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European Digital Identity Wallet: On the cusp of a European digital identity

The shape of the coming digital-identity revolution

Over the course of the most recent convention held by the Observatory, the advantages and the challenges of creating a European Digital Identity Wallet were brought into focus. The Wallet will allow all EU citizens to access a common identity-recognition system based on the Self Sovereign Identity model.

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According to recent figures from the Milan Polytechnic’s Digital Identity Observatory, the phenomenon of rapid dissemination of digital IDs during the pandemic was not limited to Italy.

Indeed, over the course of 2021, the percentage of digital IDs present within the population increased (and in some cases doubled) in all European countries. For digital leaders like the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway, population coverage has neared 100%.

eIDAS directives on digital identity, however, would need to have more “teeth” in order to bring about true international interoperability. As things stand, different options for digital identity have cropped up in different countries, leading to a rather fragmented European system lacking in uniformity. Far from the vision for the European Digital Market.

In June of 2021, the European Commission proposed an amendment to the eIDAS regulations, which was submitted along with a set of recommendations for the creation of a European Digital Identity Wallet. During the most recent Observatory Conference, Anders Gjoen, Legal & Policy Officer for the European Commission, provided an overview of the salient points of the proposal, which will allow for all EU Citizens to be able to utilise their digital identity in an interoperable way in any European country.

Digital IDs in Europe: the Challenges

The main challenge under the current eIDAS framework has been the voluntary-reporting system for the digital ID systems established by member states. Right now, each country within the European Community can decide whether to apprise the Commission of the digital-ID systems present within their country. Currently, reported systems stand at 19 from a total of 14 member states, representing a 59% population-coverage rate.

Additionally, the notice provided to the EU Commission does not mean that the other members states will automatically recognise such reported systems. Consequently, using digital identities in a cross-border manner becomes an arduous task.

Another obstacle in using European digital identities is the lack of a common user interface. At the authentication stage, the user is invariably redirected back to their own identity provider’s platform. This type of process is a long way off from the user-friendliness deemed by industry observers, amongst others, to be a crucial component of any digital identity.

Furthermore, the current eIDAS regulation does not provide exact instructions on the Level of Assurance that any digital-identity system reported to the EU must provide.

The European Digital Identity Wallet Proposal

First and foremost: structure. This is not the digital identity we’ve come to know in the past; rather it’s a wallet into which “verifiable attributes” (qualified or unqualified) are placed. These might include identifiers from a passport, birth certificate, or digital signature. A transposition of the Self Sovereign Identity model, one which will further enhance the options for using the European digital identity, but which will first and foremost vest users with greater control over the sharing of their data.

Second, it’s mandatory. With the eIDAS updates comes the requirement that member states not only serve notice on their national digital-identity system, but also accept digital identities from other countries.

Finally, the number, and the identity, of “wallet administrators” must be set at an EU level. These administrators would, most likely, be required to offer a common interface for all users to provide authentication for purposes of accessing services.

Thanks to the European Digital Identity Wallet, digital identities will open the door to more than just public services. They will be used for everything from opening a bank account, to hiring a car, to proving one’s age. The first phase of the pilot programme will be launched in 2022, with the goal of complete dissemination of the European Digital Identity Wallet by 2024.

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