National IDs: 2016 facts and trends


​​​​​national ID facts and trends in 2016, citizen cards, national eIDs, ID card in a black wallet

Last updated 21 March 2017

The past ten years have brought a sea-change in what citizens and governments expect national IDs to deliver. This period has also been filled with incremental tech developments that are serving as a foundation for a much smarter citizen ID future. 

Biometrics, electronic national ID cards, mobile IDs, virtual documents such as "mobile" driver's license and the need to set up a national identity framework have moved to the main stage in 2016.

Biometric IDs are here

Fast forward to 2016 and digital identity technologies such as smart cards and biometrics have come of age, with an estimated 120 countries now deploying electronic passports incorporating these highly secure features and over 50 countries implementing eID cards.

National ID cards  have undergone a huge transformation; simple paper documents designed for single identification applications have given way to smarter documents in the form of a credit-card. These citizen ID cards or eIDs include a microprocessor for stronger document verification but also on-line authentication and signature. As they contain the portrait of the card holder and very often fingerprints, they can be used for biometric identification and biometric authentication when needed. 

This new generation of national identy card offers one of the best identity theft protection. These eID cards also enable governments to implement on-line applications such as eGovernment solutions giving citizens access to public services with the reassurance of robust security. The development of these government issued IDs means a single card can offer a host of applications – from acting as a driver's license, enabling the user to file their taxes or giving him/her access to state benefits.

More from Gemalto on secure document implementations around the world.

3,5 billion citizens to carry a national eID by 2018

But while some nations have been reticent in adopting eIDs, other countries have been far more bullish.

We've seen implementations in Asia with China, Malaysia and Indonesia to name a few, or across Africa with countries like the Republic of South Africa, Nigeria and more recently in 2016 with Algeria

Added to that are deployments across large parts of Europe, in the Gulf and in parts of Latin America. All provide interesting examples of the potential of eIDs to affect millions of ordinary lives throughout developed and emerging economies. 

According to research company Acuity Market Intelligence (2014), the number of electronic National IDs in circulation will reach 3.5 billion citizens by 2018 – by which time, the number of countries issuing national eIDs will overtake those issuing traditional national identity cards by a ratio of more than 5 to 1.

From eID to KYC and economic empowerment

National identity and economic empowerment

The case for eID cards and ePassports is quite straightforward for most people in the eID industry. In the business world, they play a key role in enabling financial services firms and telecoms companies to fulfil Know Your Customer (KYC)  requirements and carry out Know Your Employee checks. They allow government departments to interact with their citizens more effectively around the clock.


In the border control  environment, combined with facial recognition and biometric authentication systems, they boost security and improve passenger throughput, giving authorities the confidence that the person standing in front of them is who he or she claims to be.

And the best part?

Emerging economies see the value of eID credentials in general, because they promote economic empowerment, drive democracy and aid economic development as highlighted by the World Bank Group initiative named ID4D

They show the rest of the world that they are modern, secure and trustworthy states, able to implement new technologies and standards – and very much open for business. Furthermore, secure ID technology that can be used cross-border is important as it promotes regional integration and stability and makes economic development more likely.

Yes you're right. There are similarities with the European Regulation passed in July 2014.

This is what the European eIDAS Regulation on digital identification and trust services for digital transactions is trying to achieve. A framework of digital trust will allow European citizens of 31 countries to free themselves from uncoordinated and separate infrastructures. ​

One of the most innovative aspects of the Regulation is the possibility of accessing many services throughout Europe using the same national digital identity, whether public or private, provided that it has been officially recognized by the authorities of the country where it is currently in use. ​

2017  will be a pivotal year in the development of approved trust digital services in Europe and we will soon dedicate a report on eIDAS implementation.​ 

​Mobile ID – digital identity at work

Over recent years, mobile identity (mID) has proved an increasingly popular choice with citizens, thanks to its convenience, ergonomics and high level of security. The rapid adoption of m-Government services in countries that have chosen to focus on mobile communication devices, has demonstrated the appeal of this strong and trusted method of identification.

Some visionary countries have made the leap to mobile ID or mID, through the creation of a mechanism using an eID component for accessing online services via mobile devices. Pioneers include countries where market penetration of cell phones and new technology is strong such as Austria, Estonia, Finland, Norway and Turkey. Mobile ID projects are sometimes driven by the need for a universal form of identification (Austria 2003), or, in the case of Estonia in 2007, to supplement a national card program and accelerate the development of electronic identity and digital signature. 

In 2014, Oman was the first country in the Middle East to complement its national electronic ID card with a mobile ID scheme. As a highly trusted channel between citizens and service providers, mobile ID continues to extend its use from egovernment into other online areas such as banking and payment.

More on mobile IDs and the role of public authorities with the 2015 Gemalto white papers.

"1984" did not happen

Contrary to the vision of novelist George Orwell in '1984', national eID schemes have shown that managing citizen IDs can protect civil liberties, identity and social interactions in a state of law.

Electronic records on individual citizens are available upon request of their owner in many European countries with a national eID scheme. As President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves puts it: "You own your own data, so you have the right to access it any time." When introducing its national eID in Belgium, the government offered citizens an application enabling them to know who has accessed their personal data. And of course the key to accessing this online app is the national eID card. Each citizen can consult their personal file in the national data register to see a record of when government officials have accessed their personal data and for what reason. 

It's a good example of how transparency and traceability in every transaction between governments and their citizens can help protect privacy and strengthen trust.

More on transparency and traceability in the following Gemalto white paper on eGov 2.0.

 Virtual driver's license 

On the road to the virtual driver's license

So when will we have a digital driver's license on our mobile phone?

Today you can already do a lot with a smartphone. And the trend for on-phone payment, loyalty or travel applications may yet bring the driver's license to your mobile. While a driver's license primarily confirms identity and driving rights, a virtual driver's license also called mobile driver's license or digital driver's license potentially brings many more benefits and opportunities for issuers, regulatory authorities and particularly drivers.

The traditional driver's license is an important proof of ID (identity and age) checked by enforcement agencies, retailers and financial institutions alike. A mobile driver's license would provide an on-screen version of the traditional photo and driver information, and more. As a highly secure mobile application, it has stronger counterfeiting characteristics, enables driver data to be updated instantly and facilitates real-time communication opening the way to new business models using a trusted and secure channel. Several US states have launched pilots​​ to explore the user convenience, privacy and security and interoperability of mobile driver licenses.

Though the mobile driver's license still has some distance to travel before becoming a complement or replacement to the plastic license we're used to, there's clearly an interest with other countries like Australia and India also looking into this option. 

To learn more about digital driver's license initiatives visit our dedicated May 2016 dossier.

From eID to national identity schemes

Digital identity management is at the heart of the Internet economy as a key enabler for trust and innovation. Many countries are now putting in place the framework of their national identity scheme

This helps define the roles of the state, for example as regulator or issuer of digital identities (or neither), responsibilities in organizing data, applications and infrastructure and the underlying principles and operating methods of the digital identity ecosystem such as a federated identity management infrastructure. 

This can cover everything from how digital identities are used to authenticate users, or verify data linked to the services and detail the identity types and levels of trust within the scheme.  

Currently, different approaches are being pursued – from a state-led role in issuing digital identities and structuring services, as seen in Estonia or the United Arab Emirates, to the more decentralized system in Germany, or an identity ecosystem developed through a partnership between public and private sectors as is the case in Sweden.

Certain nations largely delegate the provision of identity solutions to the market, and therefore the private sector: this is the case in the United Kingdom who said no to a UK ID card as such.

The case of the US national ID is somewhat similar. ​There is no national ID card in the USA stricto sensu.

Today, the Social Security Card can be used to verify identity at certain occasions: employment, to obtain a passport, a driver's license or at the bank to obtain credit.

The driver's license in the United States is also a de facto ID document and can be used in many states to buy firearms, open a bank account or travel on domestic flights.

In addition, citizens not having a driver's license can get a State ID, issued at state level and used for identification purposes such as banking, etc. 

Of course, the US passport and passport card are official IDs as is the the military CAC card.

A federal initiative known as the REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, established minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for official purposes licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards.

There's more.

The US Department of Homeland Security is requesting that  starting January 22, 2018, passengers with a driver's license issued by a state that is still not compliant with the REAL ID Act will need to show an alternative form of identification for domestic air travel.  Passengers with driver's licenses issued by a state that is compliant with REAL ID will still be able to use their driver's licenses or identification cards.

The (US) ​National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace is exploring a more global system of interoperable identity service providers (public and private), giving individuals the choice of secure credential/s using a variety of options from mobile phones to smart cards and computers.  ​

Public comments are open till the end of March 2017 and will be integrated in the NIST Digital Identity Guidelines formerly knwon as  NIST SP 800-63-3.

More from Gemalto on this topic with our 2016 white paper on National Identity schemes.

From eID to national identity schemes