Digital Identity and its scope in the Maldives

We are living in the age of technology where several manual labors, tasks, and operations have become obsolete. We are living in an age where things that we once saw as unfathomable, unattainable, and unachievable have become the modern reality in which we now live.

It was not long ago that we were using manual labor in things as basic as entering financial details into ledgers or writing the booking details of guest arrivals in logbooks. However, today, we do not see anyone doing these very tasks using pen and ink, book and paper – though yes, there is still the manual input, which too, at times are not necessary.

The topic here is not about the technological advancement itself, but rather one such aspect of this advancement that we have come to witness; digital identity.

But before we get into the meat of the subject, and how it has suddenly become relevant in the Maldivian economic, social, and political landscape, we need to at least take a peek into what “digital identity” really means, and what it entails.

In its most basic form, digital identity can be summed up as the information available about an “external agent” (i.e., person, company, organization, or even an electronic device). A digital identity usually comprises of personal information of the said “external agent” on the web which could are collated data based on;

• Information provided in digital forms/similar queries that are then used to create digital IDs for instance; Login IDs for mails, social media applications, and similar applications, or the creation of digital documents such as credit/debit cards, electronic passports, electronic identity cards, and other similar digital documents.

• Information gathered by websites, applications, and other platforms based on the user’s behavior, action, choices, and their overall conduct in the digital “atmosphere” – for example, someone’s frequent online checking of e-commerce websites, can be data that is collected by other websites to draw a “digital profile” on the individual.

When it comes to your national identity card, it has predominantly been a rather bland piece of plastic with the only thing digital about it being the magnetic stripe; which is used to verify the authenticity of the card itself – this example is taken from the perspective of the Maldivian community.

However, many of the countries have since adopted newer digital means into their national identity cards as well as passports. Many of these identity-related documents now come with several features that allow them to be easily read through digital devices with the aid of data transmitters. This explains how some of the identity of the passport holder automatically flashes on the computer screen when you swipe the document across a scanner – again, this is not the case with every country.

In America, the Social Security Number is considered to be the “gateway” for all relevant authorities to access someone’s identity digitally; whether it is the person’s actual identity or their digital presence and identity, or both.

Recently, it was announced that Sri Lanka has started to embrace digital innovation in all of the countrymen’s aspects – including things as basic as their identity cards, passports, or even medical records.

Meanwhile, there is no doubt that when it comes to banking and finance, almost all of the countries have already adopted the digital identity concept – which is the internet or mobile banking applications. The banks often use these applications to draw up digital profiles of individuals based on their credit or debit history, financial transactions, purchases, as well as other movements. This helps the banks to understand the financial nature of someone and their financial strength as well; all of these help banks to assess individuals for their eligibility for loan facilities or other similar instruments.

Technically, it is safe to argue that the Maldivian citizens have already become integrated into the digital identity movement. However, the government offices have yet to implement this in a more streamlined and connected fashion. Perhaps, this argument can be given more validation by presenting the existing digital identity practices and the scope at which it is practiced.

For starters, the Business Portal login, which Maldivian locals can authenticate using their national identity card number and a designated password. This can be considered as a portal that helps formation of an individual’s digital identity among public sector offices. However, it is still limited in its scope, and rather not shared among other offices of the government sector.

Another example of digital identity can be attributed to both internet and mobile banking applications. An individual’s digital identity can be assessed from these platforms based on their activities; such as transactions, transfers, income, and purchases among other things.

When it comes to social media platforms; a safe assumption is that a majority of the Maldivian population have their digital identities on these platforms. The companies that are associated with, and operate these platforms will have created profiles on the users based on their social media interactions; page likes, post likes, comments, interactions, and friends circles among other attributive factors.

If the digital identity, as a concept, or as a norm have already seeped into the Maldives then what is lacking?

For starters, the idea of digital identity in the context of the Maldives is more related to the public agencies rather than the international or local private organizations.

It was announced by the Maldivian government, that it will put fresh impetus into establishing fully connected digital identity system that will have shared data between all the government bodies inclusive of ministries, institutions, and other state bodies.

This initiative aims to create a network-web between all the public institutions where data will be gathered into a central-system, which then can be accessed easily (but not without proper authentication protocols) by the ministries and other state bodies for their perusal. Such a system allows for the citizens to become netizens of the government’s shared network as well.

To put it in layman’s terms; suppose an individual wishes to acquire a police record, he can simply push in his digital identity credentials to the authority, which will then send the details to other connected agencies and acquire feedback through the network. Such a process is not just streamlined, but will also reduce time and improve work efficiency as well.

Another example is that; if a government body wishes to track an individual’s public conduct – i.e., his voting behavior, affiliated businesses, employment history, criminal records, and other details – as a vetting process prior to hiring them into a reputed and senior position of, say, a ministry, then the available information of the individual on the shared network; in other terms, their digital identity, will prove instrumental in assessment.

Maybe this is what the state could achieve if it pushes ahead with the digital identity initiative that could transform the way we interact with government agencies. Maybe this could pave way for how we communicate with all the public sector institutions, and maybe this initiative could very well mean that our identification is no longer something that needs to filled into forms manually every single time if we wanted to acquire a loan, or renew our National ID Card, or renew our passports.