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Digital identities and Covid-19

Digital identities in the context of the Covid-19 crisis

Kalev Pihl, expert in PKI solutions and identity management and CEO at SK ID Solutions AS, answers 5 questions about relevance of digital identities in the global context of the Covid-19 crisis.

What role can digital identities play in the context of Covid-19?

COVID-19 is forcing societies to avoid physical contact and is restricting access to public and private services. That has a potentially damaging effect on the basic functioning of any society.

The digitization of services and identities is the only way to continue providing services under the COVID-19 threat. Strong, trustworthy digital identities promote safety, both from a physical perspective, by allowing people to stay apart from each other, and from a digital perspective, by facilitating accurate user identification.

How can digital identities facilitate a migration from the physical to the digital world? Can you provide an example of how they are becoming enablers for countries to effectively manage the Covid-19 crisis?

Sweden could be a good example. The almost cashless society and widespread use of electronic identity in the form of BankID has allowed the Swedes to maintain physical contact within a small circle of family and co-workers during the crisis. It is not yet clear whether the very different strategy the country adopted to fight Covid-19 is an advantage, but digital identity enables the smooth running of daily operations.

Estonia is an example of a country that has managed to both digitize its society fast and provide an agile response to the pandemic. What, in your opinion, are the key aspects behind this?

Both the Estonian education and healthcare sectors have achieved fast, smooth transitions thanks to digital identities. Estonian learners transitioned to home-schooling literally overnight, thanks to local e-school environments that which can be accessed using digital identities.

And although the healthcare system was not quite ready for the change in the doctor-patient relationship, the health insurance system redesigned the issuance of incapacity certificate within only 2 days (Click here to read the article), once again through digital identities.

Leaving aside the legal specificities of each country, what would be the ideal scenario, in your opinion, for digital identities to be effectively implemented?

Digital identity should be subject to a broad political dialogue in a time of no crisis, so that it can be implemented with care and with the consent of the nation. Aspects of data privacy, traceability and applicability must be well balanced to allow the citizens of a country to enjoy the “digital dividends” as they are reflected in the World Bank’s report, without losing their autonomy as individuals.

A proper legal framework and an independent public supervision of the system are good places to start.

Which lessons can be learned from the implementation of digital identities in the existing context? How can governments across the globe do this in an agile, yet sustainable way?

Digital identity can grow if this growth is useful to the market participants. Finding out about the stakeholders’ needs is necessary to come up with a suitable digital identity strategy for any country, at the best possible cost. In some cases, usability may need to trump trustworthiness, while we wait for generation 2 and 3 digital identities, which are sure to come.

Kalev Pihl, SK ID Solutions SA CEO

Want to read more about Digital Identities? Click here.