Singapore to use facial recognition for national digital identity

By Chia Jie Lin

The country will use biometrics, such as fingerprint, facial and voice recognition, for the new digital identity.

Singapore will adopt a centralised biometrics identification system as part of its National Digital Identity (NDI) system.

“We want to extend this biometrics system as a service,” said Kwok Quek Sin, Senior Director of NDI from the Government Technology Agency (GovTech), at a session during the inaugural GovTech STACK Summit. “We will start off with facial recognition,” he added.

GovTech is creating a centralised biometrics system to save users the hassle of repeated enrollments. Citizens will only need to register their biometric information once under the centralised NDI system, and from there on, will no longer need to personally enroll this information for every service.

The government is offering “software development kits and plug-ins” to industries like banking and finance, so that companies can connect their services to the nation’s centralised biometric platform. “We want to provide this as a service so that there's zero enrollment,” Kwok shared. “This is for one-to-one authentication,” he said. Users can present a unique biometric trait - their fingerprints, face, or voice - which the system then validates. This means that the process is “driven by the users”, Kwok added.

Biometrics is only one facet of Singapore’s national digital identity system, which will be completed by 2020. “Our goal is to build a universally-trusted data ecosystem,” Kwok shared. “In the future, your identity can be provisioned in different types and forms, be it smart cards or in future, wearables,” he said. “We intend to issue NDI free for all citizens.”

The main challenge for biometrics is to enroll users onto the platform, Kwok said. “The technology is already there, but businesses are not providing this yet because it's very difficult to enroll users onto this,” Kwok said. “Imagine: every bank, company in Singapore starts to introduce their own biometrics system; there'll be a lot of enrolling happening”, which can make the identification process very inefficient, he added.

Singapore is already adopting biometrics in public safety and immigration. “There are many different types of biometrics solutions. Some are more for surveillance and public safety,” Kwok noted. The police is fitting surveillance cameras with facial recognition sensors to track suspicious people, while Changi Airport’s fourth terminal uses facial recognition and fingerprint scanners so passengers can board their planes seamlessly.