Why digital identities are vital

Posted on: January 30, 2020 by Coralie Héritier

Digital identities are essential for continued digital growth. If digital services were insecure or data were inaccurate or irrelevant we couldn’t trust them. Digital industries and digital services would stagnate. Europe would struggle to boost digital innovation – and fail to grow its competitive position on the global stage.

Before I reveal why implementing strong digital identities are essential for digital growth, let’s look at the new regulations empowering Europe’s digital industry.

Driving digital growth in Europe

The European Cybersecurity Act came into force in June 2019, along with regulations enforcing all EU countries to implement digital national identity cards by mid-2021. Before that, Europe also produced guidelines for companies to ensure critical digital services have a high level of cybersecurity protection, and, of course, the GDPR has been a major step for personal data protection.

Together these will empower Europe’s digital industry and enhance Europe’s competitiveness as it faces powerful digital companies in the US and China, along with insidious actions. An organized and expert cybercrime network based in Russia offers digital terrorism tools to disrupt the balance of power between nations.

Innovation is also essential for digital growth, and Europe has many digital and cybersecurity innovation programs, such as for connected vehicles, for instance. Next-generation Intelligence Transport Systems (C ITS) will use wireless communication technologies to enable vehicles to communicate with other nearby vehicles and roadside infrastructures autonomously. C ITS will open the door to a wide range of novel road safety and driver-assistive applications for the benefit of all European citizens. A trustworthy and reliable system could easily be exported to the US since European and US standards are close.

Digital identities must be strong and easy to use

Regulations and innovation are not enough. Strong digital identities are also essential for growing digital industry and services. Why? Because around 60 percent of people who use the internet today don’t trust it. They use it because they have to use it. Digital identities build trust in – and drive the adoption of – digital services. Strong authentication not only gives consumers and citizens access to their personal data and services; it gives them confidence that these are only accessed by the right people.

For digital services to grow, digital identities must also be easy to use to bring the widest population possible in the digital world. For instance, a PIN code combined with another strong authentication factor, such as a digital certificate, helps people with little memory access digital services securely. It’s easier to remember than a login and password. They’re less likely to compromise security by writing it down.

Allowing citizens to have several digital identities will also help bring people into the digital world. Not every identity needs to be strong. Access to a social security account that stores detailed and sensitive health information needs strong authentication; access to other services, such as registering for a library, doesn’t.

Digital identities around the world

Countries across the globe are implementing digital identity programs to drive the adoption of digital services, competitiveness, and economic growth.

Singapore, for example, has a very ambitious digital development policy. For that, they defined four pillars: the infrastructure (5G connectivity), the device (everybody in the population needs a digital device to access digital services), the economy and investments, and digital identities.

Estonia has also based its digital development on a very strong digital identity provision. Citizens must all have an electronic national identity card, which gives them access to more than 2,700 digital services, from registering at a university to getting a prescription from your doctor and the medicine from the pharmacy. This card, with its digital identifier, also allows citizens to derive an identity on their mobile device. Citizens can choose to access digital services using a card reader to reveal their digital identity or, if they have created a digital identity on their device, through applications on their smartphone.

In France, an interministerial commission called the ‘Prenium Mission’ and led by Valérie Peneau aims to create digital identities for all French citizens. Its goal is to be inclusive and to open up access initially to new public services and later to new private services. The national identity card will form the basis of this strong digital identity, which will include very standard information from the civil registry, such as your name, age and address, as on the current ID cards. This digital ID card will be the reference for other digital identities derived from it; ‘France Connect,’ a current identity unifier and provider, will connect to it and also interoperate with other digital identities (a ‘Health Connect,’ for instance), linking them indirectly to the national identity card for a high level of security.

Digital identities vital for growth

As we’ve seen, strong and accessible digital identities are vital for creating smart digital societies built on the growth of digital industries and services. They not only facilitate access but also bring trust to digital transactions.

And while the strong authentication that comes with robust cybersecurity is not an obligation right now, it is essential for competitiveness. In the past, cybersecurity was implemented through regulation and enforced through obligations to protect digital services and data against cyberthreats. It's very different now. Digital services cannot expand without robust cybersecurity and strong digital identities.

Strong digital identities are essential for creating quality and competitive digital services that are powerful, efficient, and easy to use. Implementing strong digital identities is vital for competitiveness and growth.

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About Coralie Héritier
Head of IDnomic, Head of Digital Identities at Atos
Coralie Héritier became CEO of IDnomic in 2015, after having driven the company's development for more than 10 years as a member of the Management Committee. She has more than 20 years of experience in managing innovative companies in the field of digital and new technologies. She actively participates in the governance bodies of associations and professional groups in the field of cybersecurity, innovation and trust, including CyberTaskForce, Hexatrust and IRT SystemX. Coralie Heritier is a graduate of the Institut Supérieur du Commerce and holds a Master's degree in "Corporate Operational Management".

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