The European Commission presented the European Digital Identity project on Thursday. Its intention is that any citizen or business of the Union access their personal data through the mobile phone. Through a virtual wallet —the so-called wallet, in English— that governments will be obliged to facilitate society, the idea is that both our individual information and official documents be identified, stored and managed electronically. Identity card, academic titles, driver’s license, medical prescriptions, bank accounts … All data will be available in this digital wallet from September 2022 at the earliest. “It is a great step to promote mobility between countries and to streamline our daily lives,” said Margrethe Vestager, Vice President of the Commission, during the presentation of the project.
The pandemic has accelerated the transformation, and the Commission understands that a project such as digital identity, whose download will always be voluntary, must be a priority for all States. The 27 members of the Union, community institutions and private organizations will work hand in hand to set the standards of the initiative, as well as solve certain technical problems, such as the architecture or the predominant technology. “According to our digital strategy, by 2030, 80% of European citizens should use this solution and the Administration should also offer almost all its services digitally,” said Vestager.
Although the initiative may change during development, the Vice-President of the Commission has dared to offer some examples of its possible operation. If we are in a bar and the owner demands that we prove our legal age, it would be enough to show the date of birth saved in the virtual wallet. “Unlike what happens today, we would only share the necessary information, not a set of data such as name and surname, place of birth or number of the personal identification document”, Vestager has exposed as one of the supposed advantages, in clear allusion to improving the protection of the privacy of Europeans.
Rentals of houses, premises and cars; the opening of bank accounts; or study outside the country of origin, according to the digital identity roadmap, they would leave behind the paperwork and the possible exposure of irrelevant personal data for these efforts. In the words of the Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, during the press conference, the intention is to achieve similar benefits to those obtained with the elimination of the roaming on community land. In other words, that citizens develop their daily lives with the same rights and services regardless of the country in which they are. “The digital government It is among the plans of the States, they have the will. Now we want it to become a reality; and the digital identity goes in this line ”, has maintained Vestager.
The project also seeks to harmonize the different identification systems. Apart from the good intentions suggested by the vice president, the Commission regrets that the lack of unanimity in this type of tools makes it difficult to use them cross-border. According to the data provided by Vestager, 14 countries currently use 19 digital identification systems, but that barely covers 60% of the European territory. “Assimilation is low and its use in commercial or business cases is limited and cumbersome,” he argued as a justification for the new European Digital Identity.
The Commission has not clarified how it can be verified that the owner of the phone is actually its owner, and therefore who holds the identity and the documents that appear in the application. “The proposal provides for a high level of security. The Commission will propose and agree with the Member States the standards, technical specifications and operational aspects to ensure that the European digital wallets of the Member States have the highest levels of security. Member States will certify their wallets to ensure that they meet these requirements. Personal data will only be shared online if the citizen so wishes, “replied a spokesman asked by EL PAÍS about this point.
As digitization reaches more and more people and businesses, cybersecurity risks follow the same path. The greater the exposure, the greater the likelihood of having an attack. Aware of the situation, Breton has affirmed that the simplicity with respect to the introduction of the digital identity does not mean that it is easily accessible for cybercriminals. “Its design will protect the information of Europeans to prevent unwanted theft. We want to favor a complex cryptography, different from the one we know right now. I think quantum computing will improve current solutions. We want to promote this type of business ”, he stated.
The flag of data protection, constantly raised by the European Union, is largely behind the initiative. Nobody doubts the push towards a more digital Administration, but respect for privacy has crept into the discourse. The Commissioner for the Internal Market has criticized some platforms, although without citing their names, that demand data from citizens to access their services and then mine and monetize them without their consent. “Identification services cannot obey these parameters. What we present today is an alternative to these businesses ”, he has settled.
The era of sharing personal information and not knowing what would happen, what companies would use it for, giving them full powers, was left behind in the European Union with the entry into force in May 2018 of the Data Protection Regulation. In part, the same philosophy permeates digital identity. During the press conference, Vestager reiterated the security of files, the virtual wallet and individual privacy. “We will decide how much information we share about ourselves, with whom and for what purpose. It is a unique opportunity to lead us all to experience even more what it means to live in Europe ”, concluded the vice president.