UAE Invests Early in Digital Identity and Blockchain, Pays Off During COVID-19 Pandemic - Identity Review | Global Tech Think Tank

Among the many changes brought by the natural disaster, COVID-19 has accelerated the digitization of UAE government services, with more UAE citizens accessing services online with their digital identity. 

This comes at a time when the country has been heavily investing in innovation and digital tools for the past few years, including digital identity by citizens, blockchain systems, artificial intelligence and chat systems. These investments in advanced technology and engineering are a key focus for UAE Centennial 2071 directives. The ultimate goal for the bold initiative is to make the UAE “the best country in the world by 2071.”  

Digital Identity and Corona

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Launched in 2018, the UAE Pass app is a national digital identity solution developed in collaboration with  Smart Dubai, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and Abu Dhabi Digital Authority. It allows smartphone-based verification of a user and will enable them to sign documents digitally. This enables citizens to identify themselves digitally to government service providers in all emirates, including local and federal entities. The UAE Pass signature is legally binding, and equally as valid as a written signature. 

This early investment in digital identity has paid off as more government services moved online due to COVID-19. For example, this past month, UAE’s Ministry of Community Development (MOCD) brought more of it’s services online. The department is responsible for establishing social welfare institutions for the disabled and issuing marriage licenses. On the website, citizens can apply for grants and access applications via a digital portal. Certain applications accept payment in the form of Bitcoin. MOCD has been using blockchain for digital authentication of official certificates and other documents. 

“This step confirms the ministry’s commitment to ensure the continuity and flexibility of all government services in light of the directives of the smart government to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Hessa Essa Buhumaid, UAE’s Minister of Community Development. 

The ministry made the move to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission through in-person contact, by providing services through its website and smart applications. As of this month, the department started widely accepting approved digital documents instead of paper documents. Digital identity is a fundamental piece to accessing government services remotely. If users need further support, they can email and call support lines. This has greatly reduced the need to go in-person to government offices or service branches. 

A History of Blockchain Innovation

The focus on investing in innovation comes from the heavy emphasis on new technologies outlined from the vision in UAE Centennial 2071. 

With the UAE Centennial 2071, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai outlined his vision for the future for the country. Shaikh Mohammad tweeted: “We will have a vision for generations of the next five decades. It sets a clear map for long-term government work. Future generations will need foundations and pre-set tools that we introduce today, there needs to be an environment for growth, and this is something that we should think about from now…Rapid changes requires us to prepare future generations with new tools and knowledge, and different skills that enable them to succeed in a world that we will be very different from the times we live in today.”

This top-down support has kicked off several initiatives leveraging distributed ledger technology across the country. Blockchain has inspired many new visions for the future of transportation, oil, healthcare, land management, and more. 

Earlier this year, the UAE launched a blockchain platform for securely managing healthcare and pharmaceutical data through the Ministry of Health and Prevention. The goal is to create an unchangeable, decentralized and encrypted database with high-security protection to verify data validity and reliability. This was done in collaboration with the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Dubai Healthcare City and other relevant health authorities. It is also using blockchain for health worker credential checks. 

Additionally, last year, Dubai Land Department released a blockchain-based mortgage platform with Emirati lender Mashreq Bank. Other sectors include urban planning, with UAE’s Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities partnering with Indian IT services firm Tech Mahindra for a blockchain-based land registry system. “The government and private sectors in Abu Dhabi are working together to achieve the digital transformation agenda led by the government. We believe in proactively embracing new age technologies and delivering better citizen experiences to the residents of Abu Dhabi,” said Ahmad Abdolsamad AlHammadi, CIO of Abu Dhabi Municipality.

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