Change Leaders

‘DigiLocker is envisioned as a documents highway to enable Digital India’, Mr. Debabrata Nayak, NeDG, Meity

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In our blog titled ‘Can DigiLocker catalyze Digital India?’ we have defined the concept of DigiLocker and explored the benefits to various key stakeholders i.e. the issuers, the service providers & the citizens.

In this post we bring to you the excerpts of an interview with Mr. Debabrata Nayak, a key force behind the evolution of DigiLocker. He is an Additional Director at National e-Governance Division (NeGD), Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology (Meity), Government of India.

Mr. Nayak shares with Ankur Aggarwal how DigiLocker facilitates real time authentication of documents and seeks to improve services delivery of plethora of citizen services. He also busts the myths that it is a cloud storage like Dropbox and that it is meant only for the tech savvy users.mr-debabrata-nayak-jpegAnkur: DigiLocker is appreciated amongst the youth, the working professionals and the tech savvy people. Is it just another cloud storage space from the Government of India? Some are enthusiastic about uploading and storing their documents in DigiLocker but some criticize it for injudicious spending of public money on developing a cloud storage when we already have free options such a s Dropbox and Google Drive.

Mr. Nayak: DigiLocker is in no way similar to Dropbox or Google Drive. It is not a cloud storage platform, rather it is envisioned as a digital highway for documents exchange. DigiLocker attempts to harness the power of digital signatures in issuance and authentication of documents such as the driving license, passport, school certificates, EPIC commonly known as the voter’s ID card to name a few. The IT Act 2002, has provided legal sanctity to the digital signatures. When a document is issued using just the physical signatures then the document will come back to the issuing authority for verification of authenticity of the document. But when digital signatures have been put on a document and a digital copy is issued to the citizen then there is no need for the document to come back to the issuing authority. The authentication is verified by the digital signatures. The DigiLocker platform seeks to improve service delivery by creating a digital highway that can facilitate exchange of digitally signed documents amongst the issuers, citizens and the service providers.

Using the DigiLocker platform the issuers can issue documents to the citizens and the citizens can share these documents to the service providers for availing various services. In addition to sharing digitally issued documents, DigiLocker facilitates sharing of an uploaded document and for allowing citizens to upload the relevant documents in the 1 GB cloud storage space that has been provided to them. This will turn out to be a superb investment for the government as it would lead to drastic reduction in service delivery time due to real time authentication of the documents. Moreover, it will also make the life of the citizens easier.

Ankur: Would you please throw more light on how DigiLocker does real time authentication and improves service delivery?

Mr. Nayak: While availing a service from a government institution, the citizen submits certain required documents. These documents need to get verified before providing the service. For instance, a citizen makes an application for issuance of passport and submits the relevant documents such as voter’s ID card, PAN card, Aadhaar card etc. Now the department has two options to consider. Either send all these document to the respective issuers to verify the authenticity of these documents or trust the documents prima facie and process the passport application. The former choice would lead to a compromise in the speed of service delivery while the latter would it simpler and faster. A similar dilemma arises in case of issuance of PAN card, voter’s ID card, income certificate, caste certificate and a host of documents that the government institutions issue to the citizens.

A physical document in this scenario will remain as a mere artifact and the verification process will involve checking the details in a database. When an issuer onboards the DigiLocker platform we provide full support to the issuer institution in digitalizing the database and shifting the database on a cloud repository. Then the issuer pushes the URI to the citizen applicant, which is the link of the document lying in the repository. Also the URI can be pulled by the citizen. Now the citizens can access documents issued to them in their DigiLockers and can also share the link with a DigiLocker empaneled service provider (like the Passport Seva). Since the documents lie in the repository of the issuer, hence these are verified for their authenticity. Every time the service providing institution will not have to send the document for verification because the records are getting verified from the issuing department on real time basis.

Ankur: But online verification for the records of some institutions such as mark sheets of CBSE students, voters’ list for the whole of India etc. is available online. What is different about DigiLocker then?

Mr. Nayak: There are two drawbacks to such publication of data. First, the whole data is in public domain and anyone can access the data. There can be a misuse of such information. Second, this data does not have legal sanctity because it does not contain digital signatures. Many employers especially the government employers do not accept the online mark sheets lying in the public domain as a reliable source of information and resort to a time consuming process of physical verification of the documents.

CBSE on-boarded the DigiLocker platform and issued the marks sheets to the students through DigiLocker platform. The data of the students still lies in the repository of the CBSE and it is the owner of the data but this data has legal acceptance due to the fact that it contains digital signatures of the issuer on the document. Very interesting point to note here is that the data is not in public domain and no one can access the data related to an individual. It can be shared only by the consent of the person through DigiLocker.

Ankur: What about the myth that DigiLocker is meant for the tech savvy citizens only?

Mr. Nayak: In the time to come, any citizen will be able to use the DigiLocker. Generally, the digital governance services are first offered through over the counter (OTC) delivery channels and then self-service is offered to the citizens. But DigiLocker has offered self-service first and OTC service delivery will be offered in the time to come. The service providers will be able to fetch the issued documents using Aadhaar enabled identity authentication when the citizen visits the department to avail their services. The way Aadhaar has simplified banking and a host of other e-governance initiatives such as public Distribution services, it would also improve the service delivery domain as far as the use of documents is concerned.

Ankur: What is your message to the citizens and the institutions?

Mr. Nayak: To the citizens, I would like to say that if you want the governance to be on your fingertips, adopt digital. Link your mobile number with Aadhaar and link Aadhaar with all your documents. All this can be done online. This would help you avail all other citizen services from a host of government departments. To the issuing and service providing institutions, I would like to say that you all are welcome on board the DigiLocker platform and we would provide the last mile support to all the institutions.

Ankur: Thank you Mr. Nayak for your insights?

Mr. Nayak: You are most welcome. I think Maximum Governance is a great initiative to share the knowledge within the government domain. I wish you all the best.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Srikanth Krishnamachary

    February 6, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    When issuer onboards and provides the documents it’s fine because it’s pre-authenticated.
    However I feel that the implementation is severely flawed.
    a. If scanned documents documents are “digitially signed” then the document is larger than when a simple “text” is stored.
    Example, if I were to scan my property document that runs to several pages, the size of the file itself would be big.
    It would have been better if standard forms for various departments were provided such that for old records, the user “enters” the data and the “issuing authority” validate and publish electronic version which would have been simple text.
    This would help speed up implementation and also lower the size of the file, which in turn means mobile can hold more documents and also that it is faster to download and verify them.

    b. A standard “Document ID” naming convention just like we have “internet name resolution” so that document can be retrieved by just specifyin the document-id instead of also having to specify the issuer.

    If only the final documents are stored without the ability to “extract the contents”, I feel with the low bandwidth not all documents of an individual can be stored.

  2. Ankur Aggarwal

    February 8, 2017 at 9:06 am

    That’s a good observation Mr. Srikant. Thanks that you read and shared your perspective with us. I would like to provide further insights on this.

    DigiLocker is at a nascent stage right now. What they are doing is collaborating with various issuers and helping them first issue documents then onward on DigiLocker. For instance CBSE on-boarded DigiLocker in 2016 then it issued 2016 marks sheets on DigiLocker. As you mentioned, there are concerns for the legacy data i.e. data before 2016. What about these who passed out before 2016 and want to avail DigiLocker facility. There are plans for the same. The board is planning to put legacy data on DigiLocker and it will happen in phases. And uploaded documents are not the focus area of the DigiLocker project. It has been added because it is helpful to the citizens and equivalent to a signed or self attested document submitted but not equal to a verified document. Similarly all the issuers should gradually put legacy data on the DigiLocker.

    Coming to your second point I would say that every document has a unique id allotted to it but no one can search based on that. It will be automatically pushed to the DigiLocker if Aadhaar is connected or else the citizen will pull the document from database by providing certain details. the sharing is also consent based and no service provider can himself fetch the details of any citizen. It is only the citizen who can share his/her documents stored in the DigiLocker.

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