Asian Countries to Roll Out National Digital ID Initiatives

Ambitious vision for Singapore digital ID system

Biometrics is only one facet of Singapore’s ambitious national digital ID system. The system aims to be fully functional by 2020. It will encompass the provision of IDs via a variety of technologies which will include smart cards and even wearables. Citizens will be able to obtain the identity technology free of charge.

Singapore has already begun work on adding biometric systems in sectors such as public safety and immigration. These may go some way to proving the efficiency of systems that will be used in the wider rollout of the national digital ID system.

Malaysia rolls out national digital ID system

Malaysians will soon have access to a national digital ID according to Gobind Singh, the country’s Communications and Multimedia Minister.

However, the Malaysian approach is more cautious than that of Singapore.

According to the Minister the national digital ID would not be replacing the current MyKad nor would it be mandatory for everyone. The purpose of the ID would be to offer citizens some element of protection against fraud and build what the Minster called a ‘verifiable platform of trust’ in cyberspace. The digital ID is slated for rollout by the middle of 2019.

The rationale behind the new digital ID is based firmly on the presumption that e-commerce is poised to become the largest retail channel by 2021.

The statistics seem to back up the importance of online security in Malaysia. The internet economy in Southeast Asia, driven mostly by the booming e-Commerce market, is expected to grow to US$200 billion by 2025 making online security, privacy protection and data security a burning issue for many Malaysians.

According to a 2017 Visa Consumer Payment Attitudes survey, 74 per cent of Malaysians indicated that they shopped online at least once a month.

An inclusive approach to digital ID

The national digital ID project will be a cooperation between his ministry, the Malaysian Communi­cations and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).

Citing an abundance of caution – perhaps informed by the mistakes that were made in the Indian Aadhaar project, Gobind commented that to ensure the national digital ID was legal, his ministry would study various pieces of existing legislation, including the Perso­nal Data Protection Act 2010.

Previous projects encountered teething problems

In 2011, the previous administration under former premier Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced the 1Malaysia email project that was to form the foundation of a national digital ID.

The 1Malaysia email project was an initiative that would have provided a unique and official email account and ID for Malaysians. It would have allowed citizens to receive statements, bills and notices from the government.

The MYR 50 million contract was awarded to a company called Tricubes Bhd. However, the contract ran into problems when it was revealed that the company was in the danger of being delisted because of financial irregularities.

Developed in collaboration with Microsoft, the initiative came under increased scrutiny when questions were raised as to whether the money would come from public funds or the private sector. The final nail in the coffin of the project was when it was revealed that government agencies would have to pay MYR 0.50 for every email sent to a Malaysian. And that money would have to come from somewhere – possibly a decrease in spending on other social projects.


Historically it seems that private enterprise and central governments have been at loggerheads when it comes to controlling the data that they gather from their customers and constituents. The wellbeing of those end users has too often been sacrificed in order to either maximize profit or control. This may be a cynical view – however political and social control and the profit motive are part and parcel of our modern-day society.

Could a national digital ID be the solution to providing a common ground where business and government can work hand in hand to provide an enhanced and simplified experience in terms of service? That question remains a vexing one. There is still no proven digital ID that has been rolled out and delivered on its promise.

Add to this the increasingly complex environment that surrounds privacy and data security, as well as human rights (especially when it comes to the poorest of the poor) and the challenge becomes even greater.

Several pundits have said that citizens should have the right to simply say ‘no’. Perhaps people across the globe should have the option of simply ‘opting out’ of a national ID card without prejudice or negative repercussions. However, it is becoming clear that this is a fever dream – when digital ID initiatives become pervasive, life will become increasingly difficult for those who choose the option of non-participation.

When debating the advisability of a national digital ID, one fact is indisputable. It holds great promise. If done correctly the benefits to citizens can be enormous – but the devil is in the detail.


Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
Notify of

Follow CPO Magazine