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National digital IDs are essential, but can they be made secure?

National digital IDs are essential, but can they be made secure?

Secure identity credentials are taken for granted by anyone who has had one since secondary school, but they are fundamental tools required to more than just drive a vehicle. Try getting a job, opening a bank account or even cashing a check without one.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested £4.3 million (US$5.36 million) in a four-year research and development project designed to make new national digital IDs secure and private. The U.K.’s Alan Turing Institute will conduct the research.

Governments internationally have recognized how lack of proper ID can lock individuals — the poor of all nations — out of economic opportunities.

The new initiative is aimed at the next hurdle when it comes to distributing identification: privacy and security. People do not want to give up any more privacy than is necessary when applying for an ID, and they do not want information submitted to be abused.

And government agencies would prefer to launch systems that do not become outdated or useless too fast.

Vyjayanti T. Desai, the World Bank‘s program manager for Identification for Development, applauded the project.

“Inclusive and trusted digital identification systems are critical to enabling societies and to empower people,” Desai said. “The World Bank is pleased to see the launch of this project from the Turing. It will deploy important research and build knowledge to support the adoption of identification systems, and can help prevent exclusion from economic and social opportunities.”

According to a Turing release, three outcomes are expected.

Researchers will generate ideas for making digital ID safe and secure, including the potential use of encryption, real-time threat modeling and federated models of storage and processing.

They also will collaborate with open-source digital ID vendors to develop an open library of related tools.

Finally, the institute will launch a pilot with privacy and security features with participating vendors and countries working to improve their digital ID infrastructure.

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