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Colombia is using digital ID to fight its village hackers

Colombia is using digital ID to fight its village hackers

While Colombia may be famous to the rest of the world mostly for its coffee, the Latin American country may soon have another export – its digital identity.

Since November 2020, the Colombian government has been equipping citizens with a new physical identity card alongside a digital extension on smartphones, relying on biometric authentication. The digital ID has been bringing disruption to the citizens’ relationship with the corporate and with the public sector, says Borja Carreras, President of digital identity provider Gestión de Seguridad Electrónica S.A. (GSE), the company behind the app.

“We are closing a big gap in Latin America with the solution,” Carreras told Biometric Update in an interview on the sidelines of the Future Identity Festival 2023 in London.

The so-called cédula digital is part of the country’s ambitious digital transformation efforts, which placed the country at third place on the OECD Digital Government Index (DGI) in 2019.

The digital ID system has 1.8 million registered users as of March with plans to reach 10 million by the end of 2023. The project was launched through the National Digital Agency led by the Ministry of Technology and Telecommunications (MINTIC) and run by the National Civil Registry of Colombia (RNEC). The ID is also available to Colombian ex-pats living in the U.S. and to digital nomads residing in Colombia.

Colombia has other reasons to introduce the digital ID. Markets such as Europe and the United Kingdom have been fighting to contain the flood of fraud brought on by online transactions. In Latin America, however, these problems are on a whole different level. Criminals in Colombia have been creative in finding new impersonation and fraud methods.

“In Latin America, everyone in your small village without technical knowledge can be a hacker,” says Carreras. “It’s incredible because the people have a lot of time and they don’t have the fear of the law.”

Because of the different approach to crime, the company has had to implement a different approach to secure the systems and to protect the users, adds Leonardo Maldonado, chief of technology alliances at GSE.

In May, the National Registry Office started piloting facial authentication with several banks with the help of its partner, Idemia. Aside from face biometrics, GSE is also open to other technologies, says Carreras. The second version of the digital ID was launched at the end of November.

“Colombians, be proud,” Registrar General Alexander Vega Rocha said on X during the launch.

The update has brought services such as biometric matching through government databases, authenticating and digitally signing documents from public and private entities and receiving notifications from public and financial institutions.

“This is the evolution of the email,” says Carreras.

Next up: SSI and other countries

The company’s next steps include exploring self-sovereign identities (SSI), which will allow citizens to share information with trusted entities while keeping their privacy.

The Colombian digital ID has already become accepted as a passport, allowing travel to a number of countries in Latin America.

GSE is now working on bringing their solution to their governments. The company has recently showcased the digital ID in Peru at an event organized by national registries of South American countries.

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