Muhunthan Canagey

Sri Lanka is building a national digital identity system to ensure that transactions can be digitally verified and the programme, which will cost over US$100 million, is expected to be complete within the next three years, a top bureaucrat has said.  In a recent interview with GovInsider, a Singapore-based e-publishing platform, the Chief Executive Officer of the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka, Muhunthan Canagey says once the project is up and running, every citizen will get a smart card which they can use for payments and digital identification.

“Sri Lankans would be able to receive social welfare payments directly to digital wallets, for example. They would also use it to share and sign documents digitally. Personal documents like birth certificates and licences will be stored digitally, and citizens would be able to share them with other organizations,” Canagey said adding that authentication could range from biometrics such as fingerprints and iris scans to the plain old username and passwords.

He further notes the project will put Sri Lanka “among the top three countries” in the world for digital identity. The other two are Estonia and Sweden, Canagey believes. Sri Lanka has been particularly inspired by the e-Estonia programme: “That’s the type of drive that you need to have and we are inspired by their results”, he said.

“The digital identity platform would integrate with services by both government and private sector. We are building it such that authentication can be provided as a service”, the ICTA CEO said.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka also plans to build world-class cyber security systems and is using the latest technology in the area – Blockchain. Starting next year, it will be piloted for social welfare and other transactions related to the digital identity. “Thereafter, we will just be open for all systems to implement them and the frameworks will be in place”, Canagey told the GovInsider.

He notes that the Blockchain will ensure that government data is accurate, and hacks do not go unnoticed. “We don’t want people to lose confidence in digitisation,” Canagey says. “And that is to ensure that there is data integrity and people trust the data.”

He further added that Sri Lanka will also build the “next generation of CERT” – a unit responsible for tracking and alerting the government to cyber attacks. The country is building a national security operations centre to centrally detect attacks and devise responses to them. It wants to “work closely with international security firms and agencies in order to make sure cyber security is at its best”, Canagey said.