The Singapore Government is looking at three key features for its new digital identity system, Minister in charge of Smart Nation, Vivian Balakrishnan has revealed.

“I have asked the team to look at three features in the short term,” he said in Parliament yesterday. “One, to include biometric elements; two, to enable encryption; and three, to have open Application Programming Interfaces.”

Biometrics could allow features like using fingerprints to login to services. Meanwhile, the encryption function would allow users to securely send information or documents using their digital identity. The intended receiver would need a secret key to access the file.

Open APIs would allow others, including the private sector, to incorporate the digital identity features into their services. This means that the ID could potentially be used to access internet banking and other services offered by businesses who use the API.

The existing digital authentication service SingPass is “not good enough”, Minister Balakrishnan said at a budget debate yesterday. “We need to quickly upgrade this,” he added.

A national digital identity system “is absolutely essential if we are going to have secure transactions in the digital world”, he said. 1,500 SingPass accounts were hacked in 2014, which uses citizens’ national identity numbers to login.

The trial for a new digital identity is now being conducted on a small scale by the GovTech Agency. The agency last year called for a tender to build a mobile digital ID solution. The system would allow people to login to online services with a digital ID stored on their smartphone.

Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed to Estonia’s digital identity system as a benchmark for Singapore. Estonians can access more than 1,000 government services, including checking health records, with their digital identity. It also has the pioneering e-residency scheme allowing anyone in the world to get an Estonian digital identity.

E-payments are another key area for the Smart Nation Programme Office, Minister Balakrishnan said. A new e-payments system will allow people to transfer money through mobile numbers from any bank account.

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