Written by Lynette Chang | Edited by OCF Lab

Following the release of previous part, this article will look at the non-mandatory implementation of digital and mobile ID via smart devices in Singapore and South Korea, as well as the transition to the use of eIDs in Taiwan. By comparing and contrasting the digital ID experiences in these Asian countries, we hope to identify areas that Taiwan can learn from to improve its digital ID experience when it is rolled out next year.

Non-Mandatory Digital/ Mobile ID via Smart Devices: Singapore and South Korea

Singapore’s National Digital Identity Initiative has seen the launching of the Singapore Personal Access (SingPass) Mobile application in 2018. The SingPass Mobile app, which users may access via a 6-digit passcode or biometrically through fingerprint or facial recognition, is a one-stop portal that allows users to access various government services such as MyTax, Singapore’s online tax portal.

Screenshot of the SingPass Mobile app / Image by Lynette Chang

The SingPass Mobile app features a MyInfo Profile page containing a digital identity card and links to various government services. The MyInfo Profile is a service which allows SingPass users to auto-fill selected personal details on online forms, which reduces repetitive form-filling and the need for users to provide verifying documents.
Information stored in the MyInfo profile includes the SingPass user’s name, identification number, contact details, driver’s license, and information on the user’s education and employment histories among others. 

Screenshot of the Digital Identity Card on the SingPass Mobile App / Image by Lynette Chang

The SingPass Mobile app is available for use on both iOS and Android devices. While the use of the SingPass Mobile app is not mandatory, it is increasingly becoming the de facto way to access SingPass and other digital government services. Besides using the SingPass Mobile app, users may also login to SingPass by keying in a one-time PIN sent to the user via text message (SMS 2FA) or generated on a physical OneKey token. Currently, only 2 percent of SingPass users access the service through the OneKey token, and the Government Technology Agency of Singapore has announced plans to phase out the physical token by 1 April 2021.

Like Singapore, South Korea is also seeing a rise in the use of digital or mobile identification apps, the difference being that the SingPass Mobile app is a government-initiated service while the provision of mobile ID services is privatized in South Korea. 

This follows the passing of the amendments to South Korea’s existing Digital Signature Act, slated to take effect in December 2020. The Act revokes the monopoly that the South Korean government had on the Official ID Certificate in South Korea, which has been used for 21 years to regulate online financial transactions in the private sector. The old Official ID Certificate has faced criticism for being time-consuming because the public certificate requires multiple softwares to be downloaded.

The amended Digital Signature Act aims to introduce competition to the digital certificate market and allows consumers to choose a certificate system from an array of options provided by private firms. For instance, South Korea’s three largest telcos, SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus, jointly launched the identity authentication app, PASS in 2018 and has worked with the Korean National Police Agency and Road Traffic Authority (KoRoad) to introduce a digital driver’s license this year. 

Digital Driver’s License in the PASS App / Courtesy of JoongAng Ilbo

The digital driver’s license is the first ever official identification in South Korea to be digitized, and may be used legally in convenience stores like CU and GS25 for age verification when purchasing age-restricted goods.

A customer shows her digital driver’s license at a convenience store. / Courtesy of Business Korea

Compared with the physical driver’s license which reveals the bearer’s Resident Registration Number, address and other personal information, the digital driver’s license only shows the user’s name and photo identification with a QR code and barcode. The codes are automatically refreshed to prevent the misappropriation of personal data.

However, even with such measures in place, data security remains a concern for South Koreans like Miru from the Korean Progressive Network Center Jinbonet. Miru is concerned about the privatization of the digital certificate market as there is no real guarantee where users’ personal data may end up and for what purposes. “Usually more convenient means more dangerous,” she shares, exercising caution when it comes to this new form of convenience. 

eID in the Making: Taiwan

In March this year, Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior enacted the Regulations for the National-wide Replacement of National ID Cards, as a nation-wide effort to replace the traditional identity card with an electronic ID card containing an IC chip. 

New Taiwanese eID / Courtesy of the Ministry of the Interior (Taiwan)

Currently, Taiwanese who wish to verify their online identity may apply for a Citizen Digital Certificate at the Ministry of the Interior. This function will be incorporated into the new eID card and can be disabled if users wish to do so. However, this option is not available for all other information and functions stored in the IC chip. While there are plans to incorporate the existing National Health Insurance card and driver’s license into the new eID, it is not clear when these changes will take place.

Residents of Penghu County, Hsinchu City, Yonghe and Banqiao districts of New Taipei City were originally slated to be the first to have their IDs replaced beginning January 2021 as part of a trial. However, Penghu County and New Taipei City have pulled out of the trial as the problems regarding data security risks have not been addressed.

 July 2021 will see the policy take effect island-wide. Some Taiwanese, however, are worried about the data security risks associated with the use of the IC chip, citing personal and national data breaches as an area of concern. The government has not been fully transparent regarding the specifications of the card or the data security measures in place, choosing instead to make revisions without thorough consideration. As such, the government has found it difficult to win the trust of its people in this respect. Activists and academics alike have stepped up to express their disapproval regarding the hasty implementation of digital ID in Taiwan.

What Can Taiwan Learn from the Experiences of These Countries?

According to Acuity Market Intelligence and Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior, of the 128 countries that have issued national IDs, 82% of them have opted for the use of an IC chip or other forms of electronic certificates as of 2017. This number is projected to rise 7% by 2021. The technological revolution has seen many countries and their governments grow increasingly reliant on technology and jumping onto the bandwagon of digital ID. However, can their policies really catch up with the advancement of technology?

Recently, Singapore experienced its worst data breach involving the medical records of 1.5 million SingHealth patients, making up about a quarter of its population; South Korea has also seen the personal data of 20 million residents being leaked, and even has plans to revamp its Resident Registration Number system; the personal data of more than 46 million people in Malaysia was leaked and up for sale on a forum, and finally in Taiwan, millions of job portal users and an estimated 590,000 Ministry of Civil Service employees found their personal data being sold on the darknet. It’s evident that data digitization, whether in the public or private sector, is a double-edged sword which brings convenience to users while putting them at risk of being monitored or controlled by hackers from other countries and even by their own governments. The setting up of a national database is a large-scale project which involves the collection and central storage of a wide variety of personal data. A data breach of that scale would seriously compromise users’ privacy and security, the effects of which could be irreversible.

The digital ID experiences of these five countries reveal that many people still have reservations regarding the use of digital ID as they lack confidence in the law and the government’s ability to protect their personal data. Data breach still poses a very real threat despite the severe punishment meted out in Singapore, the existence of a law protecting personal data in Malaysia and the change in legislation in South Korea.

As the use of digital ID is only just starting to take flight in Taiwan, it is important for Taiwan to learn from the experiences of these countries and review its Civil Code, Personal Data Protection Act and other legislations to ensure that they are up-to-date and sufficient to protect peoples’ rights. It is also important for the government to work with the people, seek expert evaluation regarding data security risks and ways to resolve them. The government should also set up an independent agency and review existing legislations to regulate the collection and appropriation of personal data in light of the use of new technology. Only when these precautionary measures are in place should the government proceed with the design and rolling out of digital IDs so as to keep up with the global trend, reduce unnecessary costs and security risks and ensure the integrity of the people’s personal data.


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  9. 박 형수. “운전면허증도 이제 휴대폰으로···첫 디지털 공인신분증 된다 .” 중앙일보 , 23 June 2020, news.joins.com/article/23808135
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The article is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0. 




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