UK firm to power face verification in Singapore's digital identity system

British firm iProov inks deal to provide face verification technology used in Singapore's national digital identity system, enabling four million users to access e-government services with a biometric scan.

Singapore has inked a deal with British vendor iProov to provide face verification technology used in the Asian country's national digital identity system. Already launched as a pilot earlier this year, the feature allows SingPass users to access e-government services via a biometric, bypassing the need for passwords. 

The agreement also sees Singapore-based digital government services specialist, Toppan Ecquaria, involved in the deployment of the facial verification technology. Both vendors were selected following an open tender issued by Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and months of user tests, the companies said in a joint statement Tuesday.

iProov's Genuine Presence Assurance technology is touted to have the ability to determine if an individual's face is an actual person, and not a photograph, mask or digital spoof, and authenticate that it is not a deepfake or injected video. Its agreement with the Singapore government also is the first time the vendor's cloud facial verification technology is used to secure a country's national digital identity

It gives four million SingPass users the option to authenticate their identity with the biometric scan on their computers or at kiosks. Citizens use their SingPass account to log into and access 500 digital services provided by more than 180 government agencies as well as commercial entities, such as banks. 

Local bank DBS in July collaborated with GovTech to pilot the use of the face verification technology as part of efforts to speed up digital banking registration. The service enabled customers to sign up for DBS' digital banking services without having to use their ATM, credit, or debit card, and pin to complete the verification process to activate their accounts. 

They would need to select SingPass Face Verification through the bank's mobile app when signing up for a digital service before taking a photo of themselves. The user's face then would be scanned and matched against the Singapore government's national digital identity database, which also comprised biometric data. Once authenticated, DBS would send an SMS to the user's register mobile number for verification. The bank had said data submitted through the process would not be collected or retained.

GovTech's senior director of national digital identity Quek Sin Kwok said: "SingPass Face Verification, under our National Digital Identity (NDI) programme, will help partners enhance their customer service journeys. We will continue to extend useful and trusted NDI services to more private sector organisations to accelerate digitalisation and grow Singapore's digital economy."

Toppan Ecquaria's managing director Foong Wai Keong added: "Allowing businesses to tap into the government-built digital identity infrastructure significantly reduces time and costs. And doing so using facial verification and on the cloud -- that is revolutionary. As the world increasingly transacts online, cloud-native solutions are becoming the norm even in the public sector."

According to DBS, the COVID-19 pandemic had pushed the adoption and use of digital banking services. The bank saw transactions on its retail digital platform climb 220% between January and May this year, compared to the same period in 2019. Transactions on its wealth digital platform iWealth also increased 198% year-on-year, DBS said in a statement Monday. 

The bank added that the volume of cash it handled between 2017 and 2019 dropped an average of 5%, or a reduction of SG$5 billion a year. Between June and August 2020, cash volumes dropped a further 34% year-on-year, amounting to a drop of SG$7 billion over three months. 

To tap growing adoption of mobile and online platforms, DBS said it had been introducing "intelligent banking" capabilities integrated with predictive analytics. Tapping data to provide more intuitive and personalised customer services, the bank said its Intelligent Banking engine generated up to 13 million insights a month across its digital banking services. These were used to help customers improve their financial planning and budgeting as well as make more timely investment decisions. 

DBS said it would introduce more of such features by the first quarter of 2021, including suggestions on equity stocks customised to a wealth customer's investment pattern and prompts to speed up daily banking functions and enable customers to carry out transactions, such as bill payments, with a single tap or swipe on their mobile phone.

iProov's partnership with GovTech also marks the UK firm's foray into the Asia-Pacific region.

The Singapore government in 2018 said it was testing various sensors that could be incorporated into smart lampposts, including cameras that could support facial recognition capabilities. These would be part of its Lamppost-as-a-Plaform pilot, which could see all 110,000 lampposts across the island fitted with wireless sensors and cameras to "better support urban planning and operations". The sensors, for example, could detect and monitor changes to environmental conditions such as humidity, rainfall, temperature, and air pollutants. Cameras would have analytic capabilities to count and analyse crowds as well as count, classify, and monitor the speed of Personal Mobility Devices to improve safety in public spaces, according to GovTech.

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