US needs national digital ID to compete with other world powers amid pandemic

Former Estonian President Toomas Ilves advises
US needs national digital ID to compete with other world powers amid pandemic

Toomas Ilves addressed the German Marshall Fund (GMF) during a recent panel discussion on proposed tech policy reforms for the incoming U.S. administration. According to Broadband Breakfast, Ilves highlighted the need to streamline government services to reduce in-person visits amid the ongoing pandemic as a top priority. He noted that such governance reforms will only become possible with the introduction of national digital identity.

Ilves described secure digital identities and resilient data architecture as the pillars of digital governance. This, he said, can be achieved using digital documents secured by end-to-end encryption and two-factor authentication (2FA) measures. Ilves further suggested that this information could be stored on chips embedded in driver’s licenses and other documents.

The former Estonian president referred to his recent GMF policy brief, Unlocking Digital Governance, which stresses the need for tech reform amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy proposal further outlines strategies for creating a national digital identity. The paper uses the 2014 Estonian digital governance and identity program E-Residency as a successful case study on how to increase access to government services, reduce barriers to civic participation, and enhance transparency.

Ilves also emphasized the need for a robust national database to back up digital identity and ensure data integrity but acknowledged that the proposed reforms would be unlikely to be implemented in the U.S. as they would likely face political backlash. A similar bipartisan proposal, the Improving Digital Identity Act of 2020, is currently being pushed by four U.S. congressmen.

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