National digital ID system ‘absolutely essential’: Vivian Balakrishnan

National digital ID system ‘absolutely essential’: Vivian Balakrishnan

The current SingPass system, which is used for transacting with the Government, is “not good enough” and it needs to be “quickly upgraded”, says the Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation Programme Office.

File photo of man looking at computer
File photo of a man looking at the computer screen. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)

SINGAPORE: The creation of a national digital identification (ID) system is “absolutely essential” for Singapore so that citizens can more safely and conveniently transact with the Government, as well as with the private sector, said the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Programme Office (SNPO) Vivian Balakrishnan.

In his speech at the Committee of Supply debate on Thursday (Mar 2), Dr Balakrishnan acknowledged that the digital ID is a “very difficult” challenge, but it is needed as today’s system – SingPass – is “not good enough” and there is a need to quickly upgrade this.

In the immediate future, Dr Balakrishnan, also the country’s Foreign Minister, said he has charged his office to look into three components for the digital ID: Biometric elements, encryption and open application programme interfaces (APIs), so that private sector entities can be included as well.

The Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) is conducting trials for the system, and it is not looking to do so on a nationwide scale, but in smaller experiments.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had also pointed out the need for such a digital authentication system last Friday.

He said during Camp Sequoia, an annual tech summit: "We need a good digital identification service which is reliable, which everybody can rely on. (Such that) I can sign, I can identify myself, I can access services securely; and I can transact services online. The Estonians have this. There is no reason why I should not have it."

PUSH TOWARD CASHLESS SOCIETY

Another area that Dr Balakrishnan said the SNPO is looking to push forward is e-payments. He noted that there are many modes of payment today, including cashless ones, but there is a need to streamline this, acknowledging MP Cheng Li Hui’s concerns in Parliament.

“There is scope for consolidation,” the minister said, but he added that this should be done at the backend, at the infrastructure level, rather than the customer-facing end so that there will be retail competition.

He noted that work is underway to create a Central Addressing System for FAST transactions, so that the country can “get a move on” in terms of digital cash transfers. The country is “too slow” in this arena already, Dr Balakrishnan said.

The CAS allows people to use proxies such as mobile numbers to make fund transfers, according to the Association of Banks (ABS), which had been tasked to create the system.

Source: CNA/kk

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