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What is a National ID? Exploring the Growing Role of Biometrics

Biometric Post
Jul 24, 2023
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Biometric Post
What is a National ID? Exploring the Growing Role of Biometrics

The National ID: It's more than just another piece of plastic in our wallets. This tiny titan holds our identity, bearing a unique code that speaks volumes to government agencies, private entities, and online services around the globe. But what is a national ID, really? Is it just an identification card issued by our home countries, or does it carry deeper significance in the digital age? As we take a closer look, we'll explore the intricacies of these identity documents, the personal identification code they bear, and the role of sophisticated biometric technologies in shaping the future of our national identities.

Let's go on a journey through time, technology, and government agencies, unearthing the roots and implications of that little card you carry – your National ID.

What is a National ID?

A National ID, often referred to as a national identification card or simply an identity card, is a little piece of ‘identity real estate’ issued by a country's government. It's as personal as your fingerprint and as official as a government seal. Here's what makes it tick:

  • It usually comes in the form of a wallet-sized card, robust enough to survive a spin in the washing machine and sleek enough to fit into the snuggest of pockets.
  • This small, often plastified, talisman carries a unique code known as the National Identification Number, a personal identification code that serves as a lighthouse for a myriad of data about you.
  • It contains essential details about the cardholder, such as name, birth date, gender, and often a photograph to match the face to the name.

In its essence, a National ID is a golden key, opening doors to government services, authenticating transactions with private companies, and confirming identity for various other purposes. It's a silent yet potent testament to your individuality and your belonging within the fabric of a nation.

However, a growing number of countries are moving beyond this rudimentary model, opting for a digitized identity format known as an Electronic Identification (eID). These digital marvels often include biometric data such as fingerprints, facial images, and even iris patterns, upping the ante in the realm of personal identification.

The National ID Issuance Process

The issuance of National ID card is typically managed by designated government agencies, ranging from departments of home affairs to specific ID-issuing bodies. The responsibility is enormous - they're creating a crucial link between individuals and the state, a link that forms the backbone of public administration.

The process of issuing a National identity card involves a series of precise and critical steps. It's akin to a well-choreographed dance, meticulously staged and executed under the watchful eyes of the government, often the Department of Home Affairs or its equivalent. Here's how it unfolds:

a) Application and Data Collection:

This is the first step, where citizens provide their personal information, and in some cases, biometric data like fingerprints or facial scans.

b) Verification and Registration:

Once the application is received, the provided information is meticulously checked and validated, confirming the accuracy and authenticity of the data before being stored in a National Register. The information gathered and verified during the issuance process forms the backbone of the National ID system. This repository of data is securely stored, paving the way for various identification purposes and services in the future.

c) Number Generation and ID Production:

Following a successful verification process, the unique national identity number is generated and assigned to the individual. Depending on the format of the ID, a physical national ID card carrying the personal details and the unique number is produced, or a digital ID is created and securely delivered to the citizens.

Each step in this process is crucial, ensuring the integrity of the National ID system and the secure, accurate identification of citizens. This systematic voyage of information, from the individual to the ID card, brings to life a potent tool of identification and authentication.

The Emergence of National eID and Biometric Integration

Example: The Emergence of National eID and Biometric Integration in Nigeria displays the old and new versions of the national ID card.
The Emergence of National eID and Biometric Integration in Nigeria.

The advent of Electronic Identification (eID) has marked a new chapter in the realm of National ID systems. National Electronic Identification, or National eID, is a secure digital alternative to traditional forms of proof of identity, designed to be securely used in both the physical and online world. Its inception has added a layer of convenience, allowing citizens to access a myriad of online services, be it e-government, e-banking, or e-healthcare, all at the click of a button. The eID is like a digital extension of ourselves, a personal representative in the growing web of digital identity systems.

And adding to the revolution is biometric technology. Over the past couple of decades, the integration of biometrics into National ID systems has matured. From the first steps of incorporating fingerprints or facial image data into National eID cards, as seen in some countries at the beginning of the 21st century, we have now advanced to complex multi-modal biometric systems.

These sophisticated technologies offer unparalleled accuracy and security in personal identification applications. It's like a unique physical signature we carry with us, a signature that's almost impossible to forge or steal. This fusion of biometrics with National ID systems is not just modernizing identity verification, it's redefining the concept of 'proof of identity' for the digital age. Our identities are no longer simply about 'what we know' or 'what we have' (like an ID card number or a password) – it's increasingly about 'who we are' in the most inherent, biological sense.

Biometric National eID: Powering Security and Digital Transformation

Building upon the concept of biometrics as a unique physical signature we carry with us, National ID systems worldwide are tapping into the power of these technologies to create a more secure and convenient identification experience. By integrating biometric data such as facial features, fingerprints, and iris patterns, these systems are creating a fusion that not only modernizes identity verification but also redefines the very concept of 'proof of identity' for the digital age.

Let's take a closer look at how biometrics and National ID systems are enhancing personal identification.

Biometrics: A Digital 'Who We Are'

Biometrics are unique physical or behavioral characteristics that can be used to identify a person. These can range from fingerprints and facial features to iris patterns and voice recognition. This digital representation of 'who we are' is increasingly becoming a key component of National ID systems:

  • It provides a higher level of security, making it more difficult for someone to steal or forge an identity.
  • It simplifies the identification process, making it faster and more efficient.
  • It aids in reducing fraud and enhancing security in transactions.

Biometric Data Used in National ID Systems

Now, let's take a look at some of the biometric data commonly integrated into National ID systems:

a) Fingerprints:

A pioneering biometric modality, fingerprints are renowned for their uniqueness and permanence. In the context of National ID, fingerprint data can be encrypted and stored within the card's chip and in a secure, centralized database. During identity verification, the individual's live fingerprint is compared with the stored template for a match, confirming the person's identity.

b) Facial Recognition:

Facial recognition has become popular because of its convenience and hands-free nature. In the context of National ID, when using facial images for identification or authentication purposes, it utilizes advanced facial recognition algorithms to compare the stored photo image on the chip with the live face of the cardholder. This process focuses on distinguishing features like eye position, cheekbone shape, and nose breadth to identify the cardholder or grant access to services.

c) Iris Patterns:

The uniqueness and stability of iris patterns have made them a reliable biometric modality for identity verification. For National ID applications, high-quality iris images are captured and digitally stored. Identity is verified by comparing the live iris image with the stored template. Iris recognition's high level of accuracy can offer an additional layer of security for National ID systems, particularly for nations dealing with significant security challenges.

Countries Using Biometrics in National ID Systems

In recent years, countries around the world have been integrating biometrics into their National ID systems, promoting digital transformations and adding an extra layer of security and convenience to their national identification processes. Let's explore a few examples:


The country's Aadhaar program is the world's largest biometric ID system, covering more than 1.3 billion people. The program uses both fingerprints and iris patterns, providing a robust and accurate method of identification. This has helped to improve access to public and private services and reduce fraud in public welfare programs, , ensuring that benefits and subsidies reach the right people.


In Africa, Nigeria has been a frontrunner in adopting biometrics for its National ID system. The Nigerian National Identification Number (NIN) system captures ten fingerprints and a facial image of each enrollee to ensure uniqueness in the database. The Nigeria National eID card is also a payment card. It includes a chip with biometric identification data, serving as a key tool for financial inclusion.

United Arab Emirates:

The UAE's National ID, known as Emirates ID, incorporates both fingerprint and facial biometric data. The card also functions as an eID, with the chip carrying digital certificates that can be used for secure online identification and digital signature. It is required of all citizens and is used for a variety of services ranging from government transactions to ATM banking.


Estonia has long been recognized as one of the most digitally advanced societies globally, with their national eID card serving as a cornerstone in their digital infrastructure. However, a significant development took place in August 2021 when Estonia, complying with a pan-European agreement, decided to integrate biometric fingerprint data into its national eID cards. This inclusion of biometrics in identity cards aimed at increasing security, safety, and identity authentication effectiveness.

With the added layer of biometric authentication, Estonia is ensuring a higher level of authenticity for its identity cards and is taking a substantial step in the fight against identity fraud and forgery of identity documents. The eID continues to provide Estonians with access to over 600 e-services, from tax filing to digital prescriptions, underpinning Estonia's commitment to an advanced digital society.


In the Philippines, the national identification system, known as the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys), has made significant strides in its digitization efforts. By July 2023, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) had registered more than 80 million Filipinos, providing them with both physical and digital national IDs. The PSA's key initiative, ePhilID, aims to ease the country's transition to a digital society. A significant number of printed ePhilIDs were issued, while close to a million ePhilIDs were downloaded by registered individuals, illustrating a remarkable digital adaptation rate among the population.

As a part of this digitization initiative, the PhilSys ID not only contains fingerprint and facial data but has also integrated iris patterns into its biometric identification, making it more secure and efficient. This approach symbolizes the growing influence of biometric technologies in national ID systems and their role in empowering individuals with seamless access to services in the digital era. Additionally, it fosters financial inclusion by enabling those previously without valid ID documents to participate in the formal economy.

These are just a few examples of the global trend towards integrating biometrics into National ID systems. The incorporation of unique biological signatures into these systems is helping to create a more secure and inclusive identification infrastructure, empowering citizens and enabling smoother transactions.

After investigating the revolutionary role of biometrics in National ID systems, we now turn our attention to the practical implications of National ID in general. Beyond providing a secure and unique identity, these IDs act as a portal, ushering citizens into a world of services and opportunities.

National ID in Action: Unlocking Services and Opportunities

Whether in physical or digital format, the National ID is the touchstone of a citizen's interaction with the world. It's more than a simple proof of existence — it's a key, unlocking a plethora of services, rights, and opportunities. Let's explore some of these possibilities. A National ID serves several purposes, including:

  • ID Identification and Authentication: In the ballet of modern life, a National ID pirouettes as a powerful means of identity verification. Whether you're voting, opening a bank account, or applying for a driver's license, your National ID vouches for your authenticity.
  • Access to Services: It's your ticket to ride on the train of public services, proving eligibility for security benefits, healthcare, and other services offered by the government or private entities.
  • Law Enforcement and Security : For the guardians of national security, the National ID offers a valuable tool to track illegal immigrants, prevent fraud, and maintain law and order.

In the digital age, the electronic National IDs are becoming more essential keys that unlock a myriad of services and opportunities for citizens. Let's explore how these foundational ID systems are expanding their roles in our societies:

1) Bridging Citizens and Government Services:

Your National ID, as a uniquely personal artifact, is the golden ticket to a wide range of government services and benefits. It acts as the main point of identity authentication in numerous situations:

  • Accessing healthcare services.
  • Enrolling for educational opportunities.
  • Applying for social welfare programs.
  • Exercising the right to vote at national elections.
  • And much more...

By reducing fraud and improving efficiency, National IDs streamline the delivery of these services, ensuring they reach the right people.

2) Socio-economic Inclusion:

By acting as a recognized proof of identity, National IDs often empower marginalized communities, enabling them to access a range of services and rights they would otherwise be excluded from.

They play a crucial role in:

  • Improving financial inclusion, enabling individuals without proper ID documents to open bank accounts, apply for credits, and participate in the formal economy.
  • Facilitating access to social welfare programs, ensuring benefits reach the intended recipients.
  • Promoting inclusivity and equality by giving all citizens an equal proof of identity.

3) Digital Transformation:

The role of National ID systems has expanded to the digital sphere with the introduction of eID and electronic identification card (eIC). These digital identification tools, which act as your electronic presence, are pivotal for:

  • Accessing online public services, such as e-government portals, e-healthcare services, and digital education platforms.
  • Fostering digital literacy and promoting inclusion in the digital economy.
  • Driving national digital transformation initiatives, by acting as the foundation of the country's digital infrastructure.

4) Streamlined Public Administration:

National IDs simplify bureaucratic procedures and act as a conduit between citizens and public services:

  • Making it easier for citizens to engage with government agencies.
  • Providing governments with a reliable tool for resource management and targeted service delivery.
  • Enhancing transparency and reducing corruption.

In essence, they enhance the ability of governments to serve their citizens effectively.

Through these roles, your National ID are becoming vital tools in fostering societal inclusion, enhancing service delivery, and driving national development. It demonstrates that it is not only about 'who you are,' but also 'what you can do' with your identity.

The Future of National ID Systems: Embracing Innovation and Inclusivity

With digitalization sweeping across all sectors and industries, it's no surprise that the realm of National IDs is also undergoing a dramatic transformation. From being mere identification documents, National IDs are evolving into dynamic platforms, harmonizing with various aspects of citizens' lives and driving digital development. As we gaze into the crystal ball, we can anticipate an intriguing future for National ID systems, shaped by key trends and innovations.

1) Mobile IDs: On-The-Go Digital Citizenship

Mobile ID represents a significant stride in the realm of digital identification, marking the dawn of a new era where smartphones and other mobile devices become the cornerstone of personal identity verification. This technologically advanced concept essentially involves the integration of a user's identity into their mobile devices, providing a versatile, secure, and user-friendly method for identity verification and access to a host of services.

So, what is a Mobile ID? Simply put, it's a digital identity that is connected to a user's smartphone, tablet, or wearable device, leveraging the capabilities of these smart devices to offer a range of identification and authentication e-services.

Here's how Mobile IDs are shaping the future of identity verification:

a) SIM-based Mobile ID: A New Standard in Security

Mobile IDs hinge on the secure element within a device, typically the SIM card, to store personal identification information securely. This data is encrypted and securely stored, ensuring that it cannot be accessed without proper authentication. This technique leverages mobile network operators' robust infrastructure, offering a level of security akin to smart cards.

When tied to biometric authentication mechanisms on smartphones, such as fingerprint or face recognition, Mobile IDs offer a heightened level of security.

In essence, a SIM-based Mobile ID provides:

  • Identity Verification Anytime, Anywhere: Whether you're accessing government e-services, validating your identity online, or digitally signing a document, your Mobile ID is available at your fingertips round-the-clock, offering unprecedented convenience.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication: Leveraging the native security features of smartphones, such as biometrics or device passcodes, Mobile IDs provide robust multi-factor authentication, adding an extra layer of security to identity verification.

b) Mobile ID and Digital Signatures: Paving the Way for Secure Transactions

One of the standout features of Mobile IDs is their ability to facilitate digital signatures. By leveraging Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), Mobile IDs allow users to sign documents digitally, ensuring the document's integrity and the signatory's identity. Digital signatures, backed by Mobile ID, facilitate:

  • Streamlined digital transactions, offering the convenience of signing documents anytime, anywhere.
  • Improved security and legal compliance, with digital signatures being recognized legally in many jurisdictions.

c) Applications of Mobile IDs: Empowering Citizens and Governments Alike

The advent of mobile devices has revolutionized various aspects of our lives, and the area of personal identification is no exception. Mobile ID refers to the utilization of these smart devices as a digital representation of our identity, offering convenience, flexibility, and enhanced security in our increasingly interconnected world.

One compelling example of Mobile ID implementation is in Estonia. The country has pioneered an e-ID system, allowing its citizens and e-residents to use their Mobile ID for a variety of transactions, both in the public and private sectors. From paying bills and online voting to signing contracts and accessing health information, the Mobile ID in Estonia illustrates the transformative potential of this technology.

Broadly speaking, a Mobile ID operates in the following ways:

  • Secure SIM-Based Solution: Mobile IDs often operate using a secure SIM solution. This solution securely stores digital identity credentials on the SIM card, enabling a higher level of security and control.
  • Use of Digital Signatures: A Mobile ID allows for the creation of legally binding digital signatures. This feature is underpinned by Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), providing a robust and secure foundation for digital transactions.
  • Ease of Authentication: With a Mobile ID, identity verification becomes a seamless process. Users can easily authenticate their identity across various digital platforms using their mobile devices.
  • Wide Application Spectrum: Mobile IDs can be used across a variety of sectors, including finance, healthcare, e-governance, and more.

As we inch closer to a mobile-first world, Mobile IDs will continue to shape the future of digital identity management. They offer an exciting glimpse into a future where our mobile devices will not only be tools for communication and entertainment but also gatekeepers of our digital identity.

2) Blockchain: Decentralizing and Securing National ID Systems

Blockchain, often associated with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, is a decentralized and distributed digital ledger technology that securely records information across multiple systems. It has been hailed for its potential to revolutionize various sectors, including National ID systems.

So, what is Blockchain in the context of National ID systems? Essentially, it's a highly secure and transparent way of recording and verifying transactions or identities, making it an increasingly attractive proposition for managing and securing digital identities.

Here's how Blockchain is carving its niche in the world of National ID systems:

a) Decentralized Identity Verification:

One of the fundamental principles of Blockchain is decentralization. In the context of National ID systems, this means:

  • Reducing dependence on central authorities for identity verification, increasing efficiency and reducing the potential for errors or fraud.
  • Enhancing security by distributing the identity data across a network of computers, making it virtually impossible for hackers to compromise the system.

b) Immutable Record Keeping:

Blockchain's immutable nature ensures that once data is recorded on the blockchain, it cannot be altered without the consensus of the network. This brings a new level of trust and security to National ID systems:

  • Blockchain can provide an undeniable proof of identity, minimizing the chances of identity theft or fraud.
  • It ensures the integrity of recorded data, making it ideal for maintaining clean, tamper-proof records of citizens' identities.

c) Transparency and Trust:

The transparency inherent in blockchain technology fosters trust between citizens and authorities:

  • It allows individuals to control and manage their identity data, fostering a sense of trust and enhancing user experience.
  • The open yet secure nature of blockchain technology increases transparency, reducing opportunities for corruption or misuse of identity data.

d) Potential Applications of Blockchain in National ID Systems:

Several nations are exploring the use of blockchain technology in their ID systems. One prominent example is South Korea, which is planning to transition its citizens from physical ID cards to blockchain-based digital identification as early as 2024. This forward-thinking plan could see around 45 million citizens adopting the technology within two years, using their digital IDs in diverse sectors like finance, healthcare, taxes, and transportation.

Further potential applications of blockchain in National ID systems include:

  • Verification of identity documents: Blockchain can provide a verifiable, tamper-proof record of identity documents, reducing fraud.
  • Secure access to services: A blockchain-based ID can offer secure access to various public and private services, enhancing user experience and trust.
  • Protection of personal data: With blockchain, individuals can have greater control over their personal data, deciding when and where their data is shared.

The integration of blockchain technology in National ID systems is still in its early stages. However, its potential to enhance security, transparency, and trust signals a promising future in the evolution of National ID systems. The marriage of blockchain and National ID systems promises a future where identities are not only secure but also more user-friendly and controlled by the individuals themselves.


As we stand on the cusp of a new digital era, the future of National ID systems promises to be an exciting journey of innovation and transformation. The horizon is rich with possibilities, from mobile IDs transforming our smartphones into digital passports to the integration of blockchain technology fortifying the security of our personal information. A key player in this digital revolution is undoubtedly biometrics, underscoring its growing importance in identity verification processes.

The process to issue national identification cards is undergoing a metamorphosis, transitioning from a traditional physical card-based system to dynamic digital identities that offer enhanced security and user-centricity. As biometrics become an integral part of this process, the act of identification is poised to become even more accurate, reliable, and swift. With the incorporation of fingerprints, facial recognition, and iris scans, the task of forging an ID becomes increasingly challenging, thereby mitigating the risks of fraud and identity theft.

Biometrics also enhances the utility of traditional identifiers such as national insurance number. Not only can these numbers serve their original purpose, but when paired with biometric data, they can also offer a robust and multi-layered approach to digital identity verification.

Ultimately, the transformation of National ID systems transcends beyond technological advancement. It's about reimagining and redefining identity in our digitally intertwined world. It envisages a world that is not just more secure and inclusive, but one where every individual truly owns and controls their digital identity. As we forge ahead, the integration of biometrics in National ID systems emerges as a beacon of promise, pointing towards a future that upholds security, privacy, and individual empowerment.


Digital Identity: What It Is and Why It Matters in Today's World

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Digital Identity: What It Is and Why It Matters in Today's World

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