question mark

What digital ID is and what it needs to be

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

One panel discussion during the Economist’s Technology for Change Week, tried to explore the notions that data, identity, and the digital identity play in this new age.

Moderator Vijay Vaitheeswaran had asked the panellists their perspectives on what digital identity during this time, actually means to them.

Our physical and virtual bodies

DotAsia’s Chief Executive, Edmon Chung, likened digital identity to being almost like our own physical body.

Most of us would have gotten a physical tangible representation of what our identity is, when we got our official documentations like identification cards, or passports.

But, what’s the parallel of that in the online world?

“Your online identity is almost like your physical body, and the data that comes around you defines you, especially in the context of immersive type of digital environments like the metaverse.”

He rationalised that in the physical world, you won’t give out your kidney but in the digital world is it not almost so, when we give out information about ourselves?

That’s why there are ideas and efforts like privacy and cybersecurity, because there is digital sovereignty or personal sovereignty, to think .

In essence, we need to be able to not only protect but also control our own data about ourselves, Edmon opined.

Our right to access and participate, securely

According to ID2020’s Executive Director, Dakota Gruener, identity determines what rights and services we can access or cannot.

“Increasingly, in our lives it can help us exercise our basic human rights, enjoy full protection under the law, enhance our ability to access critical social services, participate in digital environments, and transact in an increasingly digital economy.”

She also observed two convergent problems starting to emerge in the realm of identity – the first is that more our lives are shifting online and digital ID becomes an increasingly important piece of digital infrastructure. But, at least a billion of the world’s population has yet to own even official identities.

“Models of digital ID are inadequate, she said, explaining that existing systems used for digital identification, whether usernames, passwords, social security numbers, or national digital ID initiatives in some countries, have a combination of these characteristics:

* do not provide sufficient security or privacy,

* do not allow portability of identities are not portable,

* do not allow you to control your own data.

The second problem she observed is about a billion of the world’s population are unable to prove their identity through any recognised means. “So that means, there’s a billion people excluded from very fundamental rights and services.”

These are at least two problems that ID2020 wants to address via digital credentials and identity proofing ie. Methods to link a biological person to their digital footprint.

She also shared she was encouraged to see international efforts around the world to come up with shared perspectives about what defines good credentials. “And what have seen is a real emphasis placed on privacy, security, portability so that credential can be used across multiple countries.”

National digital identity

Director for National Digital Identity of Singapore, Dominic Chan echoed Dakota’s opinion that identity is very important for people to access services.

“Hence when the national digital identity started, it was really to help citizens access digital services provided by the government. Very quickly we had relying parties from the private sector consuming the same services and we realised that in a digital economy, there are a few things that are really important.

“The first is being able to identify who the person who is transacting, exchange trusted data, and thereafter form the basis of exchanging services as well as cash.

Desmond opined that digital identity is something that will be extremely important when moving to a digital age, because it is the foundation of trust and the foundation of exchanging and trading services.

Enabler of financial inclusion

SVP for cyber and intelligence solutions for Mastercard in APAC, Karthik Ramanathan, approached digital identity from MasterCard’s role and use of financial inclusion, as an integral part of how they move economies forward.

“When you talk about financial inclusion, you’ll very quickly come to the conclusion that if people don’t even have an ID card to start with, they are obviously not included from financial perspective in many other domains of social life,” he said.

From this, the focus of digital ID for MasterCard starts and what they have done is look at the entire problem as a construct to see what needs to happen for a digital ID system to be efficient.

The principles mentioned before are still valid – it’s about privacy, control over data, ability to be forgotten, ability for individuals to be in full control of where the data resides, what the data is used for, and when the data access can be revoked.