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Podcast 🎧 & blog: Digital identity – usage across borders

25.10.2022 | Federico Plantera

Digital citizens in a digital Europe? We are not quite there yet, but significant steps forward have been made in recent years with eIDAS. And progress doesn’t stop at the borders of political Europe, as a bilateral agreement between the Union and Ukraine is set to enhance the mutual recognition of trust services.

We hear all the latest from Mark Erlich, eGA’s Senior Expert on Digital Identity, and Business Architect at the Electronic Identity Department of the Information System Authority of Estonia. Government-issued digital identity can work across borders – let’s see how, and where we stand today.

 

What is eIDAS?

EU regulation 101: eIDAS stands for electronic IDentification, Authentication and trust Services. “Lawyers would say that this is a legal framework, mandatory to adopt in every country etc. But for me, as an engineer, I see it as a cooperation and trust framework,” Erlich says. “It is a framework that makes different countries in the European Union cooperate and establish standards to trust each other.”

  “Before eIDAS, the situation in Europe was more chaotic. Countries would run their electronic identity systems and have several different trust services. The problem was lack of trust – one country would not accept another country’s ID to access national services, because they wouldn’t know how trustworthy is the organization issuing such ID. Mind you – not the technology, but the organizational side of it,” Erlich explains.

 eIDAS puts in place standards and requirements that governments must meet before issuing any identity document, thus making these comparable and usable cross-border as well. We have a system to assess how trustworthy different eID solutions are, as released and operational in different countries and online service environments.

 

It doesn’t have to be another administrative burden – quite the opposite

We are familiar with how GDPR implementation in European Union was met when it came to be: almost as a nuisance. eIDAS, as in that case, could be seen as just another administrative burden – “if you view it as such,” Erlich specifies.

 “Otherwise, for what concerns the majority of services provided by public administrations, it is a good thingIt doesn’t even imply huge costs to sustain, as many technical solutions that should be adopted to make it work are open source, freely available, developed and maintained by the European Commission.” 

 “So you don’t need to implement some access point to cross-border authentication in every instance or website. You can just identify one so-called nodeone access point in the country, which is the administration that runs it. And all other interested websites can just refer, to authenticate oneself and start the session, to that specific administration,” Erlich says. It’s not a big burden – the extent of that depends on how public administration translates into practice and processes what the regulation mandates.

 

Where do we stand today, in the EU and with Ukraine

By now, only a handful of European countries don’t have yet eID or electronic signature solutions in place in their national environments. But openness and availability of cross-border transactions are a different matter. “Hopefully, about half the countries in the EU present this possibility, with every year three or four more joining the framework.”

 “I would say eIDAS was a first, small step in the right direction – removing one big obstacle, such as the trust issue. There are some examples of services working well in a cross-border manner, but the majority of these are not fully available, perhaps partially or not at all. A related and relevant issue is the lack of any solution yet for cross-border information and data exchange between different countries’ public administrations,” Erlich explains.

 But while the EU is working towards an improved version of the regulation, eIDAS 2.0 and the so-called European digital wallet, steps have been made to extend the framework beyond the borders of political Europe.

 “Recently, an agreement was signed between Ukraine and EU institutions to cooperate for the mutual recognition of trust services. Works on it started already a couple of years ago, but soon it will be possible for Ukrainian citizens to consume European services, and for EU businesses and residents to access the Ukrainian digital market,” Erlich highlights.

 For making it happen eGA team in Ukraine is working hard on it jointly with the Ministry of Digital Transformation within the EU4DigitalUA project.