Singapore plans smartphone-based national digital identity system for accessing government services

Singapore’s existing SingPass service could be improved in the next few years with a new national digital identity system, replacing cumbersome one-time passwords sent via SMS text messages, and instead offering authentication via a smartphone app.

The new NDI will be tested over the next six months, and if all goes well it could become a part of the SingPass system within the next three years, according to The Straits Times.

The current system either relies on the one-time password via SMS, or a code sent via a hardware token called OneKey. But the current SMS method is said to be needlessly onerous, while the hardware token has security concerns, and has been exploited by malicious hackers.

By 2020, Singapore hopes to have the NDI platform fully operational, offering digital signatures for paperless transactions through an encrypted, easy-to-use smartphone app.

The NDI initiative is part of Singapore’s “Smart Nation” push. Other aspects of Smart Nation include wider use of biometric sensors, and utilizing technology to improve the efficiency and reliability of public transportation and government services.

Singapore has been talking about revamping SingPass, which debuted in 2003, for some time. Back in February, the country’s prime minister revealed he wants to model the new digital identity program after the one in Estonia,which allows citizens simpler access to government services and financial transactions.

Singapore PM Lee Hsein Loong even wants to expand SingPass into semi-privatized and private sector services, such as receiving care at hospitals.

Starting this year, Singapore began collecting citizen iris scans for identity cards and related purposes. Singapore’s National Registration Act now mandates iris scans alongside photographs and fingerprints.