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Your life in your pocket – how Home Affairs could revolutionise our digital selves

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Ronnie Phala is a consultant in the areas of strategy, innovation, and change.

The Department of Home Affairs is the natural home for the new digital identity wallet. This is where President Cyril Ramaphosa’s dream of a smart future meets opportunity.

It is no secret that every business wants a piece of you. The banks, credit bureaus, social media apps – they all desire some aspect of your identity.

To counter the onslaught, clever folk came up with the idea of a digital identity wallet that enables individuals to decide how, when and with whom their personal data is shared. It was the genesis of what came to be known as Self-Sovereign Identity.

This insight has spawned a new “gold rush” of sorts. A proliferation of digital platforms that enable businesses to rapidly deploy in-house identity wallets for customers to hold their digitised personal information. The banks were quick off the mark, partnering with technology companies in a race to be first to market.

However, it is this perfectly normal competitive impulse that may prove problematic as it will lead to consumers having multiple identity wallets from multiple providers – the digital equivalent of walking around with multiple identity documents.

In fact, the Department of Home Affairs is the natural home for a digital identity wallet – as a seamless extension of its traditional role in the issuing and management of citizen identity.

This is where President Cyril Ramaphosa’s dream of a “smart future” meets opportunity: a government solution around which digital services across business and the public and social sectors can pivot.

Let’s call the citizens’ wallet the Purseport – a digital purse that is a passport to a plethora of digital services.

In addition to digitised documents such as the ID card and driver’s licence, the Purseport will carry verified information such as the holder’s marital status, proof of income and documents required for the purposes of the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica) and Regulation of Interception of Communication Act (Rica) purposes.

The typical credit application process serves as a perfect example of where the Purseport can be deployed. Instead of the current process, with an applicant having to source and deliver the required documents, all the information will be readily available in the Purseport.

The credit provider sends a request for specific information directly to the applicant’s Purseport app. The applicant, via the app, allows or denies the request. The applicant can decide to release all or only part of the information – or any additional data that might lead to a successful application.

It is in the holder’s interests to keep the information in the Purseport up to date. For example, by having a copy of a utility bill automatically sent to the Purseport every month, thus ensuring permanently Fica and Rica compliancy.

Benefits across the board

The ability to automatically and securely fill in online forms is one of the obvious advantages of the Purseport for both the holder and the service provider.

Government services such as drivers’ licence renewals, social grant administration and company registrations are perfect candidates for the identity wallet. As are areas such as student enrolment and funding, voter registration and patient care, to name but a few.

Financial services companies and other businesses that rely on Fica and Rica will benefit from increased speed, convenience and portability, greater accuracy and reduced costs.

Crucially, the 11 million unbanked and underbanked citizens – who are rapidly adopting digital cash wallets – should be the main target for inclusion.

A Purseport solution will bolster the fast-growing South African e-commerce market, providing an impetus for what has come to be known as the “trust economy”. Users and providers of shared-economy services such as Uber and AirBnb will derive much benefit through greater security and reliability.

Economic impact

A Home Affairs-driven digital identity platform will add billions of rands to the South African economy and, in the process, save individuals, banks, and other institutions billions more per annum.

Providing the service to institutions at a cost will generate substantial revenue due to the sheer volume of transactions – revenue that can be redirected towards the department’s other smart initiatives. Businesses should be incentivised to enrol their customers on the platform as part of their normal onboarding processes.

The technology

The Purseport architecture leans heavily on mobile and digital technologies.

In order to protect citizens’ data and to enhance compliance with the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popi), it employs a distributed ledger system similar to blockchain, the secure platform that powers the crypto revolution. This will ensure that no-one, not even the department, can access the data without the holder’s express permission.

Business has a keen appreciation of the centrality of government in Self-Sovereign Identity and its potential as the fulcrum for the much talked-about Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It is time for both parties to clearly delineate their roles in this nascent identity value chain and start building towards an inevitable and mutually beneficial future. DM

Ronnie Phala is a consultant in the areas of strategy, innovation, and change.

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