Commission documents reveal vision for European Digital Identity

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The European Commission has outlined its vision for a European Digital Identity, which would seek to provide a ‘trusted and secure’ form of online identification for the use of public and private services, according to documents obtained by EURACTIV.

The EU executive’s plans come ahead of this week’s European Council summit, in which EU leaders are expected to formally request the Commission to develop a framework for the establishment of an EU-wide electronic identification.

As part of a presentation from the Commission to the Council Telecommunications and Information Society Working Party last week, officials highlighted why they believe digital identification has become ‘fundamental’ to the everyday operation of online services.

“There is no user choice for trusted and secure identification that protects personal data and can be widely used,” a Commission presentation obtained by EURACTIV reads, adding that one of the reasons why an EU-wide framework is required is that “the role of private digital identification services is increasing and platforms take an increasing role.”

The document adds that social media services have a “low security” level for online identification, potentially leaving them open to abuse by malicious actors.

EU single sign-on

The documents provide details on the Commission’s vision for the future framework, which should be ‘universally available’ to all EU citizens and businesses on a voluntary basis, as well as being ‘universally usable’, and being recongised “by private and public service providers for all transactions that require authentication.” The Commission is dubbing this feature the ‘EU single sign-on.’

At the summit on Friday, EU leaders are set to adopt conclusions urging the Commission  to propose a European Digital Identification initiative by mid-2021. In June, EU Telecoms ministers called on the Commission to develop an EU-wide digital identity framework, which would “drive the Member States to make widely usable, secure and interoperable digital identities available for all Europeans for secure government and private online transactions.”

The latest draft version of the European Council conclusions seen by EURACTIV notes that the initiative should aim to “provide people with control over their online identity and data as well as to enable access to public, private, and cross-border digital services.”

14 EU countries already have a notified eID scheme, with the most recent being Denmark. Towards the end of last year, the country put its ‘NemID scheme’ forward for pre-notification, the first step in a process enabling citizens in Denmark to use their electronic credentials to access public services in other Member States.

The EU’s eIDAS Regulation lays the foundation for citizens in countries with digital ID schemes to use their own national electronic identification schemes to access public services available online in other EU countries. In a bid to develop a more harmonized and resilient market for electronic identification systems on the bloc, the Commission is seeking to update the rules in this space, and earlier this year launched a public consultation on the rules.

Commission Vice-President for Digital Margrethe Vestager earlier this year said that a revision of the 2018 eIDAS regulation “aims to improve its effectiveness, extend its benefits to the private sector and promote trusted digital identities for all Europeans and create a secure and interoperable European Digital Identity which gives citizens control.”

The consultation is open until 2 October, and further details on the EU’s bid to extend the electronic identification framework are set to be outlined in the Digital Services Act, to be unveiled by the Commission by the end of the year.

The executive is, however, aware of the challenges that lie ahead to building an EU-wide digital identification framework. The documents notes how “member states are not ready” due to low levels of connectivity across certain parts, and the fact that eID schemes are currently limited to cross-border use in the public sector. This, along with the fact that the EU currently has low public sector digitalization, could create future challenges, the document states.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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