Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has revealed that the country is planning to launch a digital national ID card before the end of the year. The Premier made the announcement during a briefing at the National People’s Congress, and indicated that the new cards would make it easier for citizens to access services across provincial borders.
In that regard, Li noted that there are currently more than 100 million citizens who live outside of the province where their ID was issued. Some of those people have relocated for work or school, while others are elderly residents who have moved in with their children. The problem is that all of those residents still need to return to their home province to access certain services, which is both time consuming and inconvenient for a variety of reasons.
The new digital IDs are supposed to eliminate that issue. The documents would be stored on a standard smartphone, and could be scanned to enable secure identity verification for citizens logging in remotely.
The IDs could also be used as valid proof of identity to complete transactions in the real world. To that end, China’s Ministry of Public Security has been trialing digital ID technology since 2018, and has already introduced virtual ID services in more than a dozen major cities across the country. Residents in those cities can now use virtual IDs for hotel bookings and ticketing and banking services (amongst other things), using facial recognition for authentication during those interactions. However, those same residents still need to carry physical documents whenever they travel outside one of those digital ID havens.
The new national ID system would extend digital ID coverage across the entire country. According to Li, the new digital ID system will have special mechanisms in place to make sure that people who do not use smartphones (such as the elderly) will still receive consistent and convenient service. He also stressed that the system would adhere to strong privacy and security protocols, which has been an issue for Chinese agencies in the past.
The Ministry is responsible for administering China’s national ID program, and partnered with state-owned banks, and with tech companies like Tencent and the Alibaba Group to enhance the utility of its Virtual IDs. In the meantime, there is some concern that they will be difficult to replace when people lose their smartphones, and there are lingering questions about China’s current legal framework. For example, the country might need to pass new laws to establish the validity of digital IDs, and to standardize the application and authentication protocols. China’s existing National Resident Identity Card Law is now more than a decade old.
Source: South China Morning Post