Governments back a global digital ID framework. Here’s why

From smart devices to biometric data, digital ID technologies are flourishing, and with them, the prospect of more inclusive economic growth

Today, a third of Estonian voters cast their votes online, using Digital ID to confirm their identity. In India, citizens can use biometric-enabled digital ID technology to verify their identity when accessing support services, such as food banks in remote areas of the country. Meanwhile, citizens in Malta can use digital IDs to create digital signatures to secure their online transactions.

It’s estimated that 3.2 billion of the world’s 7.6 billion inhabitants have used some form of digital identity. However, only recently have we seen the introduction of technologies to truly protect the security and privacy of citizens.

The mass deployment of secure digital ID is becoming a reality – but globally, there are discrepancies in the rate at which countries are adopting the technology, says Steve Warne, senior director of product marketing at HID. “There have been huge projects such as Aadhaar in India, but the level of adoption is more varied around the world because of social and political issues,” he explains.

One thing is certain: high-assurance verification and authentication for citizens, businesses and governments are poised to unlock substantial economic and social benefits. “The potential applications for digital ID are enormous, from tax returns to banking, passports and voting. Anywhere a citizen needs to prove their identity to the government could be made more secure and efficient with digital ID,” says Warne.

People want to know who owns their data if they use a digital ID, and who has oversight of how that data might be used

The concept has gained significant traction in recent years, and governments globally are on the precipice of major adoption. McKinsey estimates that some countries could see between a 3 and 13% growth in GDP by unlocking the potential of digital ID. So, why the wait?
Paper-based processes have been around for centuries, and they work. With this, the impetus for governments and businesses to optimise traditional verification procedures has been lacking. But digital transformation is booming, and extended political and economic instability means there is no time to embrace efficiency and cost-cutting like the present.

When governments integrate digital authentication seamlessly, inclusion and participation see a much-needed lift. For example, following the introduction of digital identities in Estonia, voter turnout increased as 20% of those who vote digitally would likely not vote if they were required to do so in person.

Similarly, The World Bank recently provided $100 million in funding to Rwanda to help the country implement digital transformation, including enrolling and issuing new digital ID credentials to 75% of the population. Executing trusted digital ID programmes will be critical in driving the Rwandan economy and attracting inbound investment.

The great challenge for those who deliver government services is building a business case for digital ID services and then creating programmes that are attractive, reliable and trustworthy. “The element of gaining the citizen’s trust can be a big concern in some areas,” says Warne. “For example, we have seen significant reluctance around digital ID for services like voting because a high number of people don’t trust the technology and don’t want to feel that they are being tracked.”

HID is involved in around 60% of government identity projects around the world. This experience has convinced Warne and the HID team that there is an urgent need for a global framework that provides consistency and builds trust in digital ID technologies. “The industry needs to work closely with businesses, governments and regulators to create a reliable system that is transparent. People want to know who owns their data if they use a digital ID, and who has oversight of how that data might be used.”

Building a business case for digital ID is more easily solved. He advises organisations considering digital ID to start building a roadmap for adoption now, focusing on adding a digital ID element to existing digital government services. “One idea is to add a digital element to existing identity document programs,” he says. “If we look at a country where there isn’t a strong existing infrastructure and a rural population, then a digital identity would facilitate the use of government services or even give access to banking, which could deliver rapid return on investment.”

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