At the initiative of the ICEDA network, on June 23, 2022, institutions, businesses and CSOs from the targeted Western Balkan countries met in Podgorica to discuss the opportunities and challenges of using digital identity for public service purposes. The purpose of this regional meeting was to exchange knowledge, ideas and good practices among the Western Balkans countries related to the digital identity based on the Montenegrin example, as the use of eID is one of the currently trending initiatives within the country, and already half of the population possesses these new identification documents. The event was foreseen to inspire creative and innovative thinking and establish professional connections that should lead to more efficient e-services across the region.
The meeting was held in a closed circle for a selected group of relevant stakeholders working to implement certain aspects related to the digital identity and e-services among which, the ICEDA partners, Vangjush Stavro – Director of the General Directorate of Civil Status at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Albania), Habit Hajredini – Office for Good Governance at the Prime Minister’s Office (Kosovo), Kujtim Kryeziu – SENTRY Cybersecurity (Kosovo), Marija Suzic – Institute for Development and Innovation (Serbia), Kristina Petrovska – Office for Management of Registers (North Macedonia), Bozidar Cvetkoski – Association for Citizen’s Tolerance and Cooperation – ACTAC (North Macedonia), Aleksandra Dzankic – Directorate for Personal Documents and Residence at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Montenegro), and Danilo Racic – Directorate for Digitalisation and e-Services at the Ministry of Public Administration (Montenegro).
The meeting was opened by Snezana Nikcevic, Project coordinator of NGO 35mm who welcomed the guests and explained the purpose of the meeting. The meeting continued with a round of introduction from the present participants, followed by a presentation of the Montenegro Case Study by Aleksandra Dzankic, Directorate for Personal Documents and Residence from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Montenegro, and Danilo Racic, Directorate for digitalization and e-services from the Ministry of Public Administration, Montenegro.
What the presenters shared was that the new ID brings a higher level of safety and it is more complicated to forge. The new ID contains biometric data (photography, fingerprint, etc.), but the old IDs are still in use, until 30.03.2023. They shared that there are 3 datasets on the chip of the new eID, containing the basic personal citizens’ data for the purpose of identification in case the citizen is crossing a border, qualified digital certificates for signature and eID, and the identification number and the unique birth number. The visual and electronic identity is now the same for the citizens in Montenegro, and the digital signature is valid same as the written one. However, the digital signature is only for digital purposes. The citizens sometimes think that if they sign something electronically and print it out, that the signature is valid like that, but this is not the case. When it comes to the identification number and the unique birth number, the difference between these two numbers is that the first one has 9 numbers and unlike the second, this one does not reveal any kind of personal data of the citizen. The first number is used mainly for the public administration and data interoperability as well as exchange of information. As they shared, the idea for the identification number was not to replace the unique birth identification number of the citizen, but for the latter to remain private to the citizen, and this is something that they are still struggling with.
For citizens to be able to use the digital certificates in the new eID in Montenegro, they first need to activate them. An important thing the presenters noted is that to activate the eID, the citizens need a computer which uses Windows and a reader for the card. They also need to install the free government software. The reader is universal for any type of cards that have a chip, while the same can also be ordered online for 5-12 EUR, and multiple people can use it.
They continued explaining that the procedure of obtaining a new ID is the same as it has been thus far, with only one difference – citizens need to sign a contract with the Ministry of Interior for the usage of the eID. Once the eID is done, the citizens get the eID in a protected envelope that contains access data for activating and using their IDs, such as PIN and PUK code, as well as instructions about the usage and activation of the eID. During the activation process, citizens have 5 attempts to sing in with the PIN and 5 wrong PUK attempts, after which the certificates and eID are fully blocked in case they do not succeed in activating the eID. This means that one needs to get a new eID as the institutions have no other way of activating the citizens ID card themselves. This is a protection mechanism because the PIN and PUK codes can only be known to the citizen, and not the institutions nor anyone else. One of the main issues that has been the case thus far is that the citizens throw away the envelope with the data, and then realize that they cannot use their eID without it. The price for an ID is 5 EUR and no other extra charge is added to that. The Ministry cannot give the citizens a new PIN or PUK code, but the procedure needs to start all over again.
According to Dzankic, the biggest challenge that the Ministry is facing right now is raising awareness among the citizens to keep their envelopes and they are going this through an awareness raising campaigning that has started in April, 2022. Around 190.000 citizens have new IDs, or that is 1/5 of the citizens have that have obtained and activated their new eIDs. They have no statistics on how many citizens obtained their new eID but didn’t activate it because they lost their envelopes.
The presentation continued with covering the most recent legislation changes, newly adopted strategies, the fiscal impact of the digitalization, and their response to COVID-19, followed by sharing of the case studies from the other Western Balkan countries present at the meeting.
Vangjush Stavro – Director of the General Directorate of Civil Status at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Albania), shared that in Albania they have the eID and in order to verify that the right person is using the ID they need to insert their card expiry date. The difficulty that they have faced with is that by Law, citizens over 75 years old will not need to renew the new ID card and the one they get will be 50 years valid. The issue here is that these people when they tried to register to use not the ID but the actual certificates in the ID card, the system prevented them because on the expiry date they added 50 years of validity. He also shared that on May 1st, 2022, the Government of Albania also decided to go fully online and utilize this initiative to get everything online. They are still in the transition phase of that jump as the process has its difficulties. What happened is that they have seen that not all the people know how to use the e-service.
From North Macedonia, Mila Josifovska Danilovska and the team from North Macedonia shared what is happening in the country on this point. Through the National e-service portal citizens can obtain a certain amount of e-services which are not fully digitalized. For them to use the e-services, they first need to Register with Single Sign-On System (SSO) by entering their username (e-mail address) and password, thus forming their SSO profile. Furthermore, certain checks are carried out in the registration process to link their SSO profile to their identity.
They also shared that the beginning of last year, the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia and Mastercard announced their plans for a range of digital solutions that would advance the country’s digital economy aspirations and provide citizens with a new way to prove their identity when accessing government and business services. The first service of digital identification users is already available to NLB Bank customers – electronic identity allows the Bank’s customers to identify and sign e-documents with their e-signature, from anywhere in the world. According to the memorandum the Government has signed with Mastercard, the first 5 signatures within the first 150,000 digital identities will be free for the duration of one year, and prices for the rest have not yet been announced as far as I know. Additionally, Mastercard is foreseen to donate 12,000 qualified electronic signatures to managers in 4 institutions users of the DMS system and an unlimited number of advanced electronic signatures for administrative officers in those institutions. The last information on this point they shared was that this month, the Government representatives went on a Study Visit in Estonia to familiarize themselves with the process of introducing an electronic ID card, through which Estonian citizens were allowed to have the safest digital identity.
The case of the digitalization in Serbia was shared by the Serbian delegation saying that it started in the 2000s and it accelerated with the coming of the new prime minister dedicated to e-governance. Using the ID card to register at the portal has encountered some issues, and it was also difficult for citizens to move to a higher level of profile, mostly for the older people but for young people as well. The public opinion is that the uprava.rs portal is not user friendly and that the desired service cannot easily be found. The part for the business is much better and easier to use. For Kosovo, the delegation shared that they have launched the e-service portal eKosova which has so far been running in a satisfactory way. They have around 676.000 registered users already and over 1 million platform visits. From around 2 weeks ago, they shared that different types of certificates such as the birth certificates can be downloaded through the portal.
The discussion shifted to issues connected to data leaks, cyber attacks of the national e-service portals and other public institution portals, trusted services, as well as the role of public-private partnerships in the process of digitalization and providing security in the provision of e-services to citizens and businesses.
Тhe project Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA is co-funded by the European Union and implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation (North Macedonia), Academy for e-Government (Estonia), Levizja Mjaft! (Albania), Partners for Democratic Change Serbia (Serbia), NGO 35mm (Montenegro) and ODK – Open Data Kosovo (Kosovo).