Digital identity solutions are becoming increasingly necessary as the world’s population grows. An estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide lack basic ID credentials, according to the World Bank, and that number rises even higher when it includes individuals with poor-quality IDs that cannot be easily verified. Those without access to verifiable credentials are often restricted from obtaining vital services like education and healthcare.
Digital identification initiatives are well-suited to supplying these individuals with authentication measures, though many efforts have developed slowly or halted entirely. Open source programs could be key to accelerating these initiatives, however, and they offer additional advantages like reduced costs and increased security. Numerous governments and private entities around the world have begun introducing open source systems to ensure all citizens have access to valid credentials and resources.
How can open source solutions help digital ID?
Open source systems are designed to be publicly accessible, which means any developer can inspect, modify or enhance them. Such systems promote increased collaboration between creators, which in turn leads to faster innovations as well as original and unique solutions.
Developers typically have to agree to specific terms when using open-source systems, but these stipulations are significantly less strict than those for proprietary software. This, in turn, makes the open source software ideal for the development of digital ID platforms and ensures that control is not anchored in one person or organization. It also promotes stability, training and transparency for developers, implementers and users.
Open source systems also tend to be more secure than proprietary systems, as anyone can access and modify the software. More developers can monitor the coding, which increases the probability that vulnerabilities will be spotted before fraudsters can exploit them. Open source system vulnerabilities can also be fixed much more quickly, as developers do not need permission to modify the coding.
Another advantage of open source digital ID systems is their affordability. A vendor-neutral platform encourages competition from developers, allowing digital ID implementers to select the lowest bidders that meet their needs.
Open source ID systems in action
Malaysia is a pioneer in the government digital identity space. The Malaysian Administrative Modernization and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU) has launched the country’s digital ID initiative, a voluntary program to supplement the country’s existing compulsory ID card. The project intends to make 40 percent of the government’s services available online by the end of 2020 and will be compatible with eCommerce and electronic payment methods. Further development of the system was slowed due to the use of closed licensed technology and a lack of qualified government staff, however.
“Previously, we used resources provided by our data center and built our applications on traditional virtual machines. But our growth was constrained by funding availability and a lack of staff with Linux, middleware and cloud skills,” said Hanissull Jalis bt Md Yusof, MAMPU’s application development division deputy director.
The Malaysian government recently partnered with software developer Red Hat to address these issues. The new model drastically cut down on development time, as applications that once took a group of 10 developers a week to deploy now take anywhere from three days to 10 minutes.
Morocco is also leveraging open source digital ID initiatives, implementing its National Population Registry (NPR) with help from the World Bank. The new system will reform the country’s social safety net and introduce cashless transactions to its citizens. Morocco is using India’s Aadhaar digital ID project as a blueprint for its initiative but has several innovations of its own, including the use of the Modular Open Source Identity Platform (MOSIP).
MOSIP was developed by the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as an open source digital identity platform for governments. It is application, platform and programming language agnostic, which allows developers with varied skillsets to contribute to its implementation. The solution thus enables nations to more frequently use native rather than foreign programmers, helping countries retain taxpayers’ funds and stimulate their digital economies.
Open source digital identity systems will likely become more popular as digital ID solutions become more critical. Cooperation between corporations, governments and independent developers will be crucial to such systems’ success.