Man holding cellphone ( Photo Family).

Digital identity: building the foundations of digital public infrastructure in Lebanon

Abdallah Jabbour
Digital Development Specialist at the World Bank
Christopher Tullis
Senior Digital Development Specialist

An emerging global consensus recognizes the role of digital public infrastructure (DPI) in facilitating countries’ digital transformation at scale. Digital identity (ID) is commonly recognized as the lynchpin of a trusted DPI foundation, enabling reliable authentication and trusted interactions between individuals, governments, and businesses.

Digital identity is a key enabler for the delivery of digitalized public and private services such as healthcare management and delivery, social welfare payments, banking transactions, and tax payments. From the user’s perspective, digital ID can boost convenience, minimize waiting times, and eliminate potential travel costs by allowing remote authentication for digital services. From the government’s perspective, digital ID can enhance administrative efficiency and reduce the risk of identity fraud. From a business’s perspective, it can produce significant cost savings, support regulatory compliance, and provide a reliable method for background checks. Examples of the benefits of digital ID are numerous: in Estonia, for example, a digital ID is issued to every resident and 99 percent of government services are available online, saving the average resident five days a year and the country 1400 years of working time annually.

Against the backdrop of a severe economic, financial, and political crisis, Lebanon has embarked on an ambitious journey to build its digital public infrastructure, with the aim of facilitating person-to-government transactions and reducing corruption. Championed by the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR) and approved in 2022, the 2020-2030 Lebanon Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS) reflects the government’s commitment to digital development and outlines a long-term vision for digital transformation, including the prioritization and implementation of reliable identify verification – namely digital ID and electronic signature capability. The DTS reflects the potential for digital transformation across multiple sectors of the Lebanese government and economy, which is primarily dependent on the establishment of the foundational elements of a whole-of-government DPI architecture. Core building blocks for DPI include interoperability standards to allow seamless and secure data sharing, reliable identity verification as provided by digital identity and e-signature technology, as well as robust data governance and data protection frameworks. From this lens, OMSAR has been working diligently with the Ministry of Justice to strengthen the legal and regulatory framework for electronic transactions and personal data protection.

The World Bank has a long history of engagement with Lebanon, and this partnership has taken on new significance in the face of Lebanon’s ongoing crises. Given the urgency of mitigating the challenging environment spurred by the near collapse of multiple economic sectors, the focus of technical assistance has shifted to the prioritization, implementation, and dissemination of the DTS, with a focus on transitioning to a next-generation digital government architecture, assessing opportunities to using cloud computing to mitigate the ongoing challenges surrounding the government’s IT infrastructure, strengthening digital public infrastructure (including digital ID, digital payments, and secure data sharing), and accelerating digital service delivery. By working closely with the government on these critical digitalization aspects, the World Bank is supporting Lebanon to create the foundations of online trust, crisis recovery and ultimately, long-term growth. The World Bank is also supporting the Lebanese Government to conduct broad stakeholder consultations across government, private sector, and civil society to ensure that DPI – including digital ID – is fit for purpose and meets stakeholders’ needs while mitigating risks.

To inform the design and implementation of digital ID in Lebanon, the World Bank has published its Lebanon ID Diagnostic and Lebanon Digital ID Use Cases reports. Together, these reports provide an overview and analysis of the current foundational identity ecosystem in Lebanon. They also review the needs of service providers that rely on digital ID verification and offer recommendations on how the national digital ID ecosystem could be strengthened. In some instances, a quick win – such as using the existing barcode on the back of national ID cards to reduce data entry issues – could be implemented at minimal cost and with minimal change to existing services. In other cases, more comprehensive investments and a deeper analysis of existing systems are needed, such as the introduction of e-signature technology or the implementation of a digital verification service for the current national ID. Building on the reports’ recommendations, the World Bank will continue working with the Lebanese Government to advance the digital development agenda and support the emergence of a trusted e-government that accelerates Lebanon’s digital transformation.

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