February issue: About digital identities

It has become a matter of course in our daily lives to chat, make phone calls, shop, watch videos and listen to music via smartphone. Use is only limited by the battery level of the smartphone or the network coverage of the mobile phone provider. At the same time, there is a growing desire among the population that more and more business processes and official procedures can be carried out digitally. This is a major challenge for Switzerland. Established analogue processes are not easy to digitise. In addition, an important building block is missing: a digital procedure with which one’s own identity can be confirmed on the internet. Without this, it is only possible for a company to determine the identity of a person beyond doubt with considerable effort. In summer 2018, the Federal Council presented the Federal Act on Electronic Identification Services (BGEID ), which is intended to make it possible to confirm one’s own identity via the internet. This law was discussed in the National Council and the Council of States. An agreement was reached in September 2019. The BGEID provides for a division of tasks between the state and private individuals. The state provides the necessary information on a person. The actual confirmation is issued by a so-called identity provider (IdP), of which there are to be several operated by private companies in the future. The state recognises and monitors these IdPs. Shortly after the parliamentary consultation, a referendum was launched. The main criticism was that issuing a state-recognised digital identity (E-ID) is a sovereign task that should not be handed over to private companies. The referendum was held in January 2020. Now the people will vote on the law. The BGEID does not make any technical specifications as to how the system should function. These are to be defined at a later date. This is problematic because certain technical solutions are no longer possible precisely because of fundamental decisions. It can be argued that the approach taken in Switzerland (namely to first define who does what without saying how) does not produce the best solution. In this issue, various identity management solutions, established and new, are presented with advantages and disadvantages and compared with each other. In addition, a radically new approach, the so-called “Self-Sovereign Identities, SSI”, is presented, which, through a paradigm shift, gives citizens full control over their digital identity. I wish you interesting insights.

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AUTHOR: Marc Kunz

Marc Kunz is a research associate at the Institute ICTM at BFH Technik & Informatik. He mainly researches digital identities, especially how they can be established, protected and used in a user-friendly way.

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