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Cross-border digital ID is coming: Mastercard plans to supply infrastructure

Australia and Singapore in talks
Cross-border digital ID is coming: Mastercard plans to supply infrastructure

National identity representatives from the APAC region discussed their preparations for borderless digital identity and interoperability at the Singapore Fintech Festival 2021. National systems are still establishing themselves and working with their private sectors on use cases and integration, but countries such as Australia and New Zealand are already discussing how to make their digital ID work in each other’s country while Mastercard is planning to handle cross-border digital ID as soon as 2022.

Australia and Singapore have entered a dialogue into a mutual recognition agreement, according to Jonathan Thorpe, general manager of Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency. The agreement would aim to see the digital identity of a citizen in one country being accepted in the other. This could potentially start with students. New Zealand is also high on the list for Australia for mutual recognition of digital credentials.

Singapore’s National Digital Identity, Singpass, is centralized compared to a federated, opt-in approach in Australia which did not have an existing national ID system in place to build on. 4.2 million Singaporeans (or 97 percent of those eligible, according to the system’s director, Dominic Chan, also speaking) have registered for their digital ID – a figure greatly boosted by the COVID pandemic – while 5.3 million Australians have opted to go digital.

“Digital identity can play a role, but on its own won’t necessarily enable a frictionless experience for travel,” said Australia’s Thorpe, although the credential could be readily accepted by private sector and government once a person has entered a country.

“To create a truly efficient and inclusive digital economy, digitalization must be end-to-end… We must put people at the heart of digital infrastructure,” said Ravi Menon, managing director at the Monetary Authority of Singapore, speaking on digital ID being one of the ‘four pillars’ of the digital infrastructure the future economy will need. Menon hopes for government-to-government on collaboration on global digital goods.

“Public foundational digital infrastructures will be critical for inclusive economic and social development,” Mastercard Vice President of Digital Identity Rajat Maheshwari told Biometric Update in an email on the key insights from the event. “Digital Identity, Authorization and Consent, Payments Interoperability, and Data Exchange are the four essential ingredients to enable end-to-end digital transactions, they collectively meet the foundational needs of a digital economy.”

Singapore and Australia are heading in that direction by working on verifiable credentials – or attributes – to take interoperability beyond standards and into practical use cases. According to Wen Si Wong, director of National Digital Identity at Singapore’s Gov Tech, their approach is opening up to let the private sector potentially become authentication providers or even trust anchors.

Her department is looking at how Singaporeans’ digital identities could become compatible with international organizations such as IATA and requirements such as EIDAS. Wong also said that Singapore is talking to Mastercard about possible collaboration with its ID network and becoming part of its larger ecosystem.

Sarah Clark, senior vice president of Digital Identity at Mastercard was part of the panel and said that digital ID is “one of the biggest opportunities of our generation.” Clark said that digital ID systems working with the private sector “can bring utility in day to day lives” and expand the use cases for the approach.

Clark also revealed that Mastercard is looking forward to its first cross-border digital ID use cases in 2022.

“Identity is a global issue that can’t be solved by any single entity or government or private sector, a borderless, digital world requires a re-usable identity service that can be trusted and accepted everywhere the user transacts,” Maheshwari writes.

Mastercard has been rapidly developing its identity division, piggybacking off its global network and KYC capabilities. It is working on digital identity schemes across the world, such as biometric projects to aid financial inclusion in sub-Saharan Africa to digital ID to help Brazilian students securely take remote exams.

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