His Royal Highness Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck became Bhutan’s first digital citizen on February 21 launching Bhutan’s national digital identity (NDI). The NDI project aims to give individuals control over their personal information that is stored in digital wallets using self-sovereign identity technology.
Kuensel’s Chhimi Dema asks Druk Holding and Investments’ Chief Technology Officer, Jacques von Benecke, to explain the NDI project and its merits.
What is digital identity?
The first version of digital identity was when we started creating a Gmail account on Google. Then you have email and when you wanted to login someplace, you choose to login with Google.
Digital identity is a digital representation of a human being on the internet. Each of us will have a unique identity on the internet, or what we call Web3 so that we’d be able to shop or trade and trust the person that’s on the other side.
A lot of us can go on the internet–speak to other people, but you are rarely sure, the person who is on the other side is who they say they are.
What is a national digital identity?
A national digital identity is an identity issued by the government. For example, the Citizenship Identity (CID) Card. If you go to a store, and you say you have two identities, one is “email@example.com” and the other one is a CID card. They will take the CID card because it is a national digital identity.
What is self-sovereign identity technology?
Self-sovereign identity technology is a technology that gives a person full control over his/her information. This means that I am in control of my information in a digital wallet. Like we have wallets and purses with driver’s licenses, medical cards, and money, our digital identity is a mega wallet.
Self-sovereign identity means I decide what information to share. It also means that my information is just on my device and doesn’t sit in a big central database where everybody gets access to it.
Right now, government departments and banks have access to the database at the Department of Civil Registry and Census (DCRC) that has all your information. Census or immigration is controlling those databases and they will always collect the information and put it in. You don’t really have control.
In the NDI project, you will be in control of your data so, the government will have to delete your civil registry and census data.
How is privacy maintained in NDI?
Two things, control of data and privacy, are important in the self-sovereign identity model.
For example, if you apply for a driver’s licence you have to get security clearance and go to the Department of Transport to fill in forms. They take your information which goes into the government-controlled database.
In NDI, you would scan a QR code for the Department of Transport to apply for a driver’s licence. It would send a request to your digital wallet for the required information. The wallet will provide data from the foundational ID [an ID given while launching the NDI app]. When you share it, the app asks for a pin number and the data goes to the transport department.
The system on the department’s side would trust the data and issue a driving license. It doesn’t keep any data given by the person except for the name, type of driver’s licence, and its validity.
The security measures and the encryption in the app are important. We are embedding into the app, the National Institute of Standards and Technologies’ post-quantum safe algorithms.
Even if you have quantum computing, which probably won’t be around for the next five, maybe 10 years, it would still take you more than 10 years to break our entity platform.
What are the plans to make NDI digitally inclusive? What devices would a citizen need for a digital
Inclusiveness is NDI’s second largest requirement. We have an inclusive statement that says, a Bhutanese, wherever they are will get an NDI, irrespective of their education, ability, or access to the internet or technology.
Even if you don’t have a smartphone, we still have to make sure that you can get the NDI and use it. We have some work streams, which are specifically looking at how one can take the digital wallet off the phone and store it in the cloud or in a USB drive that takes a fingerprint.
Those are the two technologies we are currently testing. If you don’t have a smartphone, we will send people to your village twice a month with mobile devices, laptops and an internet connection in case there is no internet connection. And then we’ll let people bring their digital wallets and use those devices. So even if you don’t have a smartphone and you don’t have internet, we will bring the internet to you.
What is the current status of the project?
Right now, we are focusing on making sure that you can get a foundational ID, which is equivalent to your CID, and interact with the government through the app. We are also doing integrations with banks so you don’t have to remember user IDs and passwords.
We agreed that there isn’t a specific date that it will go to everybody. Once we have a level of integration that we know that most people will use almost every day, which we call high adoption that’s when we will launch it.
If you think about the metaverse, the whole world is moving online into virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and others. And to be in that digital world, you need a trusted digital identity.
There are a lot of things that we are doing with NDI, which is outside of Bhutan. We are consulting several countries like Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Canada, Switzerland, and Africa to be able to use our digital credentials to actually travel with them.
All companies in Bhutan will be given a digital identity called a legal entity identifier. Just like I want to trust a human on the internet, I want to be able to trust the company.