Digital ID systems are fast becoming an essential piece of modern administration, a result of the convergence of technology and identity verification. When used correctly, these systems ensure an efficient, secure, and enhanced user experience, which is vital for both citizens and governmental operations.
Several places around the world have already taken significant steps in leveraging technology to implement digital identity. In fact, it’s estimated that governments will have issued an estimated 5 billion digital IDs globally by 2024. Let’s take a look at the countries that have introduced the most innovative digital ID systems so far.
Brief Summary: What is Digital ID?
Digital identity is the virtual representation of personal information and often serves as the basis for digital authentication. This enables individuals to prove that they are who they claim to be in digital settings, as well as offering the opportunity for streamlined services, data security, and increased accessibility; aspects that are fast becoming a necessity in an increasingly online world.
There are several key components of Digital ID, including:
- Credentials, including usernames, passwords, and email addresses.
- Biometric data, such as fingerprints, facial scanning, and voice recognition.
- Digital footprint, including browsing history, purchases, and social media activity.
1. Estonia 🇪🇪
Estonia stands out as a global leader in digital innovation, showcasing a meticulously designed digital ID system known for its advanced security and efficiency. The Estonian digital ID, called eID, has been in place for 20 years and offers over 600 e-services to its citizens and 2400 to businesses. It allows users to access a wide range of functionalities, from paying bills to voting to prescriptions, with blockchain technology and biometric integrations fortifying data integrity and security.
What’s even more impressive is that since 2014, Estonia has offered a program called e-Residency, allowing anyone to become an e-resident regardless of their location. According to the Estonian government, 99% of the population has a Digital ID and over 1 billion digital signatures have been signed so far, saving an estimated 5 days per year.
2. Singapore 🇸🇬
Singapore’s National Digital Identity (NDI) system is another example of sophisticated tech integration and was originally introduced to provide increased convenience and security for citizens when transacting online.
Launched in 2003, and underpinned by technology from Singpass, the platform allows access to over 700 government agencies and private sector services, creating a connected and trusted ecosystem.
Citizens can complete digital document signing, receive important alerts, and conduct financial planning, with a key integration with MyInfo allowing seamless sharing of data across government agencies, reducing administrative burdens. Individuals can also verify their identity and easily access services using facial recognition, digital ID cards, and QR codes, with an estimated 97% of the population already using the Singpass app.
3. India 🇮🇳
Aadhaar, deriving its name from the Hindi word for 'foundation', is India's monumental stride towards establishing a digital ID system. Issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on behalf of the Government of India, Aadhaar is a 12-digit individual identification number serving as proof of identity and address throughout the country. It also offers a range of identification capabilities, capturing three types of biometric data; fingerprints, iris scans, and facial photographs, which are stored in a centralised database.
While completely voluntary, Aadhaar was originally offered as a solution to mitigate fraud, waste, and abuse in social benefit programmes, providing a significant proportion of the population with a credential that was recognised across all of India. Now, it has expanded to allow users easier access to services offered by the government, alongside organisations such as banks and mobile phone operators. It can be used in both a physical and digital format and is currently the most widely used digital ID in the world, with 1.3 billion Aadhaar cards generated to date.
4. Sweden 🇸🇪
Sweden's digital identification infrastructure is mainly formed by the BankID system, an electronic ID verification service that functions as a digital passport or driving license. It facilitates various online transactions, such as opening a bank account, signing contracts, tax filings, and booking COVID-19 vaccines.
The BankID system is the combined work of seven Scandinavian banks, showcasing a collaborative approach to the act of implementing digital identity verification. The system has plans to evolve, with plans already in place for the introduction of a QR code-enabled digital ID card, which Swedish citizens can store and utilise on their smartphones. To date, the system has been used 6.7 billion times by more than 8 million users, with an estimated 99.2% of Swedish citizens having a BankID and showing remarkable saturation of the population.
5. Belgium 🇧🇪
Belgium initially began looking into digital identification in 2003, with the introduction of the Belgian Personal Identity Card Project (BelPIC). In 2020, it was estimated that over 28 million national ID cards had been issued across the country, with their distribution now climbing to over 2 million cards per year since the deployment of their electronic ID cards in 2021. The electronic ID card comes in three variants—national ID card, Kids-ID for those under 12, and the electronic foreigner’s card. It acts as a gateway for electronic transactions, with the national ID card having certificates for authentication and electronic signatures.
To add to this digital proposition, Belgium has also embraced mobile identification with the ‘itsme Mobile ID scheme’. This advanced mobile authentication solution simplifies access to online services through a single sign-up and login process. The app has witnessed steady user growth, boasting 350,000 users a year since post-launch in 2018, and rising to 6.7 million users by March 2023. On average, users perform six banking and three e-government transactions monthly through this scheme.
6. Denmark 🇩🇰
Denmark first introduced their digital identification system in the form of NemID, translated as 'Easy-ID' in English. As a universal digital key, it facilitated citizens' access to a wide selection of services both in the public and private sectors, adhering to the 'one key for all' philosophy that Denmark wanted to implement. In October 2021, the system was slowly phased out to meet a digital-first approach and paved the way for a new solution called MitID.
MitID is engineered for similar universal access, extending its utility to online banking, taxation processes, and interactions with the public sector. Unlike its predecessor, MitID removes the need for a physical card, embracing unique login codes for a more digital-centric identification system, allowing users to choose between carrying a physical or a digital ID on their mobile devices. Today, more than 90% of the population uses their national eID.
7. Netherlands 🇳🇱
In the Netherlands, they have taken a two-pronged approach to digital identification through its two primary systems: DigiD and eHerkenning. DigiD, an acronym for Digital Identification, is a public system enabling citizens to interact seamlessly with government entities, similar to a digital passport or driving license. Each resident who applies for a DigiD receives an individual number, which is paired with a username and password, as well as a suite of verification methods that ensure secure access to sensitive data. This system allows users to complete tax filings and government benefit applications, as well as check the status of pension or health insurance statuses.
On the other side, eHerkenning is tailored more towards organisations, acting as a bridge between both public and private services. It allows businesses to offer secure online services to their customers and allows them to conduct in-depth identity checking and assurance. As of 2019, DigiD caters to 15 million citizens and eHerkenning has 500 affiliated service providers and 13.3 million logins every year.
8. Nigeria 🇳🇬
Similar to India, Nigeria was introduced to compensate for the lack of a formal ID across a large portion of the population. However, their approach is currently more fractured and less cohesive. At the core of their ecosystem, which is spearheaded by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), is the National Identification Number (NIN), which is a mandatory mechanism for most transactions in Nigeria. However, they also have the Bank Verification Number (BVN), which is another unique ID that is issued to banking customers as a form of authentication.
The journey towards a comprehensive digital ID system in Nigeria began in 2014, and as of the latest data, just under 100 million Nigerians have been registered for a NIN and 58 million have a BVN. It is reported that the initiative has encountered numerous challenges, including funding and operational issues, with the lack of a harmonised process preventing change from progressing as quickly as anticipated.
Challenges of Digital ID
While these are the main countries that have developed their digital ID propositions the furthest, each with their own unique approach and journey, many nations across the world have begun to follow in their footsteps. However, many countries are faced with issues and concerns when attempting to implement a digital ID, underlining the need for a balanced approach that considers the impacts on society. Several factors that countries have to keep in mind are:
Infrastructure: Governments must establish a robust and reliable infrastructure that can handle the demands of a national digital ID, as well as ensuring that the technology integrates with existing systems.
Cybersecurity: Digital ID systems are a significant source of sensitive personal information – one that is especially lucrative for threat actors. Ensuring the security and privacy of this data against an ever-evolving landscape must be a priority.
Public trust: Gaining public trust is fundamental for the success of digital ID systems. Scepticism and resistance may arise due to fears of surveillance, misuse of data, or lack of understanding of the system's benefits.
Digital literacy: Citizens can only use a digital solution if they have the skills to do so. Educating the population in digital literacy will ensure that the system is inclusive and accessible to all segments.
Data privacy laws: Complying with international regulations on data protection and consent is crucial for the legitimacy of the solution and to protect users.
Originally posted on 03 11 23
Last updated on November 3, 2023
Posted by: Sabrina McClune
Sabrina McClune is an expert researcher with an MA in Digital Marketing. She was a finalist in the Women In Tech Awards 2022. Sabrina has worked extensively with B2B technology companies conducting and compiling thorough academically driven research to produce online and offline media. She loves to read fantasy novels and collect special edition books.
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