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Government investments in digital identity and biometrics programs progress around the world

Systems aim to improve service access, birth registration, voting, financial inclusion
Government investments in digital identity and biometrics programs progress around the world

Progress and plans for national digital identity systems and biometric e-government solutions have been announced around the world, including a $250 million investment by Australia’s government. Saudi government services, financial inclusion in the Philippines, a remote birth registration system in Pakistan, a public sector payroll clean-up in Kurdistan, and biometric voter verification in Kyrgyzstan are in the news.

Australia is planning to spend $250 million to upgrade its online services with biometric facial recognition for user authentication to access a range of services, Tech Times reports.

Services that facial recognition could be used to access include employment listings, voter registration, and financial filings such as bankruptcies, and Tech Times writes that Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed hope the technology will make access easier and safer for businesses and individuals.

The $250 million is part of an overall $800 million investment in digital technologies intended to set up the full integration of the myGovID digital identity program and 14 additional services, such as receiving a tax filing number. The largest portion of the investment will go to a unified user interface for businesses.

There are currently 1.16 million businesses and 1.6 million people already using facial recognition to access services from among 70 offered online by the government.

Saudi Arabia issues 17M digital identities for government service access

Digital IDs have been issued to 17 million people in Saudi Arabia through the Interior Ministry’s Absher platform to help them access government services, according to Riyadh Express.

The government digital identity program provides access to 147 different platforms and service portals, granting online access to more than 200 services.

The Ministry of Interior heads Saudi Arabia’s Unified National Access Committee, which also includes representatives from several other government agencies.

Philippines biometric national digital ID to increase financial inclusion

The increased use of digital financial services in the Philippines is expected to persist beyond the country’s COVID-19 lockdowns, according to comments from a central bank representative reported by the Philippine Information Agency.

The comments were made by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Assistant Governor Iluminada Sicat during a presentation to the 18th Development Policy Research Month (DPRM) virtual forum. The launch of the planned biometrics-backed national digital ID system, which is expected imminently, will further boost digital financial transactions, she suggests.

Sicat also noted that the 2019 Financial Inclusion Survey showed that while 69 percent of Filipinos own mobile phones, only 12 percent use them for financial transactions, and 7 out of 10 unbanked adults in the country has access to a mobile phone.

Pakistan telecom awarded for remote birth registration system

Telecom operators Telenor Pakistan has won for awards from the AD Stars 2020 competition, three of them for its digital birth registration program, The Nation reports.

Telenor received a ‘Gold’ award in the Innovative Use of Mobile Devices category, a ‘Bronze’ in the Human Rights category, and a ‘Crystal’ award for the Public Service and Awareness category.

The birth registration initiative has resulted in the registration of more than a million children in Pakistan, who gain legal identity. The project was launched in 2016 by Telenor Pakistan along with UNICEF and local authorities.

Kurdistan continues public sector biometric registration

The second phase of a biometric registration program for government employees has been announced by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Esta reports.

Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani announced the second phase, which is intended to deduplicate public payrolls to eliminate fraud, during a videoconference. An electronic payment system was launched by the government in 2016 to cut down on “ghost employees” drawing public salaries.

The biometric system indicates there are 1.2 million Kurdish employees, down from 1.4 million, though it is unclear if this refers only to government employees.

Kyrgyzstan set for second biometric vote

Kyrgyzstan’s 2015 elections were the first in the country largely seen as competitive, thanks to investments in biometric voter identification and automated ballot boxes. The next step is for the upcoming elections to combat vote-buying, include migrant workers and expatriates, support women and safe voting, UNDP Resident Representative Louise Chamberlain writes for Euractiv.

The country has the only parliamentary democracy in Central Asia, but past elections have suffered from depressed voter turnout due to exclusion, particularly of women, migrant workers and people with disabilities. Nearly 800,000 people in the country of 6.3 million were held out because they could not register their biometric data as required in 2017, and were therefore not included on the voter rolls. Registration rounds since have reduced the number by roughly half.

The elections will be held on October 4, with the Central Election Commission operating 2,475 polling stations.

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