Another landmark in technological innovation

Bhutan achieves a technological milestone with the Introduction of Self-Sovereign National Digital ID

Suppose Dorji has hoards of tasks to complete and offices to visit but he has no time and is immobile. What Dorji can do is simply register himself with the Bhutan National Digital Identity (NDI) wallet.  All his work could be done with the touch of his fingertips from one place using his smartphone.

This will be possible as Bhutan has taken a remarkable leap forward in technological innovation, becoming the world’s pioneer in establishing a self-sovereign NDI. This groundbreaking development, spearheaded by Bhutan’s Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), promises to revolutionize the digital landscape of the country, making everyday tasks more efficient and accessible.

According to Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), the agency that developed the system, NDI is the platform on which digitization and online services of banks to hospitals to taxation to universities, everything can come online with 100 percent assurance. It is a versatile online platform and digital wallet designed for smartphones. With just a few taps on their screens, individuals like Dorji can effortlessly manage a wide range of tasks, from administrative duties to accessing vital services. This digital innovation not only simplifies daily life but also offers self-sovereign identity and enhanced convenience, ultimately saving precious time.

An official from Bhutan NDI said, “The national NDI wallet system has been built using blockchain technology which will provide each individual a self-sovereign identity, the very first of its kind in the country.”

The official shared that with the provided biometric details to the Department of civil registration and Census (DCRC), the service user should download and install the Bhutan NDI app from Google Play Store and Apple appstore.

According to the official, everyone can avail various services including banking services, hospital services, basic government and agency services, and job application services amongst others, once they register themselves with the Bhutan NDI digital wallet.

For instance, apart from access to government and other related services and benefits, the official said that Bhutan NDI will also promote and boost the digital economy by promoting secured online transactions of digital credentials and data. Once registered with the Bhutan NDI digital wallet, individuals gain access to an array of services, including banking, healthcare, government services, and job applications, to name a few. Beyond these benefits, the NDI also plays a pivotal role in bolstering the digital economy by facilitating secure online transactions of digital credentials and data.

Crucially, data privacy is a top priority. Only the registered user has access to their personal information stored in their Bhutan NDI wallet. Even the government is not privy to this data, underscoring the principle of data autonomy. This empowerment allows individuals to choose when, where, and with whom they share their digital credentials or data.

Security and privacy are further assured by the decentralized nature of the blockchain-based Bhutan NDI app, making it highly resilient to hacking attempts. Users also have the ability to control the sharing of their data, ensuring that their privacy remains intact. “In terms of empowerment, individuals will have sovereignty over their own personal data. They can decide as to whom, when and where their digital credentials or data needs to be shared. This will increase and empower individuals with data autonomy,” the official said. 

Speaking about the security and privacy of the Bhutan NDI app, the official shared that as the app is built with the blockchain, the platform is decentralized and there are fewer chances of hackers and the data stored will be safe in the individuals’ smart phones. 

In case of a lost phone, users can easily freeze the digital wallet or restore the app with the help of biometric authentication, similar to standard financial apps. Additionally, for those less tech-savvy, controllership and guardianship arrangements are available, allowing educated individuals to assist those who may require support.

Looking ahead, the Bhutan NDI team plans to incorporate Dzongkha translation into the app, making it more inclusive. They are also actively exploring options for accommodating disabled individuals, although these features have yet to be introduced. The Bhutan NDI is not mandatory for citizens, but it is highly advantageous when accessing government services and related stakeholders.

As for the uneducated person who wants to use the services, the official reiterated that they can do so through controllership and guardianship, in which an educated person of the specific users will act on their behalf.

Further, the official said that in the near future they will also work on Dzongkha translation for the app and that they are also working for the disabled persons though it is not yet introduced as of now.

People living abroad can also avail the services provided that they are registered with the biometric with the DCRC, making the services more convenient and easy for them to use the Bhutan NDI wallet.

The official said that it is not mandatory for the citizen to use the Bhutan NDI app, however, the official emphasized that the digital wallet will be more advantageous for the users while accessing the services from the government and the other related stakeholders.

His Royal Highness Gyalsey Jigme Namgyal Wangchuck was the first NDI citizen of the country. It is expected that the system will reach the rest of the population within this year only.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu