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Bhutan’s national digital ID showcased as SSI model for others

Bhutan’s national digital ID showcased as SSI model for others

In 2023, Bhutan, a Himalayan nation of less than one million citizens, became the first country in the world to roll out a self-sovereign national digital ID (SSI) system which is now an inspiration for others hoping to build decentralized digital ID projects.

Launched in February of that year, the country’s crown prince became the first digital citizen by enrolling for the NDI [National Digital Identity] wallet, setting off a system that is designed to allow the user stay in full control of their personal data. It has three core capabilities which include secure digital signing, seamless currency transactions and storage and exchange of verifiable credentials.

Aligned with eIDAS framework – the EU regulation drafted to establish standards for electronic identification and trust services – the NDI also meets international standards for digital ID interoperability, as well as other global and domestic standards.

At an MEF CONNECTS ID and Data hybrid event which took place in London last month, Pallavi Sharma, Marketing and Communications lead at Bhutan’s NDI project and department of innovation and technology, took attendees through an overview of the project which is today enabling access to a wide array of services from government and the private sector.

She explained that since the system went live, “it has just been an amazing journey where we are focused on enhancing the NDI platform and expanding on the use cases.” The system has seen the issuance of over 90,000 foundational identity documents, the integration of 14 G2C services, and over 10 integrations with government and private sector services.

Sharma also mentioned that at the core of the SSI project is the His Majesty the King’s vision of having in place a national ID system that places a premium on privacy, a choice which also had some inspiration from successful digital ID projects in India (Aadhaar) and Singapore (SignPass).

The NDI system, she says, is privacy-centric where data is stored on the user’s personal biometrics-enabled edge technology-built wallet and not with a third party or in the cloud, such that individuals control their data and are empowered to share only the information that is required for a specific transaction or interaction.

Sharma said the NDI system seeks to promote digital and financial inclusion, ensure an integrated digital experience, improve trust and security in digital transactions, reduce cost of access to services, foster digitalization, and drive scalability and enable digital KYC processes, among other things.

The digital ID wallet is used to access services across various sectors including government, transportation, telecommunications, education, banking and finance and human resource management. She revealed that efforts are being made to increase the number of use cases to include aspects such as air travel, natural resources management and security, audit and tax certifications. Also, a system that will enable access to the wallet on feature phones by people in rural communities has been developed and is being tested, Sharma mentioned.

Meanwhile, a case study on the country’s SSI system was also published on May 21 by the Trust over IP (ToIP) Foundation, chronicling the identity program launched last year.

Bhutan’s decentralized digital ID system was also spotlighted during the recent ID4Africa 2024 AGM in South Africa.

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