Fast Forward: Disruption and the Singapore Economy

Get a job and flat, even vote online, thanks to e-ID

One way Singapore can pursue its Smart Nation drive with advances such as Mobile Phone ID, is to take a leaf out of Estonia's book.

To see how seamless life can be, take the example of Estonian Reelika Maranik, 24. As a student at the University of Southern Denmark until last year, what brought her immense convenience was the smart chip in her blue identity card.

The Estonian e-ID allowed her to vote online in Parliament elections back home earlier last year and the European Parliament election in 2014.

While in Denmark, before returning home, she also found a job and apartment in Estonia, and signed the employment and rental contracts digitally.

"Without my e-ID, I would have had to sign on paper contracts and snail mail them. It would have been too time-consuming," said Ms Maranik.

Even in her current job as project manager for charity organisation Dream Foundation in Estonia, the e-ID she holds is also the sole authentication mechanism for signing business contracts online, such as those for property rental and employment.


Ms Maranik, a project manager for charity organisation Dream Foundation in Estonia, uses her e-ID for everything from e-voting to paying bills and signing rental contracts digitally. PHOTO: ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT

Digital signing has been the way of life for some 1.3 million people in Estonia over the past 15 years.

Singapore is only beginning to explore this digital identity space with a government tender called in March for a similar system.

The Straits Times understands that the Mobile Digital ID tender that the Singapore Government called for could supersede SingPass and the use of one-time passwords for all online transactions with the Government.

NO MORE SNAIL MAIL

Without my e-ID, I would have had to sign on paper contracts and snail mail them. It would have been too time-consuming.

MS REELIKA MARANIK, a project manager for charity organisation Dream Foundation in Estonia.

 

Estonia is situated close to Russia and Scandinavia. It is part of the European Union. In 2001, its population was issued with the e-ID plastic card, which uniquely identifies individuals for all kinds of what would normally be face-to-face transactions such as opening bank accounts and buying property.

It is also the one card Estonians rely on for all cyber exchanges with the government as well as with commercial entities like banks and telcos.

For instance, people log in to their e-banking accounts to pay telco or utility bills by inserting their e-ID plastic card into a smartcard reader plugged to their computers. They also need to enter a four-digit personal identification number (PIN) to access their accounts, and a separate five-digit PIN to enable fund transfers.

Since 2007, Estonians can also opt to have a mobile ID for online transactions. This option is more convenient as it does not require a smartcard reader.

Instead, they enter their mobile number onto, say, a bank's webpage. Then, an SMS will be sent to their phones asking for their four-digit PIN to access their accounts, and a separate five-digit PIN to enable fund transfers.

WAY OF LIFE

"All Estonians pay their utility and telco bills this way. Digital signing is a way of life," said Mr Siim Sikkut, digital policy adviser to the government of Estonia. "I can't think of any service that requires the signing of physical papers. An exception was when I bought a property four years ago and was required to see a notary."

 

DIGITAL SIGNING WAY TO GO

All Estonians pay their utility and telco bills this way. Digital signing is a way of life. I can't think of any service that requires the signing of physical papers.

MR SIIM SIKKUT, digital policy adviser to the government of Estonia.

Since 2005, Estonians have also been able to vote online. "We've had eight elections since then, and each time, more people - including those overseas - voted online," said Mr Sikkut. Estonians voted online during the March elections last year.

By year-end, its Parliament is also expected to pass a new law to allow people to open a bank account in Estonia without showing up at the bank.

Such convenience has come at a cost - Estonia spent more than €20 million (S$31 million) to set up its system, then software updates and maintenance come to about €4 million a year.

The cost of the system is mostly borne by the Estonian government, but the government-appointed Certificate Authority (CA), comprising telcos and banks, has also chipped in.

The CA stores and manages the updating of people's e-identity in a central repository. It also verifies in real-time that the PINs entered match the records in the repository before letting service providers such as government agencies, banks and telcos proceed with the transaction.

Estonians must pay €50 for their e-ID plastic card, which has a shelf life of five years. The mobile ID also comes with a monthly usage fee paid to the CA.

"This is a small price to pay. I use my mobile ID every day for everything from bill payments to booking my visit to the doctor," said Ms Maranik.

Irene Tham

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'Get a job and flat, even vote online, thanks to e-ID'. Print Edition | Subscribe