Digital identity is essential for enabling citizens to participate in digital society. In today’s world, many essential services are delivered online, and Digital identity is essential for accessing these services. For example, Digital identity can be used to access government services, such as online tax filing or passport renewal. They can also be used to access private sector services, such as online banking or social media platforms.
Digital identity is also important for businesses. Businesses can use Digital identity to verify the identity of their customers and suppliers. This can help to reduce fraud and improve the efficiency of business processes. However, there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed in order to ensure that digital wallets are used in a responsible and ethical manner.
For these reasons CEL organised a Policy Roundtable to discuss opportunities, concerns, and challenges related to digital identity systems. The roundtable was hosted within the activities of the Horizon project IMPULSE, allowing policy makers and experts from different environments to give their opinion and to dialogue about this fascinating topic.
One challenge that emerged is to ensure that digital wallets are secure and privacy-preserving. Digital identity contains sensitive personal information, and it is important to protect this information from unauthorised access. GDPR and other European laws protect citizens from the exploitation by third-parties of their personal data without consent, but the commercialization of data is still an issue that digital identity management systems should consider properly.
Another crucial challenge is interoperability, ensuring that Digital identity issued by one entity are recognized and accepted by others. This enables citizens to use their Digital identity seamlessly across a wide range of services. While full interoperability may be a complex goal at this stage, experts suggested bridging the gap between digital and physical identification to ensure accessibility.
Finally, it is important to ensure that Digital identity is used in a way that respects human rights and freedoms. Digital identity can be used to track and monitor people’s activities, and it is important to ensure that this power is not abused.
The European Parliament is currently working on a proposal to create a harmonised system of Digital identity across the EU. This proposal aims to address many of the challenges mentioned above through the European Digital Wallet. For example, the proposal includes provisions for ensuring the security and privacy of Digital identity, as well as for ensuring interoperability between different digital identity systems. Experts highlighted that even if the dream of having a unified system to access every service is still very far, thanks to recent developments in the field and extreme events such as the covid-19 pandemic that increased the necessity of digital solutions for healthcare, this project is more achievable.
As suggested by an advisor at a city council, smart cities are a key environment for the deployment and use of digital identity systems because of their tendency to have digital solutions for citizens’ problems. This makes ensuring trust from the citizens about the development of Digital identity a complex and important task, as Digital identity has the potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government and businesses, as well as the quality of life of citizens. To do that, clear and open communication about risks and opportunities of digital identity systems is fundamental.
From the dialogue between the experts also emerged insights about opportunities that digital identity systems create:
However, it’s essential to acknowledge the potential risks associated with Digital identity. For example, if Digital identity are not secure, they could be used by criminals to commit identity theft. Additionally, if Digital identity are not used in a responsible manner, they could be used to track and monitor people’s activities in a way that violates their privacy.
Furthermore, the suitability of various solutions can vary depending on the environment and individuals. While biometrics offer a robust solution, they may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with physical impairments due to accidents, such as having fingerprints damaged by physical labour.
In conclusion, the roundtable emphasised the need for a broad and inclusive discussion about the development and deployment of Digital identity. These identities hold immense promise in shaping the future of society, but their responsible use and mitigation of potential risks are of paramount importance.
In this context, the IMPULSE project and other experts have proposed to follow approaches (e.g. Self-Sovereign Identity) that safeguard citizens’ rights within digital identity management systems, focusing on the respect of individuals’ right to be the sole owners of their identities.