Pushing the boundaries of e-identity
Electronic Identity schemes have potential for national and international usage beyond simple identification, says Etienne Veyret of Gemalto
Since the turn of the century, the six nation states of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) have proved to be pioneers in the deployment of digital identification solutions. Between 2001 and 2008, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have all introduced eID card schemes for citizens and residents. Indeed, such is their commitment to these programs, by 2014 every eligible adult across the GCC was in possession of an eID (or eResident) card.
Clearly this marked a major milestone in terms of both the ease with which citizens and residents could prove their identity, and the effectiveness of government measures to prevent fraud. However, perhaps even more significant was the ability to use these cards in the field as strong identification tools that empower citizens, residents and businesses with a modern means of online authentication that enables secure access to eGovernment services. In some countries, eID cards have also been digitised securely on the user’s mobile phone, creating a mobile ID and bringing even more convenience to the end user.
Such use of eID cards provided the tools necessary to build a solid foundation for secure eGovernment and deliver a rich array of eServices. In the years ahead, this momentum only looks set to accelerate. In particular, attention in the GCC is now turning to a new vision – the creation of a single seamless digital market that embraces all its member countries, with the existing eID schemes universally recognised across national boundaries.
The fundamental strength of the eID concept lies in its ability to verify the holder’s identity via personal and biometric data stored securely in an embedded microprocessor. Over the past decade, this capability has been leveraged by a growing number of government and public and private bodies in the GCC. Consequently, eID cards can now be used to complete online forms and transactions, and make legally binding transactions based on digital signatures, for example. Quick and convenient access has been provided to a wealth of services, anytime and anywhere, online and via mobile devices. Furthermore, all these processes are fully secured, ensuring that only the minimum amount of data necessary is ever divulged.
Across the region, the list of applications facilitated by these eID and mobile ID systems is growing. Typically, residents and citizens are now able to perform routine tasks without the need to travel to government offices and stand in line, or fill out traditional paper-based forms and documents by hand. As a result, a wide range of providers have delivered higher levels of user satisfaction and engagement, while dramatically streamlining their administrative processes. Similarly, for private enterprises, universal eID and mobile ID provision has opened the door to a vibrant and dynamic digital economy. In all GCC countries, these schemes have established the trust necessary to encourage and underpin the introduction and use of an ever-growing array of innovative commercial eServices and business-to-business digital transactions.
With the foundations in place and the benefits well and truly proven, stakeholders are now looking to derive even greater value from their long-standing investment in eID. Above all else, the driving force is a search for faster economic growth and diversification. Increasingly, they are recognising the role that eID and the emerging digital economy can play in achieving these long-term goals. To date, eID programs have been employed purely to pursue national objectives.
However, with globalisation stimulating greater trade and travel between GCC states, active consideration is now being given to using eID to facilitate even closer inter-GCC collaboration. Specifically, by allowing national eIDs to be recognised and accepted across the GCC, a single digital market could be created. By promoting the widest possible dissemination of electronic exchanges, this would drive effectiveness for the public sector with e- and mGovernment. It would also contribute to private sector competitiveness and overall growth in the digital economy in the GCC, encouraging more business and trade exchanges within the region.
In practice, the single digital market would establish a consistent and predictable environment in which digital identities and legally binding transactions are recognised across all six states, and peer-to-peer transactions between enterprises in different countries become as quick and easy as those within national borders. Electronic seals, time stamps, website authentication and much more besides, would become standardised throughout the GCC, and carry the same legal weight as time-consuming and costly paper-based processes. With these building blocks in place, the sheer ease and efficiency of digital interaction would naturally make it the preferred choice for both businesses and individuals.
Citizens and residents would undoubtedly see a positive impact on their day-to-day lives. For example, when purchasing a flat in another GCC country, an eID could be used to facilitate online payment of local property taxes. At GCC border crossings, eGates would be able to accept GCC eID cards, speeding transit times and smoothing processes. Indeed, based on cross-GCC acceptance of eID cards, the secure digital document could be used to access the full range of public and private eServices available in the GCC country being visited, from paying fines to enrolling at a local university or opening a bank account.
The potential benefits of such a single digital market are compelling, and being examined not only in the GCC, but also other co-operative economic zones such as Europe. In terms of making the vision a reality, no other region in the world is currently better placed than the GCC. Having laid the foundations of comprehensive eID deployment over the course of a decade or more, the opportunities to reap further rewards are clear. Not for the first time, it may be the Middle East that pushes the boundaries of eID.
Etienne Veyret, is Marketing Director for Government Programs in the Middle East at Gemalto.