Secure, seamless, and inclusive: How governments can accelerate digital IDs adoption

By Entrust

Southeast Asia has been forging ahead with its digital IDs rollout in the last few years. Xavier Declerck, Business Executive – Government and Identity, Entrust, shares how identity verification is key to accelerating enrollment by building citizen trust and tackling growing fraud.

To implement a successful national ID programme, governments need to have both the right technology and mature digital infrastructure to be both secure and interoperable, says Entrust, global tech leader for identity, payments and data security solutions. Image: Entrust. 

As the gateway to digital governance, implementing national IDs has been a top priority for Southeast Asian governments in the last couple of years.


As of 2022, eight of 10 ASEAN members have implemented or are planning to implement digital ID programmes, according to Southeast Asian think-tank Fulcrum.


However, in order to implement a successful national ID programme, it is not sufficient to have the right technology, but also having a digital infrastructure that has the maturity to be both secure and interoperable across different agencies and applications, says Xavier Declerck, Business Executive – Government and Identity with Entrust, global tech leader for identity, payments, and data security solutions.


In 2023 alone, several news reports alluded to Southeast Asia’s vulnerability to fraud. A global study found that victims in Singapore lost the most money on average to scams, with identity theft being the most common scam.


The impact of identity fraud disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable populations, as this study showed.


Meanwhile, Malaysia’s data breach cases hit a record high. In Thailand, a hacker demanded a ransom from the government by threatening to leak the personal data of 55 million citizens.


Xavier shares how – given the increase in such crimes – having a robust identity verification solution alongside other key factors can help governments accelerate the rollout and impact of their national digital ID programmes.

‘Best way to tackle fraud is to detect it’


“Many times, it’s too late to act until identity fraud is detected, and then you have rampant fraud everywhere… And not all governments might be aware of existing frauds happening as well,” says Xavier.


Xavier used India’s digital ID programme, Aadhar – also the world’s largest biometric identification programme – as an example to illustrate his point.

“Sometimes, you only discover the true volume of fraud upon implementation. While worries about Aadhaar [India's digital ID] grabbed headlines, its execution revealed pre-existing frauds that had gone undetected,”​​​​​ says ​​Xavier Declerck, Business Executive – Government and Identity with Entrust. Image: Entrust.

“Sometimes, you only discover the true volume of fraud upon implementation. While worries about Aadhaar grabbed headlines, its execution revealed pre-existing frauds that had gone undetected,” he explains.


Identity verification and authentication can help secure digital IDs by protecting against fraud and identity theft, highlights Xavier.


Verification is a one-time affair that confirms a person’s identity and validity of the information provided, while authentication is a continuous process of matching the person’s credentials with the claimed identity – to confirm that people are who they claim to be.


National ID programmes were not initially created to secure against digital frauds, Xavier adds, and many countries still do not have the tools to protect their programmes as they are at an early stage of their digital ID journey.


Additionally, the progress of digital ID development is not catching up with increasingly sophisticated frauds.


“Not all countries are victims of the same fraud,” he adds. Both developed and developing countries in Asia are susceptible to identity theft crimes, ranging from welfare frauds to loan frauds.


As citizens are relying on secure and reliable digital channels to access public services, this affects their trust and engagement with governments, explains Xavier.

Digital ID should be convenient and standardised


Securing digital IDs should not be at the expense of convenience, says Xavier. Rather, digital IDs should allow citizens to interact seamlessly across government and private sector agencies.


A key obstacle that governments face is that agencies frequently adopt different technologies, ways of doing things, and measuring success. The lack of standardisation slows down digital ID rollout and make citizens less likely to use their digital IDs to access services, as some agencies may not be onboarded yet.


“At the moment, the organisations at the forefront of digital IDs are passports standardised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and driving licenses by International Organisation for Standardisation,” he says.


The ICAO’s influential role in standardising ePassports was critical in driving the adoption of machine-readable passports across 145 countries, reported the International Airport Review previously.


As for governments, he says: “[With] national digital IDs, they are more difficult for governments to implement given multiple stakeholders across different sectors and the lack of standardisation.


“We see that the governments which really rise to the challenge are those which have implemented strong regulations and policies on digitalisation.”

Inclusivity and partnerships to drive the future of digital IDs


Moving forward, Xavier highlights the need for governments to be inclusive, meaning to ensure access to government services regardless of citizen’s digital access.


In an earlier commentary published by Entrust around the revolution of digital government service delivery, the author highlighted the need for citizen credentials to accommodate multiple form factors – digital and physical – and still be standardised.


In another example of Entrust’s experience developing a nationwide digital signing infrastructure with Antel, Uruguay’s state-owned telecommunications company, it sought to ensure that the service accommodated different user behaviour and preferences. For example, users were able to sign from multiple devices, and the service was integrated with all relevant applications.


Secondly, governments are increasingly shifting towards a partnership model for complex IT systems such as national digital IDs, instead of developing and managing these themselves.


“Governments need to partner with companies with a proven track record to adapt to future frauds. They need to build scalable solutions to handle large transaction volumes, and continuously improve their platforms with emerging trends in both identity verification and digital identity. This is really the future of government services.”


Entrust previously partnered with the governments of United Kingdom, Canada, Uruguay and others in rolling out a variety of digital ID programmes.



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