Author: Mario Voge

Vaccination certificates and driving licences are just the beginning: digital identity can do much more

If you want to eat in restaurants, travel or participate in events, there is one thing you must remember: proof of your Corona vaccination. The yellow vaccination certificate or the digital certificate in the Corona Warning or CovPass app is increasingly a prerequisite for participation in public life. In particular, the ability to store the vaccination certificate in an app wallet makes proof much more accessible and shows how digitalization can simplify some aspects of everyday life. Mario Voge, Lead Strategic Growth Manager Europe at Swisscom Trust Services, explains what other advantages a digital identity can bring and how the implementation is successful.

Although large parts of life now take place online or rely on digital applications, there are still numerous exceptions: The vaccination certificate was or still is one of them: with the first vaccination, parents in Germany receive the yellow vaccination certificate for their children, which is valid for a lifetime. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the urgency of vaccinations to defeat the pandemic and the need for uniformity of vaccination certificates across the EU prompted the EU a few months ago to create a digital vaccination passport.

Simply digitizing analog processes is not enough.

Currently, vaccinated people receive a document with a QR code to transfer the certificate to the wallet of the corresponding app. During verification, the QR code is scanned in the app to confirm the authenticity of the vaccination certificate. However, vaccinated persons still need an official ID card to prove they have presented their digital vaccination certificate. Thus, the procedure between analog and digital proof is similar: In both cases, the persons concerned show an official document and identify themselves with their ID.

A more user-friendly and practical alternative could have been directly linking the vaccination certificate with the identity document, for example, using the proven and globally accepted standards of the aviation organization ICAO. This would also benefit older people, in particular, who do not have a smartphone.

The interest in digital ID cards was recently demonstrated at the end of September. So many citizens wanted to download the app Wallet ID to create a digital driving license that the system collapsed under the onslaught. Yet, for legal reasons, the digital copy is not even considered proof of a driving license. In addition, the app was stopped for the time being due to indications of security gaps.

Digital identity gives users back control over their data.

Nevertheless, these examples set the right impulses and show users in the first steps what practical advantages a digital identity offers, especially when bundling digital versions such as identity cards, passports, driving licenses, or vaccination certificates in a single place instead of several apps. This allows them to identify themselves online and offline at any time and share data online without having to route it through third-party providers. In addition, essential documents for a trip, for example - passport, flight ticket, hotel booking, and vaccinations needed for entry - can be linked together to collect them all in one place and share them with providers as far as necessary.

Ultimately, the idea is (analogous to a wallet) for citizens to have a "basic identity" (identity card or passport that officially confirms the uniqueness of the person) and to link and carry additional identifications (attributes, role information) about the person, such as driving license, insured, vaccinated, angler, doctor, pilot, etc. with it.

Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) is a decentralized option for implementing precisely this digital identity. Here, certificates, proofs, or confirmations can also be stored within a blockchain to keep them forgery-proof and verify the data's authenticity. The ID data is not publicly accessible to everyone. Unlike a state-managed digital identity, SSI shifts the control focus to the respective owner, who can thus act on the same level as issuers and verifiers. However, for this system to work, the solutions from the state side and companies must be compatible with each other and adhere to uniform standards - not only on a national but also on an international level. Otherwise, there is a risk of fragmentation that would massively limit the benefits for people, which can quickly lead to the failure of this approach. The EU's impetus regarding the eIDAS Regulation this summer lays the foundation for such a standardized development. However, there is still a long way to go before the technology finally breakthroughs.

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