What is digital identity and why do we need it?
The accelerated advancement of technology brought forward its immense influence on our daily lives in terms of providing easy-to-use and faster solutions to our needs. It has also influenced the way we see the world and develop as a society, as well as individuals.
Governments have embraced the processes of digitalization to provide different citizen participation mechanisms, with the goal of allowing citizens to communicate with the public administration faster and smoother.
But when it comes to the bottom line, what is one of the most important things to be able to exercise your rights and to communicate not only with the public administration but with other entities and individuals, and in general – be able to fully participate in contemporary society? It is to make sure that we are communicating with exactly that person or institution, as it is to prove that we are exactly who we say we are.
This is why it is important to understand what is identity, and what it means in the digital world.
In psychology, identity is most commonly defined as a ”person’s sense of self, established by their unique characteristics, affiliations, and social roles”.
On the other side, in the online sphere, our digital identity is ”a way to verify who we are online securely, in a manner that offers data protection and safeguards our personal information”. In practice, it represents an extension of our identification documents, but also grouped information about us that exists online, and can provide a digital representation of us as individuals.
Different types of digital identities
We can prove our identity online in several ways. This usually includes different types of information depending on the platform we use or the level of services we want to obtain.
We can talk about two types of identification online that we recognize daily:
- Trusted identification
- Soft (Fluid) identification
The first type is usually issued by trust service providers or governments. Their credibility is high, and they are our proof that we are exactly that individual in the system, allowing us to use e-government services, business services, financial transactions, etc.
For the other form of identification, we don’t need our government ID to gain access to our email or social media accounts for example. We use credentials that are unique to us, like our account name and password to gain access to our profiles and further use them. The main difference between these two types of identification lies in their security and credibility since soft identification is more prone to data breaches, cyber-attacks, identity thefts, and other types of dangers lurking on the internet.
Electronic identification and the Western Balkans
According to the European Union, digital (electronic) identity is a ”means for people to prove electronically that they are who they say they are and thus gain access to services. The identity allows an entity (citizen, business, administration) to be distinguished from any other.” It is explained that, in terms of looking at electronic identity, an individual is usually involved in ”multiple sectors (e.g. taxation, social security, education, telephony services, banking services) and also often fulfil different roles (e.g. a civil servant, a lawyer or a father)” so the data related to its unique attributes have to be accessed independently, but it also has to be supported by an adequate legislative framework, especially in terms of data protection and how we can individually manage and control our data as citizens.
When it comes to Western Balkans, not many countries have started implementing electronic identification cards (eID). In fact, Montenegro is currently the only country that has full implementation of the system in terms of providing eIDs (since 2020), but unfortunately, not many services have been developed for which these electronic IDs can be used. According to the Ministry of Public Administration and Ministry of Interior in Montenegro, new (electronic) IDs should provide easy access to electronic services, but they recognize the low level of information about the use of electronic IDs as one of the biggest obstacles to eIDs wider use. On the other hand, according to the Montenegro Digital Agenda Observatory Report 2022, the data from the focus group testing the activation and use of eID found it difficult, and not for ”average citizens’ skill level” although written tutorials for use are provided.
The topic of electronic identification, and the question can we have quality e-services without a digital identity was tackled during the Regional Dialogues for the Digital Agenda, organized in June 2022, where representatives of institutions and civil society organizations gathered to exchange knowledge and talk about the challenges and solutions to this burning issue in the region, as well as the need for further improving access to public electronic services to the citizens.
When it comes to North Macedonia, citizens can obtain a certain amount of e-services which are not fully digitalized through the National e-service portal. 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. Kosovo has also launched the e-service portal eKosova which in 2022 had around 676.000 registered users, and citizens can download different types of certificates such as birth certificates.
In Albania, from May 1st 2022, the government decided to go fully online, and through e-Albania (government portal) they started producing the first electronically or digitally sealed certificates, and they also provide an electronic seal to the document confirming that it is a document from the government entity. Contrarily, in Serbia, a biometric ID card is used to register at the government portal, and although the level of digitalization has rapidly accelerated due to the political will to focus on digital transformation, the representatives of the civic sector are that the uprava.rs portal is not user-friendly and that it is difficult to use available the desired services cannot easily be found.
This educational text was prepared with the financial support of the European Union. The contents of this text are the sole responsibility of the authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.
The project “Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA” is implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation (North Macedonia), e-Government Academy (Estonia), Levizja Mjaft! (Albania), Partners for Democratic Change (Serbia), NGO 35mm (Montenegro) and ODK – Open Data Kosovo (Kosovo). The project is implemented with financial support from the European Union.
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