Digital passport
#Identity Technology

How governments chart a path to ID project success

6 Mins.

Government identity projects are invariably complex and challenging. But when they are supported by robust processes, proven technologies, and close partners, the results can be transformative – for a country, its citizens, and the nation’s profile internationally.

The introduction of a new identification or verification solution – for example, a national ID card, passport, driver’s license, or other key public document – presents government officials with a game-changing opportunity. And one that usually only comes around only once every decade or so.

It’s a chance to raise security and efficiency standards around identity systems by adopting and implementing state-of-the-art innovation in document technology. It allows authorities to modernize the processes and infrastructures that support the citizen’s journey, from enrollment for a new card or document, to its issuance, use, and renewal.

It also offers a fresh opportunity for governments to extend or improve services such as public healthcare, voting, filing taxes, and claiming benefits. Moreover, in emerging markets, it offers a way to facilitate wider access to legal identity – a status that can boost the prosperity of the country as a whole by providing the prospect of participation in the financial system and the digital economy.

Triggers for action

There are always project- and country-specific factors behind the timing, motivation, and ambitions of any new ID project.

Naturally high on the agenda of most government ID initiatives is security: secure ID is a cornerstone of border management, ensuring citizens’ rights, keeping citizens safe, and much more.

Security was certainly at the forefront when Costa Rica’s General Directorate of Migration and Immigration (DGME) was selecting the design and implementation of the country’s new ePassport, which launched in March 2022. “The core of the thinking was on enhancing security and the border experience of citizens and visitors,” says José Rolando Colchado, Managing Director for Mexico at identity solutions provider Veridos, a joint venture between G+D and Germany’s federal printing office (Bundesdruckerei).

“The previous generation of machine-readable passports was not state-of-the-art anymore in terms of security standards. So the focus was firmly on a biometric, chip-based solution, a passport with a tamper-proof polycarbonate data page and true-color portrait photo, based on our CLIP ID technology. The document has more than 60 other security features that together would make it virtually impossible to counterfeit,” Colchado adds.

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Cross-border agreements

Alongside securing the document across its life cycle, a key driver in many ID projects is enabling citizen benefits that flow from international and regional agreements, observes Dr. Aweke Lemma, Managing Director for Uganda at Veridos. Creating an ID solution that complies with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) specifications for secure travel documents, for example, ensures international confidence in the reliability of the travel documents and establishes interoperability between different countries’ authentication systems.

The integration of a chip into a passport also helps to make travelers’ international journeys more convenient, as such passports support the use of automated border control systems. Adding such digitalized components to the verification infrastructure is only possible because of the chip embedded in ePassports.

A current example is the recently modernized Cypriot ePassport. The enhanced version and its related biometric data collection, personalization, and issuance systems ensure that the chip-enabled passport can be utilized at eGates, for example. This helps to speed up the journey through airports.

In a similar vein, an upgrade to a country driver’s license or passport, in line with an international agreement, can ensure the document is accepted freely across a wider geographical region. Again, this is a big plus for citizens. The East African Community (EAC), for example, now accepts computerized driver’s licenses and ePassports issued in one member country throughout all seven member countries in the EAC.

“The East African Community is a regional common market in the Eastern Africa region, established to accelerate the economic alliance between the member states,” says Dr. Aweke Lemma. “The introduction of the East African ePassport adopted by the member countries – including Uganda, for instance – has improved the ease of travel in the region and is thereby playing a key role in enhancing regional trade. It is fair to expect that this will have a tangible effect in building a strong regional economic bloc.”

Aid and independence

While standardization has advantages, many developing nations have an additional set of drivers for embracing advanced ID solutions.

In the case of national ID cards, at least some of the impetus comes from agencies providing economic or humanitarian aid, such as the World Bank. To facilitate loans, interest-free credits, and grants in its fight against poverty, the World Bank needs access to trusted data – and lots of it. “The establishment of a clear profile of the demographics of a country – its citizens’ age distribution, gender, population spread, and so on – is a prerequisite for such aid, and that is data you only get when you have reliable, secure identities in the form of national ID documents,” says Dr. Lemma.

The modernizing of ID documents in many developing nations is also aspirational. Countries have an eye on creating the infrastructure and technical expertise that will ultimately allow them to fulfill all their own ID document needs – independently and locally. “When it comes to ID document infrastructure, many developing nations want to become independent from a technical perspective,” says Dr. Lemma. “They want to work with their identity solutions partner to establish all the necessary skills, the new jobs, and the infrastructure locally, in order to launch long-lasting and sustainable solutions.”

That is just one of the reasons the Ugandan government established a joint venture with Veridos when it set out to modernize the country’s ID documents. With the Uganda Security Printing Company, it embarked on creating a facility in Entebbe, some 40 kilometers south of Kampala, for the creation of an array of integrated ID documents – including ePassports, national identity cards, and driver’s licenses.

That agreement between the two companies, reached in 2018, runs for 15 years. Apart from local production, one of the main goals is to build local capacity and a trained workforce so that the operation, maintenance, and management of the factory is progressively transferred to local skilled personnel, enabling a smooth exit of Veridos at the end of the 15-year period.

In Bangladesh, secure electronic passports are already produced for Bangladeshi citizens within the country’s own borders. And thanks to the installation of the first of a series of eGates at the country’s principal airport in Dhaka, travelers can now verify their identities using state-of-the-art ePassports.

Again, comprehensive know-how transfer is key, with local employees trained in the technologies and procedures by Veridos.

Elsewhere, in Cameroon, a key government tech focus has been on voting. A partnership between ELECAM (Elections Cameroon) and Veridos has helped craft a decentralized, mobile system designed to enhance voter registration and manage voter data. The end-to-end solution covers the entire process, from voter enrollment and data management to the issuance of biometric voter IDs. Veridos provides the technology while ELECAM operates the system as part of a 10-year deal.

“When governments continually work to advance and implement projects that produce both cutting-edge ID documents and systems, it leads to economic progress and growth of the identity infrastructure. “These kinds of projects are a real opportunity for a country, also because they ensure that the country strengthens its image at an international level,“
Dr. Aweke Lemma
Managing Director, Veridos Uganda

Bringing the public on the journey

While such public-private partnerships can be highly effective, real success in new identity document initiatives only comes by encouraging citizens to actively use the new services. To let them quickly profit from innovations in ID systems, government agencies would do well to clearly communicate the goals of a major identity document upgrade, what it is designed to achieve, what benefits it will bring the individual, and that the security associated with the capture, storage, and processing of their identity data is sound.

To achieve that, observes José Rolando Colchado of Veridos, the build-up and launch of any new ID document needs to be accompanied by a broad sweep of publicity – from billboards and radio/TV slots to social network channels. For example, Costa Rica’s new ePassports saw several of the officials who led the project passionately highlighting its innovation and unique design across the press and several other communication channels.

When governments continually work to advance and implement projects that produce both cutting-edge ID documents and systems, it leads to economic progress and growth of the identity infrastructure. “These kinds of projects are a real opportunity for a country, also because they ensure that the country strengthens its image at an international level,” says Dr. Lemma.

Published: 30/03/2023

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