Electronic ID programs impacting governments and citizens

Jimmy Ang, Director for Government Programs Asia Pacific, Gemalto

With many governments moving their services to the digital space, citizen electronic identity (eID) programs are gaining popularity and importance, allowing citizens better access to public services. The number of national eIDs in circulation is expected to reach 3.5 billion citizens by 2018, and the number of countries issuing eIDs will supersede those issuing traditional national IDs by a ratio of 5 to 1.

eGov Innovation speaks with Jimmy Ang, Director for Government Programs Asia Pacific, Gemalto, on the latest trends and best practices in deploying citizen eID programs, and the benefits they bring to governments and citizens.

What are some of the eID solutions governments across APAC are looking to explore? Why? 

Globally and in Asia Pacific, we are observing three major trends in the eGov sector that would inevitably translate into opportunities driving implementation of new solutions for citizens.

First, electronic IDs, including mobile IDs and biometric IDs, are gaining popularity. The number of national eIDs in circulation is expected to reach 3.5 billion citizens by 2018, by which time, the number of countries issuing eID will supersede those issuing traditional national IDs by a ratio of 5 to 1. Some developed and emerging economies have started such implementations, including China (Hong Kong and Macau), Malaysia, Indonesia in the region, large parts of Europe, Latin America, and several African countries.

Mobile ID is particularly welcomed by citizens for the convenience, security, and flexibility it provides. And Biometric ID is coming of age as well in 2016, with an estimate of 120 countries now deploying electronic passwords incorporating biometric features, such as fingerprints, and over 50 countries implementing eIDs. Having been using biometric passports since 2006, Singapore is one of the early adopters.

Second, countries are on their path to using virtual driver’s license - an on-screen version of the traditional card-based license featuring photo and driver information. Such virtual licenses enable immediate updating of driver’s information and stronger counterfeiting characteristics – a huge boon given that driver’s license is among the most forged documents worldwide.

Third, driven by the above two trends, nations are motivated to put in place framework of a national identity scheme, which helps define the roles of the state, responsibilities surrounding data organization and protection, applications and infrastructure, and underlying principles and operating methods covering the nooks and crannies of digital identities.


How are citizen eID programs impacting governments?

eID programs have impacted governments in various positive ways, especially in terms of data protection and security, ultimately leading to reduced crime rates and enhancing national security.

With security infrastructure and systems in place, every citizen’s ID is properly documented and thoroughly authenticated when they travel in and out of, or within the country, preventing scenarios of misusing stolen IDs, counterfeited IDs, and identity theft on a large scale, reducing crimes and improving national security significantly.

Another benefit for governments is increased engagement rate with its citizens. By extending existing services such as accessing taxes to online platforms and mobile devices, and enabling new services online, governments are able to offer personalised schemes and programs that fulfil individual needs.


What are the benefits of eID over physical paper/card-based IDs for both governments and citizens?

eIDs help ​​​​​​​​​​​​​improve security concerns such as identity fraud and theft by creating a secure infrastructure and online database. Citizens also enjoy the convenience, flexibility, and data privacy that are promised by eID applications.

Another definitive advantage of e-ID and paperless procedures over traditional IDs is its propensity to be environmentally friendly, enabled by massive cuts in paper use and reduced cost, time, and energy invested in transporting paper-based documents, subsequently improving efficiency and productivity by a great deal.

eIDs and mIDs would potentially help avoid sticky situations in which a person’s ID is lost or stolen, and needs to be urgently replaced, or one where the individual is asked to present his/her ID, but has forgotten to bring it along, compared to when he/she could simply access it on their mobile device.

When citizens are traveling across borders, they could count on the eID system to be efficient, minimizing queuing and waiting time, and accurate in authenticating people as whom they claim to be, but not someone with ill intentions, reducing identity theft and crimes.

National eID programs have proven that managing citizen eIDs can protect civil liberties, identity, and social interactions in a state of law. Under such programs, electronic records on individual citizens are available upon request of their owner in European countries. In Belgium, the government also makes available an application allowing its citizens to know who has accessed their personal data – a good example of how transparency and privacy could be achieved with eID.


What should governments take into consideration when deploying eIDs? What advice do you have for governments planning to implement citizen e-ID programs?

At the baseline, governments should first identify the potential threats and specific parts of the document they would like to protect. The security measures could then be scaled and deployed to counter these potential threats.

Governments should also be mindful of the useful functions the ID card would offer at the outset. A good ID card is one that integrates into the economy seamlessly and supports a wide range of transactions; a rich card prompts public acceptance. At the end of day, the masses want their IDs to simplify services and life for them. In some countries, the governments are working with financial institutions to examine the possibilities for bank ATMs to provide access for updating administrative documents, and to be able to accept and read citizen cards. In Malaysia, eIDs come with an e-purse application for unbanked citizens as a way to promote “e-inclusion”.

For example, in Estonia, 15% of eID card holders use it for public transportation and 10% daily electronic signature. In 2007, 30,000 Estonians, accounting for 3.13% of the electorate, voted electronically, and by 2009, 15% of the Estonian voting population preferred e-voting to traditional voting – a successful case study of eID deployment for governments worldwide.  

Ultimately, our advice for governments is that eID programs should be designed in such a way that they promise simpler transactions, access to more and better services, and easier interactions with the government bodies for its citizens, and more business opportunities for collaborations with the private sector.


What are some of the challenges faced by governments in implementing citizen ID programs? How can they be overcome?

How to design an ID card with the necessary security features and enablement of more functions summarises the challenges of eID deployments.

Security and privacy will always be a challenge for governments worldwide and it’s going to be an uphill climb if governments do not build trust amongst citizens from the beginning. In a deployment, they can do this by ensuring personal data is well-protected and only accessed by authorized personnel, safeguarding citizens’ privacy.

Many countries and states have started rolling out secure eIDs, including travel documents, electronic identification cards, electronic signatures, municipal cards, key cards used to access secure areas or business infrastructures, social security cards, etc. However, inconsistencies still exist, and there is not sufficient interoperability for the full benefits of eIDs to be drawn from this start at modernisation.


What can governments do to encourage acceptance and buy-in of citizen eID programs?

All governments that have invested in eID card schemes should also invest in communication programs to convey the vision and broader potential of the card to its citizens.

In countries that have deployed eID programs, the governments sought to promote the benefits of the eID through marketing programs, introducing the concept of eID, how it’s an improved version of traditional IDs, and what it can do. They utilize communications the same way the private sector does, by leveraging on websites, brochures, idea contests, radio adverts, 24/7 help lines and so on. And they’ve worked greatly so far.

In the push to become a smart nation/city, an educational approach is indispensable for its citizens to be future-ready by understanding the technology in play, their rights, and responsibilities in protecting their data and privacy.


How can governments address citizen concerns over security and privacy?

The communications programs suggested above should include a section on educating the public of the enhanced security features in eID cards, and strengthened privacy in using them, giving the public a peace of mind that their digital identities are safe.

On top of that, governments can learn from prior successful deployments in other countries, by adopting a platform that shows citizens who have accessed their information online in the past, or bolstering personal data protection by limiting the authorities or personnel who could have such access to citizens’ information.

Also, it is essential for governments to educate citizens on how to practice better cybersecurity disciplines and protect themselves from breaches.