It’s National ID scheme all over again in the minds of Russia politicians

The Prime Minister has offered to switch to electronic passports built as a bank card — several years after previous large-scale project died due to low acceptance

Vedomosti wrote about the Russian Government mulling plans to switch from paper-based passports to electronic ones startin from 2021 and complete migration by 2024. The program would require RUB 114.4 billion and will put on a card token various data artifacts of one’s passport, driving licence, social security ID and various other identifiers for regional and municipal programs.

For strong authentication, the proposal includes writing on a electronic card, with a look like a bank card, the user facial and fingerprint biometrics — and the user private key and unique code, for him to access his digital profile.

To make it happen, a lot has to be done both in terms of amending laws, unifying databases and building infrastructure for issuance and acceptance.

A project of this size, looks and sounds exactly like the National ID scheme the Russian Government planned at the time of the current Prime Minister being President back in 2009. It at one point was budgeted for over USD 15 billion and ended with a huge flop with tens of thousands applying for a card.

I am adding again a scheme I did in 2011 about previous attempt to build a national ID scheme based on a card — where much has been proposed in terms of visions of political grandeur — but very little in terms of practicality and desirability. There was no customer facing proposition — no single feature that made this card easier to use than a fallback option of a passport, that is easier and trustworthy because users know how it works.

Unification of Gov ID tokens is almost always a cost-saving measure and from a user perspective a card in this digital and interactive world is actually a relic from the past. The Government has already invested heavily in a telco-based initiative where users digital profile is accessed via SAML-type architecture with OTPs sent to user mobile device with digital key provisioning.

The architecture proposed for a electronic card caters for a unified and centralised database (data collection and staging will take a huge amount of resources) — where decentralised with standardised exchange is actually better and promotes innovation with regards how data can be used to the benefit of a user.

The proposal is at odds with other programs and conflicts with the promise of users owning their data and the market having equitable and equal access to it.

Next up we will tell a story about another major Russian state-sponsored program for a national biometrics system for remote financial service provisioning.