  1. What are the underlying drives and interest of digitalized identity system implemented in Nepal that underscores who benefits from it and who gets left out? How do these interests impact women and marginalised groups?
  2. Why are digitized projects in Nepal considered as a desirable need by actors who influence public policy?
  3. What are the ideas and data privacy implications of digitalized identity system described and how that is shaping citizenship rights and practices?

Qualitative research with in-depth interview and Focus group discussions, with observations is the methodology of the study. The interviews and observation were through rapport building with the people in the sites selected, which are Sarlahi, Khotang and Kathmandu in Nepal. Interviewees were chosen and selected based on whether they represented one of the following: End-users/Local level representatives/CDO-NID department/Journalists and CSO representatives.