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Choose strategy for digital ID wallet integration, governance frameworks carefully

ID4Africa Day 3 explores how to do so
Choose strategy for digital ID wallet integration, governance frameworks carefully

Discussions on how national ID systems can be integrated with wallets and verifiable credentials, as well as the need to set up robust governance frameworks for the rollout of national digital ID headlined the last day of plenary exchanges at the 2024 ID4Africa general assembly meeting in Cape Town.

The day opened with a three-tier plenary which explored various aspects of managing digital credentials and wallets, with different speakers taking the floor to share exploits by their organizations as well as country experiences of national ID systems which have been integrated successfully with wallets. The key point was to provide useful information that can be considered by governments in designing or choosing the right credential strategy for their national digital identity programs.

Presentations on the European Union digital ID wallet, MOSIP’s Inji wallet and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA’s) mobile driver’s license (mDL) efforts provided conference attendees with a clear picture of how wallets and verifiable credentials function, accomplished or ongoing efforts on the development of different standards and frameworks, why they are needed, and how useful they are in facilitating the way digital ID is used.

European Commission Technical Consultant Adam Cooper explained that the idea of the EU Digital ID Wallet is to have a platform which can hold high-trust identity credentials. He said it is a multipurpose wallet which can carry different kinds of credentials, and which can be used as a digital signature device and as a digital payments platform.

MOSIP Chief Technology Officer Ramesh Narayanan shared the experience with the Inji wallet, highlighting the advantages which digital ID wallets like it have over physical identity documents.

“Digital wallets have become an important way in which identity is used. Credentials can increase trust and save time and cost. They can save money for governments which can be used for other important projects,” said Narayanan.

Michael McCaskill, director of identity management at the AAMVA, and his colleague for business solutions, Loffie Jordaan, explained their work on the mobile driver’s license (mDL) which can be held on an mDOC on a mobile device, and the ongoing efforts aimed at pushing and accelerating its adoption. They emphasized the vitality of a digital credential such as the mDL, and explained technical details about standards and implementation guidelines.

The last set of speakers of the plenary shared experiences on the integration of verifiable credentials with national digital ID systems, with Bhutan and Thailand as case study countries.

Catherine Nabbala from Finema talked about the situation in Thailand, including with the Thai Health Pass, the adoption of which was accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. Anand Acharya of Bhutan’s national digital ID project explained the success of the country’s decentralized digital ID scheme, which he said is positively impacting lives. He noted that they have plans of expanding the scope of use cases in order to increase the social impact.

In a nutshell, speakers in this plenary were unanimous that while physical identity cards and documents will still be around for a long time to come for various reasons, the shift towards digital wallets cannot be overlooked, thus the need for African governments to consider and pick the right strategies in case they have to introduce digital wallets to their national ID systems.

Digital ID governance framework functions, principles, challenges

This session had three components and looked at the role of lawmakers in contributing to building strong governance framework for national digital ID, the role of development organization such as the UNDP and its safeguards framework, and challenges witnessed by governments in the management of their identity systems.

During the first segment, four lawmakers from Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi and Sierra Leone shared their thoughts what they think parliaments must to vote legislations that favor the implementation of trusted, inclusive and acceptable digital ID systems

“Citizen trust and digital ID must go together. We cannot have a digital ID system forced down on us. We need a system that is for Kenyans and by Kenyans. That’s why we as lawmakers must talk to the people about what digital ID is and what benefits it will bring for them,” said Kenyan lawmaker Shakeel Shabbir Ahmed.

“Trust is vital when it comes to rolling out ID,” said Malawian MP Gladys Ganda.  He also shared on efforts made by the country in spurring adoption of the national ID. “For example, we passed a law which says that if you do not have a national ID card, you will not be able to vote.”

“There is absolute need for lawmakers to play an active role in the national digital ID governance process. The role of MPs cannot be over-emphasized. Why can’t we come up with the idea of a caucus where we will follow up on the issues we have talked about? This will enable us to know what is happening in other countries so that we can carry on with our respective country programs,” Ganda added.

Sierra Leonean parliament representative Mariama Ella Goba said there is need for government to be open on its approach, ensure inclusivity, and have a strong political will and a regulatory framework. This, she said, will ensure the safeguard of citizens’ rights and provide security guarantees for their personal data. Goba also made the case for proactively engaging with all important stakeholders across the broad on the national digital ID conversation.

On the segment about challenges, four government representatives from Cameroon, Namibia, Uganda and Somalia, shared the specific challenges they face with their national identity processes. Somalia’s Abdiwali Ali Abdulle highlighted the efforts being made by the country to roll out a national ID system after 30 years, while the Cameroon speakers mentioned major challenges with civil status registration.

In the end, they agreed, among other things that, in order to get good and functional national digital ID systems in place, there is need for coordinated efforts at all levels of the chain, plus the need for stronger communication to underscore the importance of legal and digital ID for the population. They believe this will also wipe off some of the misunderstanding that usually arises either among different government arms, private sector actors, or the public.

These discussions continued in the last two plenaries where speakers addressed strategies needed to build trust in national digital ID systems, and the human rights dimension, positing that biometric ID systems should do no harm. Contributions from civil society organizations and how they are promoting the identity discourse through their field activities were also highlighted, as well as the necessity to engage in legal reforms that are vital for making identity management more modern and strategic to facilitate the process of everyone in Africa possessing a legal and/or digital identity.

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