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Digital ID accelerates, faces obstacles across the world


digital identity biometric registration

While the adoption of biometric digital IDs is being accelerated around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic in countries like the Philippines, the crisis is also causing setbacks such as Nepal’s reduction of digital ID enrollments. In Barbados, meanwhile, privacy remains a concern that fuels an ongoing discussion.

Philippines digital ID program registers an additional 15 million citizens

According to CNN Philippines, more than 15 million additional people have registered to be enrolled in the country’s PhilSys biometric digital ID program in Q1 2021. This brings the total of registered users to 25.7 million across the Philippines’ 81 provinces.

The registration process involves two steps that include a door-to-door information collection campaign aimed at low-income households and subsequent appointments for iris biometrics and facial image capture.

Ultimately, authorities within the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) plan to have 50 million people registered throughout 2021. The PSA is currently adjusting to COVID-related safety requirements and is also planning to unveil an online portal by April to ease the registration process. The program is promised to allow low-income families to have easier access to the nation’s financial system. Owning a digital ID will soon become sufficient to open bank accounts, which currently require two forms of physical ID to be presented.

“We thank the public for embracing the PhilSys program and we hope that this enthusiasm continues as we open the PhilSys online portal soon,” said Deputy National Statistician Rosalinda Bautista. “The demand for this online registration is critical in realizing the goals of PhilSys so Filipinos can enjoy its uses and benefits.”

COVID sets back Nepal’s digital ID program

Authorities in Nepal announced that COVID-related restrictions have limited the number of people processed for the country’s biometric digital ID program, writes the Katmandu Post. This sets back the original target of collecting information from 10 million to now 4.45 million. To date, only 2.5 million people have been processed.

The program is envisioned to bring a national digital ID to the 10 million Nepalese residing in the country’s 38 provinces.

Department of National ID and Civil Registration Director-General Jitendra Basnet stated, “We can now collect details of only 4.4.5 million people in the current fiscal year if the emerging threat of the second wave of coronavirus crisis does not hit the country. Our effort to collect details was disrupted till December last year and collecting the details of the 10 million population in the remaining period of the current fiscal year is impossible.”

Once rolled out, Nepal’s biometric national ID will allow users to conduct various business transactions and access vital government services. The ID will be a smart card that contains biometric data and other personally identifiable information.

“We have already invited global tenders for the procurement of 12 million cards, which we expect to receive by June if the tender process goes as per the plan,” said Basnet. “We already have necessary software and printers to print the cards by installing the biometric data.”

Barbados Minister addresses biometric privacy concerns

Barbados Minister of Innovation, Senator Kay McConney announced that the national digital ID will not store users’ fingerprint images, writes Barbados Today. She also stated that fingerprint biometrics will be optional and not required for digital ID registration. If a registrant chooses to give their fingerprint, only an encrypted fingerprint template will be kept for later verification purposes.

She made the remarks amid ongoing citizen concerns regarding their privacy. McConney also stressed that health data will not be stored on the digital IDs. The cards will store the user’s face image in a biometrics-supporting format.

“When you go back to have yourself verified through using the fingerprint, again they take the scan, but it is scrambled and it is scrambled to scramble that is compared, never the original. And through that technology, we have no way of reconstructing the original,” she explained.

McConney further noted, “In the first place, we do not need your fingerprints to authenticate. So, they are not necessary at all. They came into play because when we had our consultations with persons with disabilities many of them who cannot write for various reasons were unable to sign and they asked whether or not there would be an alternative. And so it is not this Government’s policy because we do not need them.”

“Our Smart Card will not be using any biometric other than your photograph for facial recognition which is the same thing that exists on your passport, it exists on your current ID form, it exists already on your driver’s license so we are introducing nothing new. And so I understand the concerns of many out there but I just wanted to share with you… that there is nothing nefarious, there is nothing significantly different than what you would have provided before, and for those things that are we are taking due care of,” she added.

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