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Unveiling Bhutan’s National Digital Identity

The (un)Trustables Podcast Episode 1

Written by Christine Martin

November 28, 2023

Welcome to the inaugural episode of the (un)Trustables Podcast, where we embark on a captivating journey into the heart of Bhutan’s National Digital Identity (NDI) project. This episode explores the fascinating world of digital transformation, shedding light on the remarkable initiatives reshaping Bhutan’s digital landscape.

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The Birth of Bhutan’s National Digital Identity (NDI)

In our conversation with Jacques Von Benecke, Chief Technology Officer at Druk Holding & Investments, we uncover the genesis of Bhutan’s NDI project. This groundbreaking initiative introduces Bhutan’s “edge wallet,” a highly secure mobile wallet designed to safeguard what Bhutan refers to as ‘foundational digital identity,’ the first verified credential issued to citizens.

Building Blocks of a Bhutanese Digital Identity

Delving deeper into Bhutan’s digital identity framework, Jacques reveals the core components that make up the digital identities of Bhutanese citizens. These include unique identifiers, permanent and current addresses, and other critical data points. Beyond foundational identity, the NDI opens the door to many use cases, spanning government services and commercial applications.

Empowering Bhutanese Citizens with Digital Convenience

The NDI project isn’t just about innovation; it’s about transforming the lives of Bhutanese citizens. Jacques explains how this digital transformation eliminates time-consuming journeys to government offices, saving citizens valuable time and resources. Even in remote areas, the NDI project enhances accessibility, simplifying processes with mobile solutions.

Drummond Reed’s Perspective on Bhutan’s SSI Journey

Renowned digital identity expert Drummond Reed shares his initial astonishment at the audacity of Bhutan’s plan to implement a self-sovereign identity (SSI) solution at the national level. He reflects on Bhutan’s forward-thinking approach and alignment with the SSI book’s principles.

We did research and then we read the SSI book which Drummond and Alex wrote, and we just felt so strongly that it’s exactly the vision of His Majesty, our King; that we said, why don’t we just build the book? That was kind of our starting place. Since then, we’ve embodied the principles. We really thought about what the idea of the SSI book is and how it should benefit people, we wanted it to be very citizen-centric. Jacques Von Benecke, Chief Technology Officer at Druk Holding & Investments

Crafting Legislation and Governance for Digital Trust

Translating the SSI book’s vision into tangible legislation was a crucial step. Jacques explains how this process, guided by Drummond Reed and informed by extensive consultation with experts, culminated in the unanimous passing of an Act in Bhutan’s parliament. This legislation ensures a citizen-centric approach to digital identity.

Building an Ecosystem for Digital Trust

Drummond underscores the importance of creating a comprehensive digital trust ecosystem involving various stakeholders. Bhutan’s NDI project serves as a blueprint for other nations seeking to embark on similar digital identity journeys, emphasizing the collaborative nature of such transformative endeavours.

Addressing Device Accessibility

Inclusivity is a priority for Bhutan’s NDI project. Jacques outlines Bhutan’s strategies to ensure device accessibility for all citizens, including a fund to provide devices to families without them. For those in remote areas without mobile coverage, a unique biometric verifiable credential bridges the digital divide, enabling access when they visit friends and family with smart devices.

Digital Horizons Unveiled

Bhutan’s NDI project is a testament to the transformative power of digital identity. It offers citizens convenience, efficiency, and accessibility while laying the foundation for a more connected and digitally empowered society. As we conclude Episode 1 of the (un)Trustables Podcast, we invite you to stay tuned for future episodes where we continue to explore digital trust and transformation worldwide.

Additional Resources:

Thank you for joining us on this journey through Bhutan’s digital transformation. We hope the insights shared in this episode inspire you as we look forward to sharing more remarkable stories of trust and transformation in future episodes. Subscribe to the (un)Trustables Podcast for updates on upcoming episodes. Follow us on X, Linkedin and YouTube for the latest news and discussions on digital trust and transformation. Stay digitally empowered!

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