PETALING JAYA – The Malaysian government has been considering implementing a National Digital Identity (NDI) for quite some time. Although progress on the initiative has been deliberate, it is essential to discuss why national digital ID matters and why it is needed now more than ever.
For context, the previous Minister of Communications and Multimedia YB Gobind Singh Deo mooted the idea in Oct 2018, which resulted in a comprehensive study to establish an NDI framework in Nov 2019. It is now part of an ongoing initiative under the Malaysian Digital Blueprint 2025.
What is an NDI?
While NDI systems may come in various shapes and forms, the NDI system considered by the government is not intended to replace the current National Registration Identity Card (NRIC). Instead, it is intended as an advanced method of authenticating a user’s identity online.
According to the materials provided by the authorities, users are able to use the NDI to make payments, conduct online banking transactions, and renew government documents. The system will heavily incorporate QR codes, biometric authentication systems and is usable on both mobile devices and desktop or laptops.
Point 1: Vaccination tracking
Currently, the methods used to track the vaccination progress are not stored on a centralised platform that is easily accessible by all government agencies. An NDI system allows for a much more transparent and perhaps real-time overview of the country’s vaccination progress.
The ability to track the vaccination progress alone is enough to serve as the bedrock for any future post-pandemic initiatives to come. Initiatives such as establishing a regional travel bubble, deciding on which states and cities to impose Covid-19 lockdowns, and even deciding who to vaccinate, all of which would benefit from greater visibility on the vaccination progress.
As news headlines point towards a potential fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, it highlights the fact that vaccination alone is not enough to reduce the number of infection cases. At this juncture, the smart distribution of vaccines through the use of data-driven analytics may be more socially beneficial compared to the direct increase in vaccination rollout.
Point 2: Access to online services
Establishing and using online services is no longer considered a luxury, but a necessity under the current distressed environment. Not only have we witnessed an increasing number of use cases from both the public and private sector, the concept of online food deliveries, remote working, fully-online registrations have also become normalised.
However, due to the anonymous nature of the internet, scam and fraud cases are on the rise as well. Traditionally, the methods used to verify a user’s identity are through e-mail verifications and two-factor authentications. The former can be easily forged, while the latter is susceptible to social engineering.
An NDI system adds an additional layer of security, which provides users with the necessary confidence to conduct transactions online. Under the current pandemic environment, it is crucial to reduce the need to visit physical branches and sites as much as possible — such as the ability to open up a bank account securely online.
Point 3: Time
In order for NDI systems to reach their fullest potential, it requires a lot of user registrations and use cases — both of which need time and effort to cultivate. Five out of the ten ASEAN members have already embarked on the journey to normalise NDI systems, and Malaysia should prioritise this initiative to remain competitive within this region.
It may take years for a comprehensive and secure NDI system to be properly developed. More years may be put into developing functional systems that are able to take advantage of NDI systems.
Whilst it may be wise to wait for the technology to further develop and for more use-cases to be established, it will ultimately fall back to the chicken-and-egg question. Whilst digital transformation is a lengthy journey, it is best to have an early start in order to familiarise with the concept, identify weak points within the system, and develop solutions around them.
Need for urgency
There are plenty of social, economic and commercial opportunities that are present within a well-established NDI system. Like most other advanced technologies, NDIs can have a far-reaching impact across various industries and institutions.
However, many of these opportunities still remain hidden, waiting to be uncovered. WISE AI aims to highlight the great need for NDI systems and are supportive of any initiatives that are able to further the progress within the space.