WTF Is Malaysia's National Digital Identity?

The Malaysian Cabinet approved of this, but what does it mean and should we be worried?

A few days ago, the Malaysian Cabinet had approved the implementation of the National Digital Identity (national digital ID) initiative. The goal of creating this national digital ID is the government's effort to help spur Malaysians’ confidence in the digital economy and online businesses and services

But if you're like me, you're likely wondering how different this is from our current identification system, the MyKad. So here's what we know so far about the national digital ID and how it will impact you.

Will the National Digital ID replace the MyKad?

Nope, the National Digital ID is not meant to replace your MyKad at all, but is meant to be another format of identification especially when dealing with online systems. According to our Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo, the National Digital ID is meant to provide a “verifiable platform of trust” where citizens, upon application to join a certain organisation or access certain online services, would use the National Digital ID

Currently, apps and services would ask for a photocopy or image of your MyKad. So the national digital ID is meant to replace how we verify ourselves online without the use of the MyKad, which remains something completely different. “Whether it is a user setting up an account for the first time, logging-in to obtain government service or do business or making a digital payment, the National Digital ID enables the digital service providers to make highly accurate trust decisions in real time,” said the minister.

With e-commerce set to become the largest retail channel in the world by 2021, the minister believes there is a need for such an ID. This is especially so, based on complaints pertaining to e-commerce and mobile phone scams where there is a significant likelihood of fraud and cheating. Verifying the national digital ID would help to ensure a reduction in the scope of such crimes.

Will we all get a National Digital ID and how about other countries?

Yes. There's not a lot of details yet on how this will be implemented, but the goal is to give one to all Malaysians to use for the digital world. So far our neighbouring countries, Singapore and Thailand, are also looking into creating their own national digital ID.

This is not the first attempt though

That's right, this is the second time Malaysia is looking into creating such a platform. In 2011, the previous administration was looking into setting up the 1Malaysia email project that was meant to form the basis of a national digital ID, part of the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP).

The 1Malaysia email project was a government initiative meant to provide a unique and official email account and ID for Malay­sians and would allow them to receive statements, bills and notices from the government.

The MYR30 million contract was awarded to a tech firm but it couldn't follow through after it was revealed that the company was in the danger of being delisted due to financial irregularities. The project was also supposed to include a web portal as a one-stop centre for accessing government services and making payments.

Will the National Digital ID really be secure?

Our Communications and Multimedia Minister promised that the national digital ID would be done on a trusted and verifiable platform. So far, we know that the project will be a co-operation between his ministry, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).

The minister also explained that while MDEC has vast experience in the area, it will be bringing in other stakeholders. He added that to ensure the legality of the creation of this national digital ID, the ministry would study various pieces of existing legislation, including the Personal Data Protection Act 2010.

But even with all these details to ensure the national digital ID's security, there's still no certainty that it really will be secure. There's been plenty of news on how our data and even telco records having been compromised and sold, right up to the dark web. The fact that this needs to be separate from the MyKad also seems worrying, as the MyKad is meant to be our main identification system. If it works differently, the likeliness of identity fraud or other issues may occur.

But of course, all this is based on conjencture. As the government has already approved in making this happen, all we can do is trust our government in doing the right thing and that they will really consider the importance of security.

When will this be available?

No word on the actual availability yet. The project has only been green-lit, and initial projections was that it should have been available sometime this year. But based on what we're looking at, it's likely to be made available sometime next year, as long as there are no hiccups along the way.