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Private sector involvement in ID verification: successes, failures and inaction

Private sector involvement in ID verification: successes, failures and inaction

Public private partnerships can play an important role in deploying elements of digital identity, if not the entire scheme. Bringing in the private sector can also bring great material and reputational damage.

Recent developments in entirely different settings and entirely different contexts show how the partnerships can be used or may need to be used to effectively bring physical presence to digital identity activities such as verification. Countries from Thailand to Bangladesh are engaging the private sector for ID registration, biometric checks and KYC.

While in the U.S., inaction or even an adverse reaction to private involvement in identity could be holding back projects and protections.

Bringing digital identity services to the people

Thailand’s Digital Government Development Agency (DGA) has just announced that it has worked with integrator Counter Service to bring identity verification services to all branches of the ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience store chain. Store staff will help customers use smartphone apps to verify their ID and access around 70 government services.

The country’s AIS mobile network had previously also made its sales points available as digital ID service kiosks.

Nearly 5,000 Union Digital Centres (UDC) were established in Bangladesh from 2009 to bring digital services to the lowest tier of government and therefore on average within 4km of any user.

The UDCs offer services such as digital banking and even filing birth certificates and their entrepreneurial operators offer secondary services such as email-writing and printing photos, notes Public Digital. They are estimated to have saved the country US$11.22 billion and 9.26 billion workdays over the past 14 years.

In a new interview for the Interweave.gov newsletter, Anir Chowdhury, the Policy Advisor to Bangladesh’s digital transformation program a2i, explains how the reach of the kiosk system, now numbering more than 9,000, has allowed greater penetration of government services in rural areas, allowed entrepreneurship and even a gender balance. The government observed how women were often more comfortable interacting with female staff and so stipulated half the kiosk operators be women.

Pakistan has similar schemes running with its National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) operating the e-Sahulat network of 17,000 kiosks in retail settings, which are offering more sophisticated services with an agreement with 1Link for payments, also enabling further services.

US: slowly bringing trust to the people?

On the other hand, while Nigeria’s digital ID registration effort has been boosted by involving private-sector enrollment services, it has reportedly led to abuses of privacy.

The U.S. may still be struggling with the aftermath of the ID.me biometric verification saga triggered by required use of the biometric identity verification service for government welfare and accessing certain federal services such as with the IRS. The whole debacle continues freshly stirred up with congressional investigations into the firm’s claims around Covid welfare fraud.

U.S. government agencies are still waiting for an executive order from the White House to tackle identity theft in public benefit programs, reports FCW. Stakeholders across government and the identity and anti-fraud sectors are waiting to see what technology the government intends to use.

NIST is updating its digital identity verification guidelines for the first time in years and the digital identity bill has made progress through the House and Senate, notes FCW, but my not be made law by the hamstrung Congress.

Fraud in welfare has become a highly sensitive area, both in terms of the losses and affronts to privacy and equity to people trying to make eligible claims through tech-based private-sector identity verification services such as ID.me.

Different tech approaches such as mobile drivers’ licenses are being suggested, while others are pushing for better data-sharing among government agencies for identity proofing.

The executive order had been promised “in the coming weeks” back in March, notes FCW. The vacuum continues.

Updated Dec. 12, 2022 at 4:57pm to remove mention of ID.me legal issues in Illinois. Case No. 2022CH07688 has been dismissed.

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