Electronic identification is a digital identity solution for online interactions and transactions, equivalent to a traditional ID in the analog world.
Just like the physical ID documents we are accustomed to, i.e., national ID, passport, driving license, and so on, an eID is a set of verified personal attributes relating to its user. In the digital world, where humans and companies interact remotely, having a trusted online identity is a necessity – thus, electronic identification is essential. In order to obtain an eID, the user needs to undergo a meticulous identification process with the same requirements for security and accuracy as if it was to acquire a physical ID. There needs to be a comprehensive trust that an eID is securely established by an authority guaranteeing its validity, as with all legitimate ID documents. When a person uses their eID to access, for example, an online service several different functions and systems need to work together to identify the person. It is of the utmost importance that there is a complete chain of agreements that regulates all responsibilities within said collaboration, all the way from the service provider to the user. A solid eID infrastructure needs to be in place to enable the secure authentication and verification of the user of an eID towards a service provider over the internet.
Electronic identifications are available in several variants: in the mobile, in the computer, or on a physical ID. With an eID in the mobile or tablet, it consists of an app. When users identify themselves, they use the app together with a password, fingerprint, or facial recognition. For an eID in the computer, the user downloads an eID to a program and then uses the program together with a password to identify themselves. A physical eID is usually a smart card – a plastic card that contains a chip – where a separate card reader often is required. As with all technology related to the digital world, these things are constantly evolving.
The many uses of eID
The entire world is undergoing a digital transformation where an increased number of services, activities, interactions, and transactions that called for a physical procedure not that long ago are taking place online. Shopping, banking matters, tax returns, health consultations, reservations, working, dating, education – the list of what people can do online today is lengthy, and it will extend exponentially. Very few of these online interactions and transactions would be possible to conduct in a secure manner without a trusted online identity. When using an eID the identification process takes but seconds. Thus, to log in or sign up for an online service or to perform any other activities within said service using an eID is fast, convenient and far more secure than any other method. Therefore, many experts believe that electronic identification will become the standard of trusted online identity.
An eID can be used to verify the user’s identity for service access and to enter into binding agreements online, such as a payment, a contract, or income tax return. This is called an e-signature and is the online equivalent to writing one’s signature with a pen on a piece of paper. There are also electronic identifications that are based on the user’s role in an organization, used as an employee eID, for example. Such an eID can be used for login, electronic signatures, and in all other contexts where a digital identification is needed. The difference is that it is not a personal attribute that forms the basis for the identification, but an attribute linked to the organization.
When an eID is in the form of an app on the user’s mobile phone it actually has the potential of being used as a traditional ID document in various situations. In some countries, innovators have already brought together the ingredients to make proving one’s identity using the phone in such manner a reality. Although this method and procedure are not widely used yet it already works for in-store identification, for picking up parcels, and age verification. In some countries citizens are able to store their Covid Certificate, proving they are vaccinated, in their eID on the mobile phone.
Cross-border electronic identification
Today there are various national electronic identification schemes with different components and infrastructures all over the world. About 30+ countries around the world have solid infrastructures and schemes that accommodate the widespread use of national eID means. It varies as to what extent these countries implement the use of said eID scheme. In Europe, thanks to the eIDAS network, a couple of national eID schemes are now mutually recognizable. This means that, in some cases, citizens can use their national eID means to access online public services in other EU countries But given the complex nature of the politics surrounding this endeavor and the different conditions of the European countries such eID scheme will probably not be fully up and running in quite some time. However, on a national level, and in some cases across borders, an electronic identification allows the users to securely prove their identity and will unambiguously authenticate the user online across multiple platforms and private and public services.