The government of Bangladesh has taken many initiatives to rapidly digitalise different government services. Part of this digital transformation requires converting to a cashless or cash-lite society. But that will not be possible with the existing fragmented identity infrastructure where remote authentication of service recipients is required.
Therefore, an integrated digital identity infrastructure as well as an appropriate organisational set up is necessary for the overall development of the country to fulfill the dream of Digital Bangladesh.
Why we need e-ID
Identity is a fundamental prerequisite for individuals to avail most of the government services, different types of private services including financial or non-financial services and participate in social and political systems.
As we move towards the fourth industrial revolution, our interactions and transactions are growing beyond national boundaries. Already a strong network of cross-border payments has been developed and a digital representation of our identity has become increasingly important.
Different types of identity information are collected during issuance of foundational identity i.e. National Identity card and birth registration as well as functional identity i.e. passport, driving license, KYC of financial services and mobile SIM. As a result of disintegrated databases, verification and authentication of citizens are required for every instance separately.
Moreover, all information cannot be verified by each institution due to different limitations. These eventually increase cost and risk for service providers and customers as well as inefficiency in service delivery. Digital identity is the only way to connect different types of identity information through an interoperable platform.
The Election Commission of Bangladesh prepares electoral rolls for adult citizens under section 119(1)(d) of the Constitution and a paper based voter ID card was provided during 2008-2009. It was renamed to National Identity Number (NID) through section 2(3) of National Identity Registration Act, 2010.
The paper-based NID is being gradually replaced by biometric and microchip embedded Smart ID cards since 2016. It is a machine-readable pocket-sized plastic card and integrated circuits store the data and prevent forgery.
But limited personal identifiable information (PII) and lack of remote/digital authentication as well as authorisation services are the main shortcomings of the existing NID/smart card which prevents us from using it as a Digital ID.
Should we stay behind?
If we want to turn the NID into an international standard digital ID, we need to combine different technologies and include more personal identifiable information and biometric information (e.g ten fingerprints, iris scan, facial recognition, etc.). Many other countries have already incorporated many features on their digital national identity cards considering these issues.
Aadhaar of India is the largest identity database in the world. In 2009, India established Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) and initiated enrolment of all Indian residents. Individuals cannot use this Aadhaar number to claim citizenship but it is used for many other purposes, both in the public and the private sector.
Within just one decade, the enrollment had reached over 90% of the population. Total 1257.9 million Aadhaar have been generated, 7973.8 million e-KYC authentications conducted, and 688.7 million Aadhaar numbers were linked to 110 crore bank accounts till 31 March, 2020.
It has also been estimated that banks and telecom companies can save $1.6 billion from e-KYC over five years. India is currently building additional layers over Aadhaar under India Stack: AadhaareID, Universal Payment Interface, Digital locker and consent based data interoperability.
e-Estonia is the first "true digital ID" and compulsory for Estonian citizens and about 99% of citizens have been enrolled. It is used for a variety of purposes, such as travel, voting, access to government as well as private services, digitally signing contracts, etc.
About 99% of state services are available online through government's middleware (X-road); 70% citizens use the ID card regularly; 43.8% Estonian cast their votes online in Parliament election 2019 and 2600+ services can be accessed through the eID. e-Estonia ID is also available in the form of smart card (smart-ID), mobile-ID and an online version (DigiID).
ID infrastructure in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has several foundational and functional identity systems. As per the "Birth and Death Registration Act, 2004", birth registration is mandatory within 45 days of birth for all newborns in Bangladesh. Local government authorities and the Bangladesh Missions abroad are authorised to issue birth certificates. Total 178.87 million births have been registered through the Online Birth Registration System (BRIS) since 2010.
National Identity (NID) cards issued to adult citizens by the Election Commission have been initially developed for only voting purposes. However, it is being widely used for many other purposes, such as banking, asset registration, mobile SIM, passport, driving license, etc.
Passport is issued by the Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP) mainly for foreign travel. Driving license is issued by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) as eligibility for driving. All the four identity cards are issued by government agencies.
About 50% of the adult population of Bangladesh had bank accounts in 2017 and banks follow a robust KYC procedure for AML/CFT compliance. As per Bangladesh Bank statistics, about 112.75 million accounts were operated by banks in 2020. Mobile Financial Services (MFS) are allowed for small ticket transactions and KYC requirements are also minimum.
There are 173.36 million mobile subscribers in Bangladesh and mobile SIM are biometrically registered and matched with NID information. All these databases of large population may be used to develop a universal identity system for people of all age, sex, class and geographic locations.
Blueprint for interoperable Digital ID scheme
The government has already taken some initiatives to establish a digital ID scheme. The ICT Division is currently implementing a project, named Integrated Service Delivery Platform (ISDP). The stated objectives of the project include citizen profiling, and integration of identity servers e.g. NID, Passport, BRN and driving license.
Citizens' data will be collected only once in their lifetime and those will be shared across all service providing organisations and information systems. Citizens will use single credentials to access services via an identity hub or gateway that facilitates authentication across multiple platforms.
Middleware based architecture will be established to simplify the integration of legacy identity systems within e-government platforms. Advanced and user-friendly features like QR code, fingerprint, password, PIN, OTP based log-in, OCR, Digital Locker,etc. will be available. But other than technical specifications, the project has not outlined any operational or legal aspects of identity data management or use of such data by private actors.
Identity management is becoming more complex and sensitive in this interconnected digital world. Without proper control, digital ID system administrators could misuse personal data. So, right governance and control should be in place to mitigate potential abuses of the digital ID.
Government targeted launching of Universal Identity System (UIS) with profiling for multi-purpose use by 2022 in 8th Five Year Plan and some activities are already in progress under ISDP project. So, the interoperable platform and Bangladesh e-NID Authority may be fully operational by December, 2022 if appropriate measures are taken.
The proposed e-NID will fulfill the functions of Civil Registry and Vital Statistics (CRVS) project under Cabinet Division, National Population Register proposed by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and national security concerns of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Mohammad Rashed is a Certified Digital Finance Practitioner and the convener of Digital Finance Forum Bangladesh.
ASM Ahsan Habib is a Principal Officer of Uttara Bank Ltd. Email: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.