A long way from paperless

Smart government should be paperless, so why do we still need so many ID copies?

Tags: Emirates Identity AuthorityUnited Arab Emirates
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A long way from paperless In an age of digital authentication, it is time to say goodbye to multiple hard copies of ID documents to complete any government process.
By  Mark Sutton Published  August 30, 2016

In spite of all the progress made in e-government, there still seems to be one highly persistent part of the process that just won't seem to go away - paperwork. While many government entities promote themselves as ‘paperless', there still seem to be an inordinate amount of paper involved in local, national and international government interactions.

By now, paper should have been a thing of the past. Many projects promised to eradicate paper, and with it, eliminate duplication of processes, unnecessary data entry, human error and all the associated overheads of transporting, processing, storing and securely disposing of hard copies.

There are some areas where this objective has been achieved. Transactions and processes across many different government departments have transferred to digital systems. Where you previously needed to fill in forms, it is possible to complete tasks just through your keyboard, or even mobile device.

Where the system breaks down is in the need for identification, and the seeming addiction that government departments have to getting a photocopy of your ID. No matter what the procedure, it still seems to be impossible to visit a service counter without a stack of Emirates ID or passport photocopies, or stack of change to pay to use the onsite photocopier.

This insistence on ID copies seems pointless when visiting a counter in person. Most ID cards contain biometric information or other form of verification, so why is it not possible to have the process digitally authenticated and signed on the spot?

Procedures are also complicated by the fact we are still struggling with a mix of digital and paper, simultaneously for the same interaction. On a recent visit to a government department, I had to present a paper ID copy, but my bank authorisation letter was rejected - this process had gone digital, and I had to visit the bank, fill in a paper form, and hand over yet another ID photocopy, just to get the ‘digital' process completed.

Governments should establish a taskforce to root out the remaining paperwork. The UAE has one of the leading ID card schemes in the world, so it is time to fully leverage the capabilities of the card, and to equip all service points with card readers, fingerprint or eye scanners, digital signature technology and so on, so that processes can be completed and authenticated with a swipe and a scan, not a photocopy. It might put a generation of photocopier salesmen and repairmen out of work, but we won't achieve paperless until the ID copies are gone.

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