Four leading digital identity schemes


Online dating is a risky option: the person you meet could be quite different from their online profile.

But the public sector takes no such chances. When matching up with citizens, it wants to be totally sure of who it’s dealing with. That’s why governments across the world are building digital identity systems to ensure citizens securely access public services online.

GI has looked at four of these identity schemes from leading digital governments across the world.

1. Estonia’s e-residency
Estonia’s digital identity scheme allows users to set up new businesses, pay taxes online and open bank accounts.

But unlike any other such service, anyone in the world can apply for Estonian e-residency. All they need is 100 euros (the price doubled this year due to higher demand), a photo, and their fingerprint, and then they wait 10 working days to hear back.

E-residents are issued a cryptography key to encrypt documents they send, and a four digit PIN to access online systems.

They also get a smart card (and a card reader) which they can use to digitally sign documents and verify the authenticity of other documents. In Estonia, these are legally equivalent to handwritten signatures and physical identification.

9,200 people have become Estonian e-residents as of last month – including the Prime Minister of Japan – and 485 have opened new companies using this.

The scheme is largely useful to entrepreneurs now, but the government plans to constantly expand the scope and improve its services. For instance, e-residents must visit Estonia for a face-to-face meeting to open a bank account. The government will do away with that this year, allowing banks to meet applicants digitally via video chat.

2. Gov.UK Verify
The UK’s service authenticates citizens’ identities before allowing them to access digital services, such as login to tax accounts, get pension statements and view your driving record.

The actual verification has been outsourced to the private sector. Companies and their solutions are vetted to meet government security standards. There are now eight certified companies on Gov.UK Verify, and users can choose which they prefer through a one-time setup.

Each company has its own way of checking digital identities, including passports, driving licences, mobile phone contracts and bank accounts. “The aim is to offer users a choice of companies that best meet their needs,” wrote Stephen Dunn of the Government Digital Service.

Think of them as security guards. The companies don’t know which service the user is accessing. They only check that they are who they claim to be, and open the gates.

500,000 citizens have already set up Verify accounts. Over 50 agencies have planned to link their services to it, of 20 will do so in the next year.

The official launch of the project has been delayed, however. It has been in beta since October 2014 and missed its go-live deadline on 29 April. The last task before launch is to pass the government’s digital service test – which all Gov.UK services must go through.

The missed deadline highlights the complexity of providing such a service and bringing in multiple vendors. “No one’s built anything like GOV.UK Verify before,” writes Janet Huges, director of Gov.UK Verify. But “we’re very nearly there”.

3. Australia’s myGov
myGov is a single login account across Australian services, such as tax, social security, health, child support, elderly care and employment.

It also features a central digital mailbox to receive letters from government agencies. Business owners can connect their myGov accounts to their company registration numbers to access services.

The service was ambitiously launched in 2013, but has been plagued by problems, particularly at times of heavy use like tax filing season. Users complain of account lockouts, slow web pages and complete outages.

The project has been moved to the new Digital Transformation Office in the Prime Minister’s department. The DTO is now looking at a more comprehensive digital identity platform, including both verification and single login.

The team is also working on a framework to certify third-party identity services – similar to the UK model. “The Assurance Framework is based on an understanding that users should have choice about which service they use to access digital government services,” DTO says.

4. Singapore’s myInfo
Singapore is the latest to launch a single digital identity for citizens.

The myInfo service creates a single profile for each user by pulling together data from across agencies. Users’ identities are verified through two-factor authentication when they first set up the account.

Agencies can reuse this information every time citizens transact with them. Services linked to myInfo – like public housing applications – can pre-populate forms using information from citizens’ profile.

It can now be used to pre-fill forms for 10 services. By 2018, at least 200 digital services will be linked to myInfo.

It plans to keep expanding the information shared through myInfo. More government-held data, like passport numbers, will be brought in. Citizens can also fill in new data, like details on family members, education level, and household income.

This is part of the government’s plan to build more predictive digital services. As the government builds a more comprehensive profile of each citizen, agencies will be able to anticipate their needs and push information to them when they need it.

Estonia’s e-residency is by far the leader in digital identity systems, allowing anyone in the world to securely transact with government. Your online date may have fooled you, but that’s less likely to happen with digital government.


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