Article 8 min

A Snapshot of Digital ID in the 10 Most Populous Countries — Part 2

Digital ID in populous countries
Digital ID in populous countries

To get an overview of the state of digital identity 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.

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.

Pakistan – 201 million

No IDID but no digital trailID and digital trail
76 million (38%)89 million (44%)36 million (18%)

Digital ID Smart National Identity Card

Pakistan has been issuing a Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) to citizens over age 18 since 2001. Starting in 2012, the country has been transitioning to the Smart National Identity Card (SNIC), and the goal is to replace all CNICs with SNICs by 2020.

The SNIC includes a data chip that encodes information such as name, father’s name, gender, DOB, photo, address, photo, signature and identity number. It can be used for voting, account opening, pension payouts and other social programs.

Areas for development

Although Pakistan states that 98 percent of its adult citizens are covered by the national identity program, the World Bank reports that 38 percent of the overall population still does not have ID. This number includes about 60 million children as well as minorities and rural populations.

Telenor Pakistan, a large mobile operator, has been involved in a digital birth registration project to increase the rate of identification for Pakistani children.

Interesting facts

In 2008, Pakistan launched an important cash transfer program that required mandatory ID for female heads of household. “This was a deliberate move by the government to empower women and provide them with legal identification” (ID4D World Bank). Four years after the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) launched, the issuance of CNICs had increased by 72 percent, which included 40 million women.

Nigeria – 196 million

No IDID but no digital trailID and digital trail
141 million (72%)35 million (18%) 20 million (10%)

Digital ID — various, including e-ID card

Nigeria’s identity system is fragmented, with 13 or more programs run by various government agencies. The current initiatives include the National Identification Number (NIN) administered by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and biometric banking verification numbers (BVN).

A NIN is obtained by enrollment with demographic data, fingerprints, photo and signature. The national e-ID card has a chip containing the NIN, name, DOB, nationality, and sex.

A BVN also requires a fingerprint and photo for enrollment.

Nigeria is incorporating the NIN and BVN into new biometric passports, and the Lagos State Internal Revenue is connecting its taxpayer database to the BVN.

Areas for development

Nigeria has long recognized the importance of comprehensive ID, as attested by its persistent efforts at implementation. The MGI report estimates that the country could realize a 5 to 7 percent increase in GDP equivalent value by 2030 ($59 billion) if it makes improvements in digital ID coverage in the near term.

Much of that benefit would accrue to individuals through microenterprises. “Digital ID could play a critical role in generating value for microenterprises by giving them access to formal recognition as a business, efficient contracting, and streamlined hiring” (MGI).

Interesting fact

Financial inclusion is a challenge in Nigeria — 60 percent of Nigerians aged 15+ don’t have a bank account. However, the country has a high penetration of mobile use —75 percent have a mobile subscription.

The GMSA, representing global mobile operators, has done interesting research on the opportunities for Nigerian women afforded by mobile ID. They interviewed 143 people in five regions and conclude that “Participants’ existing mobile ID behaviours – combined with the relatively high levels of digital literacy and mobile engagement – indicates a high level of readiness for further mobile and digital ID innovation. Particularly among younger and urban individuals, digital ID solutions offer convenience benefits – notably due to the convenience of the device. This is in contrast to the temporary NID, which is often left at home as it is not simple to transport (or to replace) and therefore often not available when needed” (GMSA).

Bangladesh –166 million

No IDID but no digital trailID and digital trail
53 million (32%)83 million (50%)30 million (18%)

Digital IDNational Identity Card

Bangladesh has a mandatory identity program for citizens aged 18 and older. The country has collected biometric information since 2006, and it introduced smart identity cards in 2016.

The Bangladeshi National Identity Card (NID) has a chip that stores name, parents’ names, DOB, ID number, photo and fingerprints. The NID can be used to access 22 services, including passports, banking and tax identification.

Areas for development

Less than 20 percent of workers in the Bangladesh garment industry have government ID, so they don’t have access to bank accounts. These workers are predominantly young, poor, and semi-literate women.

“This presents a challenge for workers’ tracking and contesting payments, such as proper compensation owed for overtime work. Imagine the power these women would have if they had a recognized identity and services provided by financial institutions” (Council on Foreign Relations).

Interesting fact

“A technical staffer of the Election Commission was quoted saying ‘difficulties are being faced in cases where the fingers are scarred, or the lines on fingers have become unclear owing to heavy manual labour.’ This is likely to be a recurring problem given the large percentage of the population in Bangladesh employed in manual labour, or who have been in the past. This brings with it questions of sustainability: If a person gives their fingerprints now, and then engages in manual labour for 10 years, will they still be recognisable by the system?” (Advox)

Russia — 144 million

No IDID but no digital trailID and digital trail
076 million (53%)68 million (47%)

Digital IDUniversal electronic card, discontinued

Russian citizens are required to have internal paper passports (also called national passports) for travel and identification within the Russian Federation. Internal passports contain name, DOB, place of birth, sex, and signature. They may also record other information such as registered address, marital status, military conscription, blood type and tax identification number.

From 2013 to 2016, Russia issued universal electronic cards (UEC). However, the UEC program was cancelled at the beginning of 2017. It appears that the card failed to get wide adoption, in part because the planned applications for its use were never developed.

Areas for development

Russia has new plans to roll out digital passports by 2023. An official for the project noted that Russians in general are open to digital initiatives: “Our residents show high digital activity. For example, the Government Services portal has 90 million users — twice as many as in 2016. According to several analytical organizations, about 86% of the Russian population access the Internet on a daily basis” (if24).

Interesting fact

In order to travel outside Russia, citizens must get a separate external passport, also known as a foreign passport. This system dates back to the Soviet era, when foreign passports were used to control movement outside the USSR.

Mexico —131 million

No IDID but no digital trailID and digital trail
4 million (3%)43 million (33%)84 million (64%)

Digital ID — Various, including Clave Única de Registro de Población card

Mexico has a number of identity systems. The Clave Única de Registro de Población (CURP) or Unique Population Registry Code is a registration number assigned to Mexican citizens and residents. People can obtain a CURP card that includes name, CURP code, date of registration and a barcode.

Areas for development

The CURP is intended to be a unique code, but in practice people can obtain multiple codes. As a result, the voter identification database, which uses biometric deduplication, has become a de facto national identity source. For example, voter identification is used for Know Your Customer verification for account opening.

The ID4D World Bank diagnostic on Mexico does a detailed analysis of the country’s identity ecosystem and steps for improvement.

Interesting fact

Mexico has made strong progress in issuing ID to all of its citizens. In 2014, the country amended its constitution to include a right to identity and registration immediately after birth. The following year, Mexico launched a modern birth registration system, including the ability for Mexican citizens to obtain birth certificates at U.S. consulates. Only 3 percent of the population is now without ID.


This snapshot of digital ID in the 10 most populous countries shows that most national governments recognize the value of digital ID and are taking steps to broaden its implementation. It also highlights a range of political and technical challenges:

  • Issuing ID to everyone — Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh still have significant populations with no ID.
  • Converting ID into digital formats — Russia’s internal passports are only usable in physical paper form.
  • Synchronizing ID databases — U.S., Mexico and Brazil have multiple identity systems that need to be integrated.
  • Developing applications for digital ID — India, China and Indonesia are expanding the use of digital ID to new programs and transactions.

NGOs such as the ID4D World Bank and the GMSA are doing important work in monitoring and supporting the development of digital ID.

While there is still much to be done before everyone has digital ID, it’s encouraging to see the progress made and consider the benefits that will reward global efforts.

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