Giving Voice to Digital Identities Worldwide

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The challenges created by COVID-19 may have accelerated demand for digital ID schemes, but the need to give citizens the tools to prove their identities online has been a key driver in the delivery of public and private sector services for some time. But with so many different objectives, technologies and operating models, which approaches offer the best paths to success? Here, we take a world tour of government identity projects to help policy makers find the right answers.

By Kristel Teyras, Chair, SIA Digital ID Workgroup

Defining the digital ID value proposition

While the vision may be to open universal access to online public and private services for all, finding ways to ensure digital ID can address the needs of everyone – the elderly, the very young, people with disabilities, those without internet coverage – represents a key challenge.

As Charlotte Jacoby, Head of Office for Division for Infrastructure Development in Denmark, succinctly puts it “It is important to recognize that there will always be someone out there who can’t manage the solution. So, no matter how digitalized we get, we still need to supply a way for them to interact with the public sector.”

Utilizing citizen centric co-design approaches that capture user needs and expectations at the solution design, development, and implementation phases can help inform decisions around the best technology and credentials to use to maximize inclusivity.

The Danish government worked with associations supporting the elderly and visually impaired to create adapted solutions for these population groups and appointed a network of community-based teachers to support and educate these citizens to access and use online public services. Other inclusivity recommendations included the co-provision of physical alternatives such as verbal solutions based on call centers, reverse QR codes, and native offline validation options for older populations.

In addition to responding proactively to the data privacy concerns of citizens, finding the right balance between a seamless user experience and the relevant levels of security for each service is key to assuring mass take up.

In France, initially providing user-friendly options and progressively adapting the level of security as citizens become more confident using more complex services is considered as an effective approach. By contrast, the Austrian government’s eID scheme featured strong privacy and security mechanisms from the get-go. Without degrading the user experience, the scheme ensures individual service providers use a different identifier cryptographically derived from each residents’ ID number. This prevents the matching of individuals across their use of services and enables the simple replacement of identifiers in cases of fraud.

At the use case definition stage, stakeholders emphasized adopting a user-centric approach when defining the solution interface and choice of digital ID factor will also help define the relevant levels of security for each service. Ensuring solutions fit with local and cultural preferences and address all citizens.

Fostering private-public sector collaboration

To help finance the initial digital ID infrastructure and operational costs of digital ID, many governments are engaging in partnerships and revenue sharing models with the private sector that cut development costs and implementation timelines.

Having already established a centralized government owned and funded Digital ID and built a large and stable user base, some governments have gone on to explore new business models like pay-per-use with private sector organizations to provide further added value to users.

In Denmark, the third generation of Danish digital ID – MitID – is financed and co-owned by the government and financial sector. Building a single infrastructure that offers attractive pay-per-use fees, can be used multiple times by multiple sectors, and puts digital ID at the heart of citizens’ daily lives, represented a highly pragmatic and cost-effective approach for a country with a population of just 5 million people.

Other governments have adopted a federated model, regulated by government frameworks and governance mechanisms, that gives citizens and businesses the freedom to select the identity provider (IDP) of their choice. The Italian Public System of Digital Identity (SPID), which allows accredited private IDPs to provide digital ID to citizens and businesses, is one such example of this type of public open ecosystems. Entirely financed by private IDPs, the scheme eliminates the financial and manpower burden of managing ID issuance and credential maintenance from the state. Free for citizens and public service providers, the scheme provides a secure and reliable system to Italy’s public administration, while private service providers follow a pay-per-use model.

Technology implementation – be open and agile

Keeping up with fast evolving technology and use cases means digital ID task force needs to select technology based on open standards that ensure interoperability and deliver maximum flexibility and responsiveness. The ability to bridge the old with the new will be key to ensuring that new services, new credentials, and new emerging models – like Self Sovereign Identity – can be easily integrated into an infinitely scalable infrastructure. For many countries, this means evolving from a centralized to a federated model where the government acts as a trusted credential and identity issuer, provides legal frameworks and standards, and creates the regulatory space for innovation.

It’s an approach that’s taken root in The Netherlands, as Michiel Van der Veen, Director Innovation & Development at the National Office for Identity Data explains “We introduced the notion of what we call a digital source identity: a legal piece of information which makes secondary identification, applications and systems possible. It’s a kind of building block in the digital economy.”

To future proof ecosystems, governments are shifting to modular architectures and adopting a pragmatic plug-and-play approach for credentials and identity providers so they can constantly modernize in line with changing users’ needs and technologies.

Go to market strategies: incentivizing citizen adoption

Prioritizing access to services that have a high frequency of use, such as online banking services, has proved a highly successful approach to accelerating citizen acceptance and usage of digital ID and extending this to other sectors of activity.

To boost traction, many governments took the decision to progressively roll-out Digital ID by starting with a priority target group (citizens, big business, small and medium business, civil servants), show positive results and continue roll-out. Introducing digital by default strategies on popular services such as pensions, taxes and petitions, only once online services are up and running.

The enrollment process is also critical for incentivizing mass uptake. The Portuguese government applied some truly innovative thinking to create a leap in user adoption with the introduction of multiple enrollment channels for its Digital Mobile Key (CMD). As a result, citizen enrollment has jumped from 1000 a month to 4,000 a day. The government’s modernization agency is now considering enabling CMD onboarding via ATMs and mobile apps.

In a bid to make enrollment simple and fast, the Italian government created the first scheme in Europe to offer citizens a unique remote video and audio onboarding process with live validation that first took 20 minutes and which was then reduced to 20 secondes. During the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a steep jump in citizen requests for this form of fast remote registration procedure. The Netherlands also provides options for remote processes and more and more countries are testing remote face verification technologies to deliver a more streamlined experience for citizens.

Looking to the future

As Sylvan Fux, Head of Business Consulting Finance/Justice and E-Government Liechtenstein explains “We think that the future will be mobile. The main argument to support our choice to change to the mobile ID is the usability.”

With the uptake of digital ID now at a crucial tipping point, mobile ID is set to become the primary source of digital ID for over 3 billion people by 2024. Next generation mobile ID technologies that support both online and in-person identification are already helping to propel a new era of innovative trusted ID services that will redefine how citizens interact with public authorities and private sector players. As a result, many governments are adopting a ‘mobile first approach’ for obvious convenience reasons, while still combining it with a smartcard when sensitive use cases require a higher level of security.

Offering advantages like trusted and reliable security, remote enrollment, biometric authentication and privacy mechanisms, the highly scalable and flexible nature of mobile ID makes it easy for governments to add new features as they go along; for example, enabling the integration of COVID-19 proof of vaccination into digital ID wallets. The World Health Organisation is currently working on the topic.

Providing a deep dive into innovative use cases, governance and process, technological choices and go-to-market strategies the Giving Voice to Digital Identities Worldwide: Key insights and experiences to overcome shared challenges, SIA’s research report is available from the SIA website. Ce rapport est aussi disponible en français sur le site de la Secure Identity Alliance.

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