Singapore to overhaul its digital identity scheme

By Charlene Chin

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong points to Estonia’s digital identity as a benchmark.

Image: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong/Facebook

The Singapore Government wants to build a new digital identity for its citizens, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

“We need a good digital identification service which is reliable, which everybody can rely on. I can sign, I can identify myself, I can access services securely; and I can transact services online”, he said at Camp Sequoia last week.

Currently, citizens can access over hundreds of government services through Singpass, set up in 2003. “But [Singpass] really does not do all the things we need it to do and it does not extend to private sector services. It does not even extend to hospitals which are restructured, semi-privatised”, the Prime Minister continued.

“The Estonians have this: there is no reason why we should not have it”, he said. Estonians can access over 1,000 government services through smart cards, including checking their health records.

The Prime Minister also called on for more extensive use of data “to apply intelligence to our transport system” to design responsive services that adapt to demand. This can also help “cut down on empty routes and unnecessary services”, he added.
There is more work to be done on the country’s cashless payments, he said. “We have not gone as far as we need in order to do cashless payments in hawker centres, in shops, between people”.

The Prime Minister also wants Government websites to be more user-friendly, and engage the public for feedback, rewarding them with monetary gifts based on their contribution. “I have in mind to have a competition, to do it the way Donald Knuth does for his code,” he said. “He puts his code up. Then he says ‘anybody who finds a bug, ten cents for the first finder’. After two weeks, he says ‘twenty cents for the first finder’. The bugs gradually go down,” he added.

“I think we need that kind of involvement from people, in order to get the system responsive, in order to get people focussed on it, in order for us to be at that edge”, he said.

New Zealand’s digital identity, RealMe, gives citizens access to both private and public services, from passport applications and marriage registrations to opening bank accounts.

In December, the government launched SmartStart, a service built on citizens’ digital identity for for expectant and new parents to access all relevant benefits and childcare services, cutting the need for multiple applications across government.
Meanwhile, Myanmar has started a pilot for smart cards in two cities, collecting citizens’ fingerprints, eye scan and photos, in efforts to cut use of its paper ID cards.

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