The official determination of our identity is based on legally defined characteristics such as name, date of birth and gender. In the analog world, legitimate identification documents, such as identity cards, are usually inspected visually to determine someone’s identity. However, this cannot be transferred to the digital world in that way. Currently, users mostly have to register new for each online service. Depending on the context, this leads to a variety of digital identities.
In order to change this, the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy has joined forces within the innovation competition „Schaufenster Sichere Digitale Identitäten“ for the project EMIL with the Telekom Innovation Labs, the Fraunhofer IAO, Jolocom GmbH, Robert Bosch GmbH, msg systems ag, ZF Car eWallet GmbH as well as with the city Jena under the consortium leadership of targens GmbH. They are supported by the associated partner city Ulm as well as media partners 0711 Digital GmbH and YAEZ GmbH (1).
Aim of the EMIL project
The team around EMIL developed a digital identity of the fictitious person Emil, who is supposed to represent an average citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany. They are now working on the challenges and demands of using his digital identity in public and business affairs. Digital contracts could be concluded either with local authorities for example to obtain building permits or with service providers to enter into a cell phone or car rental contract. However, the potential is even greater in the business environment, where contracts and the associated legally compliant verification of the identity of contractual partners is part of daily business. The aim here is to establish mobile, universally applicable and legally recognized digital identities. Each identity should be managed by the user in a self-determined way (according to “Self Sovereign Identity (SSI)”).
Benefits and risks of digital identities
The advantages of such a digital identity are obvious. Not just since the Corona crisis, more and more services are shifting from the offline to the online world. The digital identification of a person is thus the key to any digital business transaction. Moreover, standardized digital identification can help reduce fraud, protect consumer rights and improve transparency. In addition, the advancement of digitization will improve efficiency and user-friendliness. McKinsey estimates that countries implementing digital identities could release an economic value of up to 13% of GDP by 2030 (2). But, to achieve the required broad use of digital identities, a functioning ecosystem of end users and providers is needed.
The threat to the entire digital ecosystem from cyber-attacks poses an increasing risk. Digital identification programs are no exception.
The collection and storage of personal data for financial gain must be counteracted at all costs. Political manipulation of voters and social control of certain groups through surveillance and restrictions on payments, travel and social media are also risks that should not be underestimated.
But if government and private security standards, privacy and self-administration can be ensured, the full potential of digital identities could be utilized with minimal risk. But until then, a lot of work is still ahead of us to make life on the Net safer.
More to read about Digitization: Digital Transformation and Compliance