Digital identity is a term that is still evolving and taking shape but whose importance has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. While nature will continue to spring its surprises (and shocks), one thing seems to be increasingly clear—that the future of digital identity is an app on your phone.
India’s tryst with digital identity began with the launch of the Aadhar Card in 2010. It assigned a 12-digital unique identification number to its citizens backed by biometrics and essential data about them.
The need for Aadhar rose from the challenges that the marginalised communities faced and the multiple ID cards that had to be issued for different purposes. In a country as densely populated as India, ascertaining an individual’s correct identity was of paramount importance. Various identification tools made the process cumbersome for the government and citizens.
Unified Digital Identities: A Need, Not A Want
While privacy and security concerns existed, the growing sense of urgency to unify and verify identities was evident. If you break it down further and look at your day-to-day lives, you can see how you are too left torn between multiple devices and apps, all of which reflect the digital side of your identity.
Identities on the internet may not always be accurate. This is because we tend to consciously manipulate how we are perceived online, like dating apps and social media. In fact, the pandemic has further encouraged the need to verify online identities. Since everyone is sitting behind their computer screens, some form of identification proof is a must. All institutions, from banks to schools, need it.
Whether online or offline, bringing critical documents together on a single platform is a tall task but one that needs to be done. When you are travelling, you don’t want to be caught up in your list of documents. Neither do you want to be scratching your brain to recall different logins and passwords. Identities need to be flexible, portable and verifiable.
EU Leads the Digital Transformation
The European Union recently unveiled its plans for a digital ID wallet that residents could use to access services in its bloc of 27 countries. This wallet, available as an app on your phone, would store identity information digitally. Whether proof is required for international travel or to secure a car ride, only the wallet will be needed.
The commission also rallied for maximum privacy and security. A platform that allows individuals to share only what they need was emphasised upon. For example, if you have to prove your age at a nightclub, there should be no need to disclose your date of birth. Your digital wallet should be capable of simply proving that you are not underage.
The unification of digital identities requires both an initiative from governments and backing of the private sector to boost it with relevant technology such as blockchain and encryption. As the EU leads digital transformation, it is only a matter of time before others follow on.
Digital ID Wallet: Pitching India’s Case
The post-pandemic world is marred with obstacles but has brought digitisation to the forefront in India. For instance, digital payments in India surged by 50%. Roadside sellers also embraced it. Yes, it meant less physical contact, but it also meant a lot of ease. Nobody needed to remember bank account details or IFSC codes. You just needed a phone number or a UPI ID.
Digital ID wallets present a very similar and strong case in the country. As India boasts of thousands of new startups and sky-rocketing valuations, it also generates that much more data and many more identification needs. All of us are being pulled in multiple different directions, and it is overwhelming.
A digital ID wallet could be the solution we need.
The DigiLocker is a good starting point for the Indian government. However, it needs to bring together resources to develop something more impactful. Something globally recognised and not overtaken by privacy concerns.
The dearth of data protection laws in India has raised a few eyebrows recently, especially in the wake of rising cybercrimes. The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, could be the first cross-sectoral legal framework but still awaits implementation. The available technology demands more initiative and care.
Ready For Change
The time is ripe to welcome a future that is not only more convenient but also secure. There is no denying that digital identities are here to stay, and the need to unify them will only rise. As governments worldwide take it upon themselves to promote digital ID wallets, India should follow suit.
For a country that has a billion identities to cater to, it can be well-supported by startups sprouting in the space. If together they can deliver one-click digital identity access and peace of mind, it would be an achievement like never before.