The Digital Age- Introducing the European Digital Identity

In her State of the Union address, on September 16th, 2021, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, expressed a shared desire for European Union citizens to manage their own data’s use. Although, every citizen across the EU27 is a ‘Citizen of Europe’, the European Digital Identity (EDI) enables citizens to identify themselves offline and online in any EU country thus guaranteeing various rights including the right to work, the right to reside and the right to study in another Member State amongst others.

Moreover, the Commission has also visualized the use of the EDI in applying for a bank loan thus emphasising the enhanced functionality of the initiative. Thus, it can be said that the EDI will allow individuals to create a digital identity that can be used across the European Union for various purposes such as applying for job opportunities or when using public services.

A few drawbacks are borne from this initiative such as security risks which have been re-iterated by a recent referendum on the adoption of an e-ID in Switzerland arising due to mistrust in the Government’s technical competence. Furthermore, several experts have voiced their concern over the security of the infrastructure where this sensitive data will be stored in, especially since ownership of this infrastructure belongs to the private sector. Hence, as for protection and privacy, the data inputted will be encrypted throughout to ensure that their personal data would not be shared without their consent. Beyond this societal concern, the European Union will now be tested on its pledge in stepping up on its digital sovereignty as per the Digital Agenda of Europe. 

Furthermore, the digital identity will be developed in line with EU data protection rules, such as the General Data Protection Regulation, thus ensuring that the privacy of personal information would be respected. This proposal is founded on three main pillars, which are, User Control and Consent, Inclusiveness and Interoperability, and Trust and Security. In terms of User control and consent, users would have control over their personal data and digital identity. Thus, they would have the power to decide what information they want to share and with whom. Secondly, regarding Inclusiveness and Interoperability refers to users being able to use their digital identities regardless of their race, gender, and nationality. In addition, it should also be interoperable with existing national digital identity schemes, enabling cross-border access to online services. Lastly the third founding pillar, Trust and Security, emphasizes the importance of these two values within the framework. Meaning that it would be based on secure technologies and comply with GDPR.

Despite the concept of the European Digital Identity not being implemented across the EU27, the Commission has continued to build on this initiative by putting forward a target of 80% of citizens who would be given access to key public services using the EDI by 2030. Further beneficial concepts emanate from this initiative such as the eSignature which facilitates the signature of legal documents online, the eTimestamp easing the tracking of documents and ensuring full accountability and several other tools. It will thus, include a Digital Wallet where proprietors and individuals can manage their identities. With that being said, although consensus on the EDI was reached by the Parliament on March 16th, negotiations with the Council are still ongoing and therefore certain amendments or rejection of the initiative cannot be excluded.

Writers: Nicholas Borg and Isaac Bondin

Editor: Nicole Sciberras Bray

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