The Challenge of Managing Digital Identity: How to Help Governments

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[ This article was originally published here ]

The ability to prove who you are is a fundamental human right, enabling us to carry out some of the most basic and essential activities in our everyday lives. Sadly, in the world today, there are approximately one billion people who do not have access to an official proof of identity. While many citizens may take having a legal identity for granted, lacking a formal way to identify yourself can result in citizens being excluded from having access to basic services, such as education, voting and other social assistance programs. 

For governments across the world, ensuring that all their citizens have the appropriate identity documents is a top priority. Butas the world has become more digital, the technology is evolving at a pace that makes it challenging for many organisations and businesses to keep up with. This change in technology also makes the task of maintaining an up-to-date identity management system more complex. 


Fortunatelythere are many industry players who are attempting to help governments manage their digital identity systemsFollowing the ID4Africa meeting back in 2018, the Secure Identity Alliance (SIA), a non-profit coalition of companies and governments, launched the The Open Standards Identity APIs (OSIAinitiativeOSIA created a digital public goodwhich enables different components within an identity management system to connect and communicate with another, independent of technology solution, architecture, or vendor. The primary aim of OSIA is to tackle the issues which are hamstringing national identity systems across the world. 

In this blog, we dive into the problems surrounding the management of digital identity and how initiatives, like OSIA, can help solve these. 

Why are governments struggling to manage their national ID systems? 

One of the main issues governments are facing with regards to their national identity systems, is the huge range of companies providing identity software and hardware. This lack of co-ordination has resulted in some countries and government agencies using separate systems across their country or even within their different government agencies. Consequently, the use of different technologies within an identity management ecosystem makes it nearly impossible to efficiently exchange, consult or update data between different systems.  

This lack of interoperability drives up management costs and can hinder the development of cohesive identity systems. However, the most damaging implication is that governments can become indefinitely tied to the particular technologies and vendors they use  limiting their ability to change them in the future. 

How does OSIA  solve these problems? 

As mentioned earlier, OSIA enables full interoperability between the different components within an identity management ecosystem, independent of the technology or vendor used. As a result, citizen identity information can be easily updated and exchanged between systems within a government’s infrastructure.  

Crucially, due to OSIA’s APIs being technology neutralgovernments do not need to replace the legacy systems that they have used previously. This avoids any unnecessary costs to states who may be struggling to finance the adoption of new technologyIn additionwith issues of compatibility removed, governments are able to freely choose which technology they want to use within the identity ecosystem, as seen in countries such as Mexico. 

In terms of this system being put into practice, OSIA’s APIs do not require any adjustments with regards to what kind of identity information is captured, such biometrics, personal information, and pictureWhat’s more, this identity information can also be easily transferred onto a mobile device, effectively creating a portable mobile ID for citizens. Not only is storing this data on a mobile device more convenient, but it also improves the personal privacy of the citizen, as they are less likely to become a victim of identity fraud – a clear risk when your physical ID is lost or stolenCitizens can also use a lot more secure authentication technologies, such as biometrics or PIN numbers, to protect their identity data on their mobile device. 

OSIA and COVID-19: Identity and recovery from the pandemic 

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is still having a devasting impact across the world. However, using identity systems enhanced with OSIA could help governments be better positioned to combat and control the virus more effectivelyFor instance, with accurate, interoperable, identity systems in place, governments can map out which areas are in crucial need of vaccination services, who has had what dose of which vaccine, as well as tracking the spread of the virus between different regions. Overall, this would enable faster reactive action and powerful insights that can be used to combat the virus. 

We’ve also seen these insights gleaned before in previous health crises. During the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa back in 2014-15 for example, researchers from the World Bank found that robust identification systems, if highly interoperable, would have been able to produce huge savings for governments, businesses and citizens.  

The power of robust digital identity systems should not be underestimated, both in the context of citizens and governments. Hopefully, through the innovation brought about via programs like OSIA, citizens and governments alike can benefit from a fully interoperable identity ecosystem now and in years to come. 

Interested and want to learn more? Watch the ID4Africa webinar on ‘Open APIs and ID Systems Development’ where experts will be discussing the power of APIs and the interoperability they can create. 

You can also follow us at @ThalesDigiSec for more information on all things Digital Identity and Security.