The importance of a digital ID in delivering digital services
A trusted ID is the starting point for any digital transaction in the new normal.
With COVID-19, digital services are more important that ever. PHOTO: UNSPLASH.COM
With Singapore still in the fight against COVID-19, it’s no exaggeration to say that this year will continue to feel very different from years prior.
Some things are not going back to the way they were before. For one, services will be increasingly delivered online instead of in-person, because of safe distancing requirements.
Around the world, many governments have moved to develop digital IDs that are central to digital service delivery in the future.
In Singapore, the National Digital Identity (NDI) created over the years has become an important factor in enabling citizens to prove who they are digitally and securely transact with the public and private sectors.
From registering a marriage to opening a bank account, this is the foundational technology needed to make digital transactions possible.
Today, it is easy to file taxes, make payment and transact digitally with multiple government agencies using SingPass, which is an integral part of the NDI.
Citizens can also sign up for a credit card by digitally authorising a release of his income information to a bank that he is applying to.
This saves time in the much-needed “know your customer” or KYC process that financial institutions have to perform when onboarding new customers. By gaining accurate information, they also reduce risk.
In truth, digital IDs are not new. Back in the 1990s and 2000s, identity cards with smart chips were introduced in parts of Europe.
What Singapore has to its advantage is a solid foundation that has been useful to boost the adoption of the national digital ID that is used widely today.
For a start, each person in Singapore has an identity card with a single unique number. This has been widely accepted by government agencies and other private sector businesses such as banks as a sure way to identify someone.
In the 2000s, the Singapore government also developed the SingPass system to enable citizens to transact with the first government services that went online. People already had a way to transact digitally over the years.
This had to be expanded greatly, to be sure. An ID is only as good as the accuracy of the information that it is linked to, for example, one’s address or next of kin. Only then can more useful services can be built to tap on this trusted ID.
This was why GovTech created an entire technology stack, now called the NDI Stack, to enable better and more widespread use of this digital ID.
At the foundation is trusted data (MyInfo), which is collected and verified by the government. From here, you can build a trusted identity, which is the familiar SingPass ID. Only then can there be trusted access and trusted services be delivered by the public and private sectors.
Clearly, trust is the common thread throughout. Without it, you cannot expect users to use the service or businesses to connect to such IDs using the published application programming interfaces (APIs).
Conversely, with a solid foundation in place, improvements can be made over time, for example, to create a more user-friendly interface and boost adoption. A national digital ID has to be for everyone.
So, today, citizens can log in to government digital services with SingPass using a mobile app and authenticate with their fingerprint. Alternatively, they can use a webcam to scan their face.
Users can also send a one-time password over SMS to a trusted person’s phone that has been previously linked up. This way, a senior can have his child verify his identity to help log in to government digital services for him.
While most of the world’s digital ID initiatives have been local in scope until now, there are now efforts to expand the use of digital IDs internationally.
In future, this trusted digital ID may also be used across countries with mutual agreements for, say, visa and school applications.
In 2020, Singapore and Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on digital IDs. This could reduce processing time in future on applications for bank accounts or visas, for example.
Also, last year, Singapore, New Zealand and Chile entered into an agreement to work on e-invoicing, digital identities, fintech, data flows, artificial intelligence, digital trade and investment opportunities.
These cross-border uses of digital IDs will be key in the future, enabling trade and transactions even without face-to-face interactions.
Indeed, as the world looks to online processes in a post-pandemic recovery, digital IDs will play a crucial role by being an enabler of business and trade, as well as a return to normalcy.
This article was contributed by Alfred Siew. Alfred Siew is the editor of Techgoondu.com, a technology news website based in Singapore that was founded in 2008.https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/the-importance-of-a-digital-id-in-delivering-digital-services