Moving forward with a plan: why true digital identity takes long-term collaboration and integration

June 16, 2019

The future of identity lies far beyond mere digitizing the physical identity - true digital identity encompasses a vast and interoperable ecosystem in which identity is owned by the individual and managed within a secure and trusted environment. Achieving effective digital identity demands collaboration, interoperability and a great deal of forward-thinking groundwork, says Marius Coetzee, CEO of identity innovation specialists Ideco.

Speaking ahead of ID4Africa, to be hosted by the South African Department of Home Affairs in June this year, Coetzee says forums such as ID4Africa pave the way to the responsible adoption of digital identity systems that not only empower millions of people who currently have no identity, but also support state service delivery and promote the emergence of revenue generation through identity. ID4Africa is an ID-4-All movement with representation from African governments, development agencies and industry to develop robust digital ID ecosystems. This year’s event will see the launch of the Round Table of African Data Protection Authorities (RADPA) in the first major meeting of data protection authorities (DPAs) from across Africa.

Ideco, which will participate in ID4Africa, has long championed broad and integrated identity ecosystems as the foundation of truly empowering digital identity systems. “Digital identity is about a great deal more than just a digitized identity – which could be little more than a digital version of a physical identity document,” Coetzee explains. “Real digital identity encompasses multimodal biometrics-based technologies during enrolment; and authentication enabled in both the physical and digital domain – at every possible touchpoint. As Africa’s governments meet to discuss digital identity models, they need to be cognizant of how identity will be viewed in years to come – when it will rightly be recognized as the most valuable asset a person can own. Identity is key to critical services and participation in financial, social and political systems.  So future-proof digital identity systems must give individuals full control and ownership over their digital identities within a framework that assures security and trust for issuers and acquirers.”

Coetzee says governments now looking to implement digital identity programmes should consider the long-term impact of fragmented implementations. “Many government departments operate in siloes and procure solutions in a fragmented manner. This approach does not support the evolution of a future-proof, integrated and interoperable digital identity ecosystem to underpin public and private sector services across countries or across entire regions.” With a harmonized and integrated approach to digital identity, Africans could one day enjoy cardless and document-free transactions, service delivery and travel, with robust authentication and identification based only on their biometric characteristics. “With the right technologies and integrated ecosystem in place, individuals could enjoy seamless travel through airports and across borders, paper-free rental and purchasing processes and infinitely simplified access to government services.”

For governments, an integrated and advanced digital identity ecosystem not only enables better service delivery, but also improves efficiencies, reduces costs and even presents opportunities for revenue generation, Coetzee says. “But realising the true potential of digital identity means taking a long-term view now,” says Coetzee. “As Africa’s governments implement digital identity systems, they will need to consider best practice in solutions designs, and how to bring advanced identity verification solutions to every point of service delivery, ensuring that public service consistently works with the right version of verified identity information within a secure and trusted environment and under the control of the owner of the identity. Governments should also be aware that they do not need to own the actual technology in this new environment – all they need to own is the data that determines the value associated with the identity.”