Adoption dichotomy shows North America behind its southern neighbors
The eID challenges
Despite South and Central America’s willingness to adopt and issue eID credentials, the region has still faced its fair share of challenges.
Fragmentation and the lack of centralized registries has been a concern, Betts says. “The use, feature, formats and mechanisms for authentication vary from country to country. These aren’t interoperable, can’t be verified, and yet are often accepted as legitimate documents in neighboring countries,” he says. “The acceptance is mostly through legal agreements among countries that have bilateral trade or regional obligations.”
The greatest challenge to implementation is the use of proprietary, non-interoperable identity solutions, Betts says. “Some vendors in the market use proprietary solutions to tie government agencies to their solution, making it difficult to modify or change the established vendors in an identity project,” Betts explains. “This creates a barrier for other countries wanting to adopt an eID system, given the experience of their neighbors.”
Another key challenge is access to impartial information during the project scoping process, Betts says. “Most of these identity discussions are done behind closed doors, for ‘security reasons,’ which enables partisan information to enter the public tender,” he explains. “In some cases this has led to significant corruption scandals and a loss of credibility for important government organizations and companies.”
Institutional barriers can mire, if not halt completely, eID implementation, Barbu says. “With the increased number of use cases, more government entities get involved in the definition of the eID system,” says Barbu. “This institutional complexity makes the projects much more difficult to take off.”
This complexity is reflected in the fragmented variety of national credentials being issued across the Americas. “eID in the Americas has very diverse forms, making it difficult to place the whole region into one category and compare it to the rest of the world,” says Barbu. He points to the different ID types around the Americas: PIV in the U.S. for federal employees; National eID in Ecuador, Guatemala and Chile; Service cards in Canada and Brazil; and driver licenses in Mexico.
Cultural considerations aside, the main challenge for countries are the deployment of services associated with eID, Barbu explains. “It is only when these services are in place that a government gets the full benefits in terms of return on investment – cost reduction for the government operations, reduction of waste, fraud and abuse.”
For the region as a whole, M2SYS’ Rahman suggests that there are certain cultural challenges that apply across the board. “Cultural and social attitudes regarding data sharing are also important factors,” he says. “Privacy activism in Latin America is on the rise, which might threaten the pursuit of government-run identification systems.”
An identity gap
At the heart of the cultural and social considerations associated with eID credentials, is the idea that an identity gap exists between developed and developing countries.
Despite the adoption in the region, there are still some South American countries that are lagging in terms of ID technology. But M2SYS’ Rahman believes that the examples are in place for developing South American nations to learn from their neighbors’ experiences.
“Formal identity is a prerequisite for development but some Latin American countries are still relying on paper-based identity documents,” says Rahman. “These countries should follow the footsteps of Argentina and Brazil to bridge the ‘identity gap’ and establish a biometric backed national identification system. Both countries have demonstrated that implementing a national ID card system is a smart way to more efficiently distribute social services.”
Both Argentina and Brazil could lead by example as they plan to replace their current ID cards with a new smart card that would include demographic details and biometric credentials. “They want to deal with the increasing rate of terrorist activities, crime and immigration issues,” Rahman says. “These adoptions have strong potential to impact other Latin American countries and influence their decision to adopt similar technology.”
Both Argentina and Brazil are replacing current ID cards with a new smart card that includes demographic and biometric data
Brazil has taken the lead on eID, in part, due to concerns over security in the run-up to the country’s upcoming Olympic games. “It’s a unique situation that motivated them to more comprehensively investigate adopting eID,” Rahman adds.
A poor identity system – often a byproduct of the identity gap – is also seen as a good environment for human trafficking, terrorist activities and drug-related crime, Barbu explains. “There are a number of countries experiencing these issues,” he says. “They must invest a lot of effort in modernizing their Civil Registries and ID-related processes nationwide to combat these issues.”
Understandably, countries at opposing ends of the identity gap deal with very different challenges. “Developed countries like the U.S. are confronted now on a regular basis with massive attacks on their identity systems. Recent data breaches have compromised the identity data of millions of Americans,” explains Barbu. “This data is much more attractive to criminal organizations as the financial and security impact is significantly higher compared to emerging countries.”
Barbu acknowledges the identity gap and sees it impact a country in three ways:
Human development: In Latin American countries, poor ID systems expose people to certain types of crime and inhibits their access to welfare programs.
Financial exposure: In North America, inability to protect identity data leads to substantial financial risks for citizens.
National security: Organized crime and terrorism thrive in environments with poor ID systems.
When it comes to national eID, the Americas are a region driven by social, cultural and political motivations. But what sets the region apart more than anything is the clear contrast on the subject by North and South America respectively.
Nowhere else is there such staunch opposition to eID, or national credentials in general, than there is in North America. A majority of South America, meanwhile, is following suit trend with countries around the world and adopting eID credentials.
In the end, however, the adoption of eID credentials boils down to citizen service. “Identity is important because a person who has an identity will have greater access to basic services such as school resources, healthcare services, transit and more,” says the Smart Card Alliance’s Betts. “Governments must guarantee the basic human rights of all citizens, which includes the right to have an identity.”