How Governments Can Use Digital Credentialing

How Governments Can Use Digital Credentialing

Digital credentials have been utilized by several different sectors for many different purposes since the dawn of information technology. Encrypting information to secure communications, tools, and products has been one of the many significant concerns of society long before the computer was invented and is still one of the most considered factors when choosing to work with business providers or clients.

Digital credentialing provides a solution not only for the question of security but also of interoperability. Companies that use tools provided by end-to-end developers such as Google have enjoyed the benefits of using a single login credential to access a wide variety of functions on different platforms to perform tasks such as communication, reporting, scheduling and holding meetings, and even publishing video content. While these tasks are performed on different platforms or portals, only one credential is needed to access all of these tools since one major product developer provides them.

Apart from the industrial or commercial uses, governments such as the US have been looking into what digital credentials can do on the scale of country management and service provision to its citizens. The potential of running more efficient operations from scaling back physical locations, paper document usage, and travel budgets in favour of digital infrastructure to provide public services, disseminate information to the public, and communicate between branches are immense in terms of fast-tracking processes and resource allocation. Citizens would also enjoy the benefits of having their needs met quicker, not needing to physically appear at various locations, and having digital access to information and services from their smart devices.

But how is it done?

From a bottom-up perspective, governments would be distributing digital identification to the citizens in the form of a chip-card that works alongside a secure access portal via an application or website they can access on their smart devices. Through the access portal, individuals would be able to generate re-usable credentials to prove their identity, make requests, and cross borders, among other functions a physical ID would serve. This credential can also be used for non-public sector transactions where a person is required to prove their identification, such as banks, airlines, and hotels, among others.

While many of the services utilized by the public now have digital identity verification, the physical government-issued ID is still the only common denominator in most cases. For every service provider, the user would have to go through the process of pulling out their physical ID, taking a photograph of it and themselves, and await approval which is done in real-time.

However, a government-utilized digital identity verification system would standardize the market, requiring all other digital services to work with the system used by the country.

As the chart below illustrates, optimizing the access portal for public use is another opportunity for development, where channels for public services can be made available such as requesting documents and credentials, registering businesses, online voting, healthcare, and even paying for public services such as parking tickets. This would pave the way for more efficient service delivery, easier access, and better security in the form of decentralized data and blockchain technology.

digital state services

Security and privacy are major concerns that most individuals have when digitizing their identity and are addressed by the utilization of Personal Identification Verification credentials, or PIVs.

What this means is that instead of presenting the individual’s actual credentials, Digital ID systems will capture the user’s personal information, make copies of the actual identification documents, which are verified real-time, and issue a PIV credential that the individual can use to prove that information they present about themselves is correct. This credential can then be re-used for different applications, services and would ideally be interoperable between different service providers.

A government-implemented system would also mean a faster and more secure way for individuals, particularly government employees, to prove their identities and secure information not only within their organization but across all agencies in the particular government.

The ‘Digital Republic’ Example

In terms of developing and implementing government-wide digital credentialing, Estonia has been one of the most frequently brought up countries for being the first “Digital Republic” in the world. The State Infocommunication Foundation (RIKS), acting on behalf of the Estonian government, has pioneered the development of online public services by emphasizing the modernization of its information system to embrace the benefits and opportunities offered by digital solutions such as cloud and blockchain technology.

Electronic IDs in Estonia

This chart from shows an upward trend in the public utilization of mobile and smart IDs.

Economic-wise, embracing and implementing digital solutions to public services also invites more investors in the private sector to open businesses and start companies with the country’s easier and more accessible public and business services. Apart from enticing new investors, providing existing taxpayers with faster and more efficient ways to pay their taxes has driven 98% of taxpayers to utilize the system to declare their income online, which in turn fast-tracks government revenue.

Digitizing a Government – Best Practices

Whether digitizing a government or a business, these considerations as gathered by experts are crucial in ensuring an effective and smooth transition:

  1. Starting small – Estonia and other countries employing digital credentialing have all started in one or two sectors where traditional mechanisms for public service provision can be easily connected and later wholly modernized. With this in mind, the first services countries usually digitize are centred around civil, land, and business registries. The goal isn’t to start with creating a system that works on the get-go, but rather to just get started.
  2. Building a house one brick at a time – Countries and organizations can be tempted to design and build an all-encompassing system in favour of saving time and labour; however, the detailed approach of developing modular digital infrastructure to cater to microservice provision can prove more beneficial in the long run, making it easier to develop further and even automate.
  3. Working with traditional systems – Traditional systems are the foundation for all new developments. Whether modernizing a system or changing it entirely, organizations must find ways to best integrate what systems already exist in the most efficient manner possible.
  4. Gather feedback – When designing a house, the paramount consideration an architect works around is whom the house is for. Likewise, it’s imperative for developers to have access to test groups and public feedback to direct developments into providing a more reliable product.

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