…𝒏𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒘𝒊𝒅𝒆 𝒍𝒂𝒖𝒏𝒄𝒉 𝒐𝒇 𝑵𝑫𝑰 𝒑𝒖𝒕𝒔 𝑩𝒉𝒖𝒕𝒂𝒏 𝒐𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑮𝒍𝒐𝒃𝒂𝒍 𝑫𝒊𝒈𝒊𝒕𝒂𝒍 𝑴𝒂𝒑
By Sonam Choki
Bhutan celebrates a milestone in its digital transformation journey with the nationwide launch of the Bhutan National Digital Identity (NDI) on October 13. The NDI serves as the cornerstone of the nation’s digital economy, ushering in an era of fast, secure, and trusted interactions between individuals and service providers. This groundbreaking achievement follows the inauguration of the National Digital Identity (NDI) project earlier this year when His Royal Highness Crown Prince Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck became Bhutan’s first digital citizen on February 21, 2023.
Initiated by Royal Command, the National Digital Identity Project forms the bedrock of Bhutan’s national digital transformation strategy, the Digital Drukyul Flagship Program, which aims to create an inclusive and connected tech service ecosystem across the Kingdom. Spearheaded by the Government Technology (GovTech) Agency in close cooperation with Druk Holding & Investments (DHI), the commercial arm of the Royal Government of Bhutan, the NDI aims to provide Bhutanese citizens with an advanced system for accessing government and commercial services seamlessly and securely, future-proof the national digital infrastructure through a resilient identification model, and foster an inclusive tech service ecosystem that bridges the gap between remote rural areas and urban centers, ensuring equitable service access for all.
Emphasizing the significance of this launch, Jigme Tenzing, Acting Secretary at GovTech Agency Bhutan, stated, “The launch of Bhutan NDI marks a critical step in our journey to become a digital nation- a nation that not only leverages technologies to transform services but also empowers citizens with ownership of their personal data.”
The system was meticulously designed and developed based on the principles of self-sovereign identity (SSI) and leverages Decentralized Identity (DID) technology. Only the identity holder has the authority to grant permission to share their information with a requesting body; not even the government has access to individual records. As such, Bhutan NDI grants individuals greater control over their personal information, securely stored in individual biometric-enabled personal edge wallets, thereby eliminating third-party or cloud-based hosting. This approach preserves privacy, security, and consent as fundamental principles.
Bhutan NDI’s mobile wallet is compatible with both iOS and Android devices, facilitating digital interactions among individual users, government authorities, service providers, and business enterprises. At its core, Bhutan NDI establishes trust among the actors in Bhutan’s digital ecosystem by providing the highest level of assurance that all information shared across online services and platforms is authentic and verified.
Ujjwal D. Dahal, CEO of Druk Holding and Investments, hailed the launch as a pivotal moment in the Kingdom’s digital transformation journey and an embodiment of Bhutan’s commitment to developing a privacy-preserving digital ecosystem. Bhutan NDI is built on an SSI framework that leverages blockchain technology to provide highly secure digital identity services on the internet, unlocking innovative business verticals and contributing to the resolution of global challenges in the 21st century.
The design of the NDI platform was guided by the objective of making verified identity the cornerstone of all digital interactions, creating a harmonious digital ecosystem for efficient government and business service delivery, offering verification and authentication services that align with compliance standards for both service providers and individuals, and remaining agile and innovative to adapt to the evolving digital transaction landscape.
Notably, in July, Bhutan achieved a significant milestone with Royal assent granted for the National Digital Identity Act, establishing Bhutan as the first sovereign state to implement a comprehensive decentralized digital identity framework. The NDI Act confers legal recognition to digital credentials issued through the Bhutan NDI wallet, platform, and services, thereby facilitating cross-sector digital transactions. This landmark legislation enhances existing laws, rules, and regulations by integrating digital transactions into their enforcement.
Jacques Von Benecke, Chief Technology Officer at Druk Holding and Investments, underlined the importance of the National Digital Identity Act in Bhutan’s digital transformation, fostering a service-oriented economy ready to seize opportunities presented by Web3. Bhutan remains committed to accelerating responsible Web3 technology development and adoption, backed by regulations that safeguard privacy through innovative identity verification methods rooted in the principles of zero knowledge proof.
Karma Zangmo, Executive Engineer of the Punatsangchhu-II Hydroelectric Project Authority, hailed the launch of the National Digital Identity as one of the greatest achievements for Bhutan, underscoring its profound implications for the nation’s digital transformation journey and development goals. The service is expected to significantly improve the quality of life by streamlining the authentication process and saving time and effort when accessing a wide range of services.
Pema Yangden, a dedicated teacher at Khasadrapchu School, expressed her thoughts on the National Digital Identity, stating that the innovative technological solution promises to be a pivotal asset in the fast-paced digital world. Its convenience and relevance in a digital age make it a game-changer with the potential to prevent risks and the forgery of fake identities, while enhancing security in a time when data breaches are all too common. This system represents a transformational step towards a more secure and trustworthy digital ecosystem, addressing pressing concerns and reshaping the way we navigate the digital landscape.
“The National Digital Identity program will be highly beneficial. With EPIS, it will become incredibly convenient for both citizens and healthcare personnel to access a person’s medical history through an online system. For example, if someone has to visit other dzongkhags and falls ill, they won’t need to carry their medical records every time they travel. They may not have a complete understanding of their illness and medications, but with digitization, any citizen can receive treatment from any part of the country as all the information is readily available online,” said Pema Chodup, Gup of Kengkhar Gewog, Mongar.
Nima, a Bhutanese student studying in Perth, Australia, said, “As a Bhutanese living abroad, with the launch of the NDI, I hope that government services will become quicker and more efficient. This would mean not having to go through lengthy procedures and waiting periods.”
He further added, “Another benefit I can imagine is having access to and secure storage of documents related to our personal identification and citizenship. Lastly, the NDI should help people living abroad keep track of the expiration of their documents through reminders. At this stage, I have not yet started using the NDI application, but I can only envision the NDI launch bringing more benefits than drawbacks in the long run.”
The NDI represents a point of pride for all Bhutanese and is poised to drive inclusion across both urban and remote communities, inspiring a commercial ecosystem that creates new and innovative use cases for the digital ID. Furthermore, it will ease market access to Bhutan for global companies by facilitating seamless citizen-service provider interactions. As governments worldwide move toward digitization and digital ID systems, the NDI stands out as a globally unique model that can be exported to other countries and territories.