EIDA: Identity Enabler
The UAE’s Emirates ID program has gone beyond providing a simple identification document, to become the cornerstone for many public and private sector smart services in the Emirates today
There are many different technology elements that are required for a successful online service, from interface design for ease of use, through to solid infrastructure to ensure reliability. As smart services become an integral part of our day-to-day lives, so has the importance of security and identity in accessing these services. Users need to have trust in smart services that their data is secure, and that the user is able to authenticate their identity with the service, so that only the legitimate user is accessing the service.
In the UAE, the leader in providing authentication capabilities is the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA), through the national ID card scheme. Established in 2004 to create and manage a national population register of all citizens and residents of the UAE over the age of 15, and to develop a national identity card scheme. With the successful creation of the Population Register and the implementation of the Emirates ID card, the potential for EIDA to go beyond a simple identity card has become apparent, and today the ID program has become a major foundation for smart government services in the Emirates, and a building block for new integrated services.
Abdullah Mohammed Al Kendi, Director of IT, EIDA, explained: “We have completed the population registers in 2012, before that our focus was on enrolment. Once you have the population registers done, you can then think how to serve people utilising the information that you have. We have moved to a new operating model, which is services.
“Basically, we are enablers for the government, we are the main enabler for the transformation to smart government, we are part of all the national initiatives that are happening, either with the TRA or other entities,” he added.
The process of registering all Emirati citizens, GCC nationals and residents of the UAE took several years, and a fair amount of effort to convince everyone to get registered, but today the registration is now an integral part of the residency visa process and the scheme has extended across the country. EIDA has opened up many new channels for registration, Al Kendi said.
As part of the registration process, which now takes just seven minutes, all applicants are required to give biometric scans of fingerprint, palm and side of hands, as well as a photograph of the face. This biometric database alone has been recognised by the United Nations in its 2014 E-Government Survey as “one of the world’s best biometric programs”, with over a 105 million records of fingerprints, palm and hand side prints, in addition to over 15 million facial images, on file. The Population Register also includes a wealth of other demographic and personal data which can be used for the government for strategic planning and decision making.
The Emirates ID card itself also uses leading technology. The card has personal identification data printed on it, but the smart chip embedded within the card is the largest capacity of such chips available. The 144k chip contains over 80 fields of encrypted data in English and Arabic, including photo, digital signature, and fingerprint data.
The Smart Card is provided with a Match-On-Card Applet which allows for a biometric verification and authentication enabling assertion of an individual’s identity on demand. The security on the ID Card is ensured by the encrypted containers which is enabled only through the National Validation Gateway. All the biometrics, data transmission and protocols are as per ANSI and/or ISO Standards.”
When coupled with the Validation Gateway, the card becomes the key to authenticating the user and providing them trusted access to other government services.
“The validation gateway is the enabler for the government, what we are doing now,” Al Kendi said. “The validation gateway service is revolving around authenticating people — who is holding the card and ensuring the validatity of the card itself.We give the authentication facility to the service provider, and they can then do other transactions.”
Since launch in 2012, Al Kendi said public and private sector organisations have developed a much better understanding of the capabilities of Emirates ID, despite some initial lack of uptake.
“We used to have the issue that people didn’t understand the benefit of Emirates ID, individuals accused Emirates ID of not providing services. I raised my hand to shake, I am waiting for the others to shake hands with me. I cannot force the banks to stop using passports for identification, they have to change. The infrastructure is strong, the capabilities are strong, but entities needed to understand this, to change their culture and utilise this. The service providers have to be innovative to utilise what we are giving them. We have seen so many examples of using Emirates ID to simplify things and make life easier for people, and there is a lot more in the pipeline,” he added.