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Make digital ID systems flexible with open source and standards: Tony Blair Institute

Make digital ID systems flexible with open source and standards: Tony Blair Institute

Governments must be able to upgrade and re-adapt their legacy ID infrastructure to allow them the flexibility to choose the approaches such as open source or open standards which best satisfy their needs, if they are to make the most of the benefits of recent digital identity developments.

This is according to Yiannis Theodorou, head of digital identity at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, as argued in a commentary.

He argues that while it is common to find proprietary or vendor lock-in solutions in the digital ID space for reasons of competition and innovation, new developments in the sector are redefining its trajectory.

Theodorou notes that updates such as “mobile-ID solutions, sophisticated biometrics, cloud computing and other technologies have made it possible to develop integrated national ID ecosystems that are efficient, cost-effective and secure, without necessarily involving centralized databases.”

To Theodorou, using proprietary vendor systems that lock-in their government customers not only makes it difficult to easily switch to open-source systems, it also comes with substantial costs and with high probability of operational failure.

Highlighting advantages of using open-source software built on open standards, the writer says it provides room for interoperability, be it at a national level between government departments, or internationally across borders.

He cites the example of Nigeria’s digital ID program where an open standard system built thanks to a partnership with OSIA allows interoperability between the national population registry run by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and the mobile ID system based on a mobile application.

Other examples of digital ID systems based on open source cited in the commentary include OpenCRVS used for proof of concept in Zambia; MOSIP used in Morocco and the Philippines, and most recently in Ethiopia; X-Road adopted by Estonia, Iceland and Finland; GovStack launched in 2021 and the OpenWallet Foundation which aims to go operational by the end of this year.

Theodorou hails the strong communities that come with open source or standards approaches, considering them to add value.

“While OSS (Open Source Software) offers governments the ability to own and modify the source code of their solution and pull resources from the community behind the code, open standards ensure interoperability and a certain level of product quality thanks to certification that is normally linked to the standard’s deployment,” the author explains in the paper co-authored by Debora Comparin, chair of the OSIA Initiative, SIA and standardization expert at Thales.

The benefits of open source and open standards solutions notwithstanding, Theodorou clarifies that the solutions are not ready-to-use as they have to be customized to the realities of each country using them. He also urges governments using these tools to be cautious about two aspects.

“Caution is needed on two fronts: first, for OSS solutions to be compatible and therefore based on open standards, the recommended standard should be reflective of the proposed definition of ‘open,’ specifically that any patents associated with the specification must be available under royalty-free terms; second, although initially dependent on system integrators, governments should consider putting in place local training to mitigate the capacity risks of OSS solutions.”

With these, governments will be able to set up more efficient ID systems, he concludes.

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