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Inside Singapore’s National Digital Identity programme

Inside Singapore’s National Digital Identity programme
(Image credit: Pixabay)
About the author

Mr Kwok Quek Sin is the Senior Director (National Digital Identity) of GovTech Singapore.

We sat down with Mr Kwok Quek Sin, Senior Director (National Digital Identity), of GovTech Singapore, to discuss the roll out of the country's National Digital Identity Programme.

Singapore is rolling out its National Digital Identity programme (NDI), please could you explain what this service is?

NDI is one of Singapore’s six Smart Nation strategic national projects, and a cornerstone of our digital economy. It involves issuing Singaporeans and residents a crypto-based mobile digital identity which they can use for both government and private sector transactions.  This is envisioned to bring more convenience to Citizens, as they need not remember multiple usernames and passwords for access to digital services.

Another important aspect of the national digital identity programme is to create a trusted digital ecosystem, where data and services can transcend the boundaries of systems, organisations and countries.  It is envisioned to catalyse industry digitalisation and the development of even more value-added digital services.  

It will also increase opportunities for government-citizen co-creation. Businesses can look forward to a suite of products that can be readily integrated into their offerings to improve customer service and internal business processes.

Is GovTech collaborating with other government departments to bring this service to life?

Since 2003, Singapore has been using a national-level digital identity, called Singapore Personal Access (or SingPass), which has been issued to more than 3.8 million citizens and residents. 

It was originally meant to solve the problem of each government agency having their own set of credentials to verify a user’s identity, very much similar to how we have different accounts for each bank or online services. Today, it has evolved to a gateway allowing access to over 300 digital services offered by more than 60 government agencies and some private sector entities. More than 70 million transactions are conducted with SingPass annually.

The adoption of digital identity also depends on the number of commercial services on-board the ecosystem.  As such, we started industry engagement early, even when we are still building up the different parts of the NDI infrastructure, to explore the various use cases and opportunities in which NDI can be designed to deliver value to the industry and to help them streamline their customer journeys.

What kind of services can citizens use NDI to access? 

As part of the national digital identity initiative, we have launched SingPass Mobile, which is an app that securely stores an individual’s digital identity.  The individual can use this app to prove their identity and to provide authorisation, using biometrics features on the phone.  The adoption of SingPass Mobile in the 6 months since it was launched has been very encouraging. It is important to drive the pervasive adoption of SingPass Mobile as the national digital identity. But our measurement of success is not based on how many people have been issued with the digital identity, but more importantly, on what this digital identity can do.   

Thus, we have placed a high emphasis in driving businesses’ adoption of our national digital identity platform.  The following products, in the form of APIs, are part of the national digital identity platform, which businesses can use to integrate to their digital services, to improve user journeys and streamline operations.

  • MyInfo:  This is a “Tell Us Once” service that eliminates the need for citizens to repeatedly provide and verify the same personal information when transacting online.  Businesses can use MyInfo APIs to obtain information from individuals upon their consent.  For example, banks and financial institutions used this for eKYC for online application and instant approvals for bank account opening, credit card applications and loan applications;
  • Login: This is an online authentication service that businesses can integrate with, so that they can authenticate the users of their online services without implementing and operating their own infrastructure and systems.  Unlike other commercial authentication services available in the market, the authentication services provided by us are based on verified data and thus offers a higher identity assurance.  Businesses avoid the high costs of operating their own authentication systems, and are able to avail access to 4 million users from day 1, without the need for expensive customer acquisition;
  • Verify: This is an identity verification service which businesses can integrate with for their physical shop front, as we believe one can be digital even in a physical setting.  The possible use cases range from (a) verifying visitors’ identity in hospitals or in commercial buildings, (b) proving of identity at bank branches or telco shops, and (c) signing up for credit cards or opening of utilities accounts at roadshows.  In fact, any situation where you find that you need to show proof of your identity in a physical setting;
  • Authorise: This is a remote authorisation service, which businesses can use to notify and seek authorisation from customers. For example, an insurance company can notify a customer that his car insurance policy is expiring and seek authorisation from him/her to renew it for another year.  Individuals will receive the notification on SingPass Mobile, and they can provide their authorisation by digitally signing the renewal request using the digital crypto keys within SingPass Mobile;
  • Sign: This service allows businesses and their customers to digitally sign a document, be it a contract, agreement or statutory filing.  A digitally signed document provides a high level of assurance of identity of the signers, integrity of the documents, non-repudiation of the transaction, and enjoy legal presumptions under the Electronics Transaction Act in Singapore;
  • Face: This is an identity verification service using facial recognition, that businesses can integrate with “as-a-service”.  Face verification allows businesses an additional / alternative way of verifying a person’s identity, without the need and burden to collect biometrics data.  It can be used as a step-up authentication to achieve a higher level of identity assurance, or as a way to simplify customer verification process, or in some situations, as a proof-of-presence (e.g., taking a test).  Face verification is done upon consent of individual and not for surveillance purposes.

I saw that you signed a MOU with GDS in the UK, what will the nature of your collaboration be?

With the growing number of cross-border digital transactions, it will be increasingly important for countries to collaborate in areas such as data flows and digital identity. Through the recent MOU with UK GDS, we seek to explore the following:

  • Mutual exchange of knowledge and best practices in improving delivery of digital public services;
  • Mutual exchange of officers to further build digital skills and capabilities of government officials;
  • Adoption of open standards for government info, data and software;
  • Opportunities for collaboration to strengthen digital partnership between UK GDS & GovTech.

Does this collaboration include shared lessons from UK Verify?

The context and the environment in which UK Verify and the Singapore’s national digital identity programme operate in are different, so each will face its own set of challenges.  Some of these challenges are similar, and can serve as lessons for each other, so having a collaboration platform will certainly be useful.

How are you safeguarding the privacy of your citizens?

The fundamental premise is that user consent will be respected, be it in terms of adoption, and in the use of the service, or when their data is used to facilitate their transactions.  There will also be a transaction history in which users will be able to trace when and what data they had shared with which organisations.  Such transparency helps to create the trust in the service.

 

Mr Kwok Quek Sin is the Senior Director (National Digital Identity) of GovTech Singapore.