Nothing to be afraid of? Other countries use their national IDs in countless ways

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a bill that will put in place the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys), also known as the national ID system. (READ: What you need to know about the proposed national ID system)

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, in March 2018, said the system will aid in the delivery of government services and reduce fraudulent transactions if implemented. (READ: 'Record history' casts cloud of doubt on proposed national ID system)

The Philippines is one out of only 9 countries in the world that does not have a national ID system in place yet.

While proponents of the bill argue it will improve government services in the Philippines, examples from other countries show the many functions of a national ID beyond government services.

What do other countries use their national ID systems for?

China is currently creating the world's most powerful facial recognition system, which aims to match a citizen's face with his or her ID photo with 90% accuracy.

The system, which contains the photos of each of its 1.3 billion population, was launched in 2015 and is being handled by Isvision, a Shanghai-based security company.

According to reports, the system aims to track wanted suspects and improve public administration, among other purposes.

Apart from this, China also plans to digitize the existing national ID card to streamline government processes and promote paperless transactions.

China's current ID card is used to obtain residence permits and driving licenses, open bank accounts, check into hotels, purchase railway tickets, and board domestic flights.

Once its national ID will be digitized, it will be available on smartphones and citizens will no longer need the physical ID card.

The government is developing the digital ID with WeChat, the most popular messaging application in mainland China.

Malaysia’s national identity card or MyKad, was the first government-issued multipurpose smart card and the first “dual interface” ID to be issued in the world. 

Its dual interface allows the card to be read by physical sensors and used in transactions, while its advance chip and biometric technology aids users in both government and private sector transactions. 

In particular, its embedded chip allows it to be used in government service centers and to be accessed by card acceptance devices. This allows for data processing, file management, and storage of large amounts of information. 

The MyKad is also considered a driving license and a travel document as it is used hand-in-hand with the Malaysian international passport for exit and entry into the country.

In healthcare, it is used to store medical records and health information such as blood type, allergies, implants, and prescriptions, among others. This allows for more efficient access of information during emergencies and routine treatments. 

The MyKad also functions as a reloadable cash purse, which can be used in government agencies, petrol stations, toll booths, and public transport systems. It can also function as an ATM card at designated banks and allows the user to access up to 3 bank accounts.

Meanwhile, its Public Key Infrastructure feature allows for secure online transactions and transmission of information over networks. 

The card itself is secured by chip security and physical features such as micro lettering and intricate patterns.

Thailand’s national identity card or its Smart ID, is used by 47% of its population.

It is mostly used as proof of identity by various agencies to check if individuals are eligible for government services.

For instance, the national ID is used to determine the most suitable public health insurance for a citizen based on age, occupation, and civil status.

Aside from this, Thailand's SmartID is also linked to its farmer database, which contains records of 7.2 million farm households. 

Here, a farmer’s Smart ID is used to track geographic location, crops, and livestock. This allows government officials to give targeted assistance during disease outbreaks, droughts, or other natural disasters.

Singapore is in the middle of developing a National Digital Identity (NDI) system as part of its effort to integrate technology in economic and government services by 2020.

Currently, its national ID is limited to identification purposes.

The NDI’s proposed design aims to provide more convenient and secure access to e-government services such as filing of income taxes, paying parking fines, and securing permits for foreign domestic helpers.

In terms of integrating the NDI with commercial services, the Government Technology Agency of Singapore plans to collaborate with the private sector to incorporate “value-added services” in the NDI. These include signing of digital agreements and providing secure storage of digital documents. 

Estonia is one of the most advanced digital societies in the world, and as such, its mandatory national card provides digital access to all of the country’s e-services.

Through the country’s Government Cloud, which is part of the government initiative called e-Estonia, 99% of public services are made available as e-services. The national card also carries embedded files and is used as the definitive proof of identification.

According to government data, 98% of Estonia’s citizens have been issued an ID-card, and 67% make use of it regularly.

Estonia’s national ID is used as national health insurance card, and as proof of identification when logging into bank accounts. Citizens may also use their ID card as a legal travel ID within the EU.

Aside from these functions, it can also be used for digital signatures, i-Voting, checking medical records, submitting tax claims, and using e-Prescriptions.

Estonia is unique in that it is the first nation to provide a “transnational digital identity” or e-Residency, to anyone in the world. Through this, e-residents are issued a digital ID and can access Estonia’s public e-services remotely.

The program allows foreigners to manage and conduct EU business from anywhere in the world. According to the government’s e-Residency website, 5,033 companies have already been established by e-residents.

Peru’s national ID, called the Documento Nacional de Identidad (DNI) or Documento Nacional de Identidad Electronico (DNIe) is issued by the Registro Nacional de Identificacion y Estado Civil (RENIEC), the country's national registry.

Citizens are entered into the system at birth and are issued an ID, which is renewed every 8 years.

According to a 2016 review conducted by the International Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T), which is a United Nations special agency, 89% of the country’s population has been registered in the national database as of 2012.

Peru’s national ID is used in implementing its "Know Your Customer" (KYC) laws, which require financial institutions to verify their customer’s identity before opening any account. This is done as part of efforts against crimes such as money laundering and terrorist financing.

In addition to this, the Peru national ID is used during elections, specifically for voter registration and voting.

Here, the voter registry is based on a civil registry that citizens enter when they first register for their identity card. After being issued new ones at age 18, citizens present their DNI or DNIe to vote.

Peru also incorporates subscriber identity module (SIM) registration with their national ID program. For instance, prepaid SIMs are activated only after biometric data is used to verify the user’s identity through the RENIEC.

Pakistan’s national ID program is run by an independent organization called the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).

According to ITU-T, its national ID database is one of the largest worldwide face recognition projects, with a coverage rate of 98% among its citizen population. Its physical counterpart is called the Smart National Identity Card (SNIC).

Aside from branchless banking, e-commerce, and social transfers, NADRA also partnered with the State Life Corporation of Pakistan to include insurance against accidental death as part of the ID card fee.

The country also makes use of the SNIC to track vaccinations for children and supports biometric-based secure health insurance.

In addition to this, Pakistan’s national ID can also double as a passport in 100 international airports, as it adheres to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s rules for machine-readable travel documents.

India’s identification system, Aadhaar, does not issue physical IDs for its citizens. Instead, it is an open, cloud-based system that issues a unique 12-digit identification number (UID) and records biometric information to match with the UID.

67% of India’s national population make use of the identification system.

The functions of the program include providing government cash transfers, digital banking, and mobile money. Through this, bank accounts are linked to Aadhaar to provide citizens subsidies for various government programs, such as subsidies for liquid petroleum cooking gas.

Aadhaar is also linked to a text messaging platform that allows citizens to transfer funds by inputting their unique ID number and specifying the amount to be transferred.

During elections, Aadhaar is also synced with the electoral photo identity card database, which allows the electoral commission to weed out unqualified voters and remove them from the database.

Other functions of the UID include tracking the attendance of federal government employees, verifying identities of travelers when reserving tickets for railways. 

Aside from these, different states also use the UID for state-specific functions. For instance, in the state of Kerala, the UID is used to track students’ educational progress.

In Bombay, ID numbers are also used for law enforcement, specifically in recording the identities of witnesses and accused criminals in first information reports. –

Loreben Tuquero is a Communication student at the Ateneo de Manila University. She is a Rappler intern. 

Loreben Tuquero

Loreben Tuquero is a researcher-writer for Rappler. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, she covered transportation, Quezon City, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as a reporter. She graduated with a communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.