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Digital identity systems around Asia compared as Taiwan seeks path forward


Biometrics and digital ID

Taiwan has underestimated the risks posed by its proposed digital ID system to user privacy and cybersecurity, according to a report from The News Lens published as part of a series on different digital identity models around Asia.

The island nation’s plan to begin issuing digital identity cards in July has been put on hold to buy time for the establishment of a legal basis for it. It is the third attempt by the government to stand up a national digital identity, after projects launched in 1998 and 2005.

Concerns with the new system identified by the Lens include the lack of a full assessment of the information security risk associated with the ID, increased risk of surveillance by the state or private entities, national security concerns related to Chinese contractor involvement, and the lack of a dedicated personal data protection law in Taiwan.

Japan and Malaysia

The second article in the series considers Japan’s optional My Number Card digital ID and Malaysia’s mandatory MyKad.

About 20 percent of people in Japan have been issued that country’s national digital ID, and the government is hoping to increase its adoption. Healthcare insurance information will be supported by the cards starting in March, and driver’s license information is planned to be integrated, effectively making it a mobile driver’s license.

Malaysia’s card includes fingerprint biometric data, unlike Japan’s, and also optionally functions as a driver’s license. The country is also in the process of establishing a mobile device-centric biometric national digital ID as a complement to MyKad.

The Lens notes weak data security and data protection law are concerns in Malaysia, as well.

Singapore and South Korea

Both Singapore and South Korea’s national digital IDs are smartphone-based and non-mandatory, though SingPass is increasingly the de facto method for accessing government services.

The SingPass Mobile app provides a range of functions, including form auto-filling, and is secured with fingerprint or face biometrics. The Lens notes that a physical token option, which only about 2 percent of SingPass users have, will be phased out this year.

South Korea’s digital ID services are run by the private sector, after the Digital Signature Act of 2020 marked the end of a government monopoly.

The country’s three largest telecoms have worked together to develop the PASS authentication app, and to introduce a digital driver’s license with the police and traffic authorities.

The Lens notes that Singapore’s SingHealth recently lost 1.5 million medical records in a breach, and the personal data of 20 million Koreans has also been leaked, reinforcing the need for a stronger foundation for Taiwan’s nascent digital ID.

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