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Bhutanโ€™s National Digital Identity System Faces Challenges Amidst Pioneering Move

โ€ฆ๐‘ฉ๐’‰๐’–๐’•๐’‚๐’’๐’” ๐‘ต๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’๐’‚๐’ ๐‘ซ๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’Š๐’•๐’‚๐’ ๐‘ฐ๐’…๐’†๐’๐’•๐’Š๐’•๐’š ๐’”๐’š๐’”๐’•๐’†๐’Ž ๐’ˆ๐’“๐’‚๐’‘๐’‘๐’๐’†๐’” ๐’˜๐’Š๐’•๐’‰ ๐’‡๐’‚๐’„๐’Š๐’‚๐’ ๐’“๐’†๐’„๐’๐’ˆ๐’๐’Š๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’ ๐’„๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’๐’†๐’๐’ˆ๐’†๐’” ๐’‚๐’Ž๐’Š๐’…๐’”๐’• ๐’‚๐’Ž๐’ƒ๐’Š๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’–๐’” ๐’“๐’๐’๐’๐’๐’–๐’•, ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’Ž๐’Š๐’”๐’†๐’” ๐’”๐’˜๐’Š๐’‡๐’• ๐’“๐’†๐’Ž๐’†๐’…๐’Š๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’ ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’‡๐’–๐’•๐’–๐’“๐’† ๐’†๐’๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’„๐’†๐’Ž๐’†๐’๐’•๐’”

Susmika Subba

In a pioneering stride towards digital identity, Bhutan’s National Digital Identity (NDI) system, grounded in Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) principles, is striving to grant individuals exclusive control over their personal information. The innovative digital wallet promises secure storage of digital credentials, empowering users to decide when and with whom to share their data.

The NDI app, designed to facilitate access to 12 government-to-citizen (G2C) services, covering critical areas such as passport services, birth and death registration, and land taxes, is interconnected with key institutions including the Bank of Bhutan, Tashicell, and the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB). The overarching goal is to streamline citizens’ access to essential services.

Despite the noble intentions behind the initiative, citizens have reported challenges during the registration process, particularly in the realm of facial recognition. Kelden Dorji voiced his struggles, revealing, “The face verification doesn’t really work; the system struggles to recognize my face.”

Similarly, Pema Wangdi echoed similar sentiments, questioning potential device requirements for a smoother verification process. He shared, โ€œIt’s great that Bhutan is taking a milestone in Blockchain Technology by building the Bhutan NDI app to safeguard citizens’ personal data. However, my experience has been somewhat challenging.”
Tshering Wangmo proposed an alternative, stating, “Face scanning is not working properly, and I think it is not necessary since it doesnโ€™t function. Typing a password should be sufficient.”

Phurba Wangdi expressed concerns about information security, citing uncertainty about the app’s handling of facial biometrics. He mentioned, “I have disclosed half of my information, and I am certain that the app has made a copy of my facial bio-map.”

Pallavi Sharma, from the Lead of Marketing and Communications, acknowledged the challenges, particularly in facial recognition. She emphasized the critical role of this process in establishing digital identity and outlined its two primary objectives: user authentication and liveness detection to prevent identity theft.

Sharma admitted, “Facial recognition has posed the most significant challenge for our team.โ€ To address this, she mentioned the initiation of a feedback loop in the product design process and the launch of education and advocacy programs in collaboration with the Desuung organization.

Sharma assured users that the NDI Education campaign, initiated on November 15, is actively engaging with residents in Haa, Bumthang, and Trongsa. Desuups are going door-to-door to advocate and educate about digital identity, providing real-time assistance during the onboarding process.

Sharma acknowledged reported issues and outlined response times based on channels, stating, “For social media, the response time could be up to an hour. However, complaints received on 1199 or through on-field Desuups are reported to the relevant teams in real time.”

To further support users, an AI-enabled chatbot on the Bhutan NDI website offers real-time answers. A 1199 toll-free helpdesk operates from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday to Friday, addressing both technical and non-technical queries. WhatsApp integration on the Facebook page and direct messaging on Facebook and Instagram offer additional communication channels.

In a bid to enhance accessibility, Sharma revealed collaboration with KaiOS, a tech company developing feature phones supporting apps. She stated, โ€œWe are currently looking to develop a version for the KaiOS phones like the ones we have available on iOS and Android. We are also looking to make the KaiOS feature phones available at subsidized rates to individuals with limited technology literacy.โ€

Looking towards the future, Sharma unveiled an evolving roadmap, stating, “While we will continue to integrate with government and business service providers to enable residents to remotely access services and to expand financial inclusion, we are equally focused on expanding the features and capabilities of the NDI app itself.”

In the near future, the NDI app is expected to incorporate digital signature capabilities, with plans to support the exchange of digital assets, including crypto tokens and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).
As Bhutan’s NDI continues its journey, user feedback remains pivotal, driving improvements to ensure a seamless and secure digital identity experience for all citizens.

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