Article 7 min

A Snapshot of Digital ID in the 10 Most Populous Countries — Part 1

digital id populous countries

August 13, 2019  

digital id populous countries

Digital identification is a critical component of financial inclusion, meaning unfettered access to financial products and services. With digital ID, people can access the financial system and government benefits. They can attend school, get a job, pay taxes, and start businesses. They can also participate in social media, online dating, and the sharing economy.

While digital ID has tremendous benefits for unlocking civic and economic potential, it also comes with risks around theft, fraud, surveillance and loss of privacy. Databases of personal information can be misused by institutions or individuals.

To get an overview of the state of digital ID around the world, we decided to look at the 10 most populous countries, which contain 58 percent of the world’s population.

Part 1 covers the five most populous countries: China, India, the U.S., Indonesia and Brazil.

Part 2 covers the next five: Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia and Mexico.

This group includes countries with both the highest and lowest rates of population with no ID, and at both ends of the spectrum of technological advancement.

A note on sources: the statistics on digital ID by population are taken from the 2019 McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report Digital Identification: A Key to Inclusive Growth. Digital trail indicates social media activity, as measured by the We Are Social Global Digital Report 2018.

Although this snapshot is brief, it provides a good cross-section of the issues and opportunities around digital ID today.

China – 1.415 billion

No IDID but no digital trailID and digital trail
0495 million (35%)920 million (65%)

Digital ID Resident Identity Card (居民身份证, Jūmín Shēnfènzhèng)

All Chinese citizens are required to get a national resident identity card after they turn 16. The card records name, gender, ethnicity, date of birth (DOB), domicile, identification number, and photo. The second-generation cards, introduced in 2003, are machine-readable and feature an embedded chip and digital encryption.

Areas for development

China is working on a virtual version of the resident identity card, which would have the same validity as the physical card. Hosted by Weixin (aka WeChat), the digitized ID will simplify and speed up transactions such as banking, ticketing, hotel booking and delivery services. The program is being trialed in Nansha district in Guangzhou.

Interesting facts

Names are recorded on the resident identity card in Chinese characters. “Non-Chinese ethnic names and foreign names are transliterated into Chinese. First-generation ID cards contained handwritten names for rare Chinese characters, whilst the second-generation cards exclusively used computer-printed text in a larger font compared to that of the first generation, and do not support rarer characters” (Wikipedia).

“The total amount of data stored on all second-generation ID cards issued to date amounts to 21 TB!” (Keesing Journal of Documents)

India – 1.354 billion

No IDID but no digital trailID and digital trail
162 million (12%)935 million (69%)257 million (19%)

Digital IDAadhaar

Almost 90 percent of Indian citizens have voluntarily registered for Aadhaar (meaning “foundation” or “base”), the world’s largest biometric identity system. People enroll by giving their fingerprint and/or iris scan and supporting ID documents, and in exchange they receive a unique random Aadhaar number.

Aadhaar has run into difficulties around data breaches and fraud. The Supreme Court of India has since barred private companies from accessing the Aadhaar data, which has derailed some of the efficiencies gained.

Areas for development

With a near-universal ID program in place, India can work on extending other technologies and programs to more of its population. Only 30 percent of Indians have access to the internet, and less than 3 percent are in the taxpayer base.

Interesting fact

“India successfully onboarded nearly one billion people by rapidly creating about 50,000 enrollment points in locations accessible even to rural residents, creating an ecosystem of competition among public- and private-sector entities as registrars, incentivizing them by paying them per successful unique registration rather than hourly, and designing extremely inclusive and flexible documentation requirements” (MGI).

U.S. – 327 million

No IDID but no digital trailID and digital trail
095 million (29%)232 million (71%)

Digital IDDriver’s license, identity card, passport

The U.S. doesn’t have a standard national identity card. States issue driver’s licenses and non-driver identity cards, and the U.S. Department of State issues passports and passport cards, all of which can be used as identification.

The REAL ID Act of 2005 established standards for state ID, which must include full name, DOB, gender, unique identifying number, address, signature, and photo. As of July 2019, 50 states and territories have complied with the REAL ID Act and 6 have been granted extensions.

Areas for development

The U.S. could reap sizeable economic benefits from the secure sharing of medical data, which would create efficiencies in the healthcare industry. Digital talent matching, which helps companies quickly find qualified workers, is another opportunity for growth that could increase labor force participation.

Interesting fact

“In the United States alone, the Internal Revenue Service estimates that the average taxpayer spends 13 hours preparing and filing taxes, while Estonia’s digital ID–enabled e-tax filing has reduced total tax filing time to three minutes” (MGI).

Indonesia — 267 million

No IDID but no digital trailID and digital trail
21 million (8%)96 million (36%)150 million (56%)

Digital IDe-KTP (Kartu Tanda Penduduk Elektronik)

The Indonesian electronic identity card was introduced in 2011. It contains unique biometric data as well as full name, DOB, religion, occupation, address and marital status. It includes a microchip, a unique serial number, and contactless technology.

Areas for development

The e-KTP program has had issues around the procurement of hardware, software and blank ID cards, and there have been convictions in regard to corruption.

Indonesia also has much work ahead to integrate e-KTP into various government programs and streamline the bureaucracy around it. For instance, it is still very challenging to obtain and distribute cards.

Interesting fact

When the e-KTP was rolled out, almost 800,000 people tried to apply for more than one electronic ID card. Many of them were polygamous men with multiple wives. Under the previous manual ID system, it had been easy for them to obtain more than one ID. But the digital program collects fingerprints and retinal scans, so duplicates are spotted quickly.

Brazil — 211 million

No IDID but no digital trailID and digital trail
14 million (7%)66 million (31%)131 million (62%)

Digital ID — Registro Geral and Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas

Brazil has two identity systems. The Registro Geral (RG) is the official national identity document, containing a person’s name, DOB, parents’ names, signature, thumbprint and unique number. As of 2017, RG cards are machine-readable.

The Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas (CPF) is a federal taxpayer number for Brazilians and resident aliens. The government recently issued an e-CPF, which is The Federal Revenue has recently issued the “e-CPF”, an electronic document that can be used as a publicly provided cryptographed signature key across Brazil.

Areas for development

Brazil is preparing to launch a more advanced digital ID program in November 2019. The National Identification Document (DNI) connects to a national database of biometric information collected from 100 million Brazilians to date. Future plans include the integration of social security numbers, birth and marriage certificates, and public healthcare registration data.

MGI found that Brazil has the greatest potential for value creation from digital ID, between 8 and 13 percent of GDP by 2030. The increased financial inclusion would narrow the credit gap by giving people better access to the financial system. The government could also bring in more tax revenue and reduce fraud.

Interesting fact

“The number printed on the [CPF] document is an eleven-digit figure, of which the two last numbers are the result of an arithmetic operation on the nine previous ones, so that any typing mistake will result in an invalid number. In the beginning the number used to be temporary but, as too many people used different numbers to evade tax, it is now permanent, though cancelled after some time after the person’s death. To stop people from obtaining more than one registration, the registry checks for birth date, mother’s name and voting registration number. Because of the permanent character of the registry, one does not actually need to have the card, but only to remember the number” (Wikipedia)

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