A major step towards the introduction of the e-ID
November 22, 2017

A major step towards the introduction of the e-ID

Switzerland has set important guideposts to ensure that the e-ID becomes a success. An intelligent division of responsibilities between the government and the private sector is to guarantee the security and rapid dissemination of the new form of ID.

The reality of secure identification on the internet is nearing. Last week, the Federal Council announced an upcoming draft legislation for a state-recognised electronic identity (e-ID), and at yesterday’s Digital Day, the foundation of a company for the creation and implementation of an electronic identity for the Swiss population was announced.

A number of countries have already taken the step of launching an electronic ID project (e-ID). Many thereof were not able to meet the ambitious objectives that had been set in terms of dissemination as well as the usefulness and benefits for citizens. This with the regrettable outcome that the majority of people identify themselves using their Facebook profiles.

Passports will not be abolished

Switzerland is working hard to handle the matter better and is closely examining the more successful models that already exist. To be clear: e-IDs are not a replacement for passports, but rather a supplement to be used for online services. In the digital age, the e-ID would be very useful in Switzerland and will therefore be indispensable in future.

The objectives: security and rapid dissemination

However, the e-ID will only serve its purpose if it is secure and if a majority of the population is quick to start using it. Because only then will the service providers also be willing to accept it as a means of identification.

The conditions for reaching these objectives are in place. In its most recent announcement, the Federal Council stated that it will submit the draft legislation by the summer of 2018, news which is enjoying broad-based support.

Federal Council is thinking ahead

Particularly welcome in this matter are the guideposts that the Federal Council has now set for ensuring that the objectives relating to security and rapid dissemination are achieved. In this area, the Federal Council, as already proposed during the consultation, is focusing on an expedient division of responsibilities between the government and the private sector:

  • Role of the state: The Federal Council wants to guarantee security by giving the state a central role. The latter will certify and monitor the e-ID system and in addition, only it will be allowed to define and verify official identities. The Federal Council also intends to ensure that online service providers can share personal data only with the explicit consent of the customer. Considering the current uncontrolled situation in the internet, this would be a milestone.
  • Private sector providers: When it comes to rapid dissemination, the Federal Council has drawn the right conclusions from the failed attempts at government-issued digital identities in other countries. Tech-savvy, private sector providers that are state-recognised and monitored are in a position to create the best conditions for a practicable and consumer-friendly e-ID. Private providers can ensure ease of use as well as flexibility when technological changes arise. The Swiss banks can make an important contribution in this area. For example, the banks already have verified identities at their disposal, as the identity of bank customers is checked as part of the account opening process. For citizens, this means that it would not be necessary for them to return to a counter to provide identification in order to receive their e-IDs. What’s more, banks have very secure access systems such as authentication apps. Customers already have such apps and know how to use them. By means of these familiar ways of accessing services, customers will in future also be able to register and identify themselves for other online services.

The private sector is ready

On the heels of the Federal Council’s announcement, the private sector yesterday also made a significant commitment to the successful introduction of the e-ID. It announced the founding of a joint company for the creation and implementation of a digital identity for the Swiss population.

In doing so, the private sector has demonstrated its willingness to assume the role of the ID issuer as part of the shared responsibilities of the government and the private sector. This fact will also ensure the rapid dissemination and use of the e-ID, because we all interact much more frequently with private companies than with the government. These practical advantages have the welcome side-effect that taxpayers will not be required to pay for an inferior, purely government-driven solution. The major investments made in the creation of this infrastructure will be borne by the companies.

The path ahead is clear

The Bankers Association welcomes the concrete commitment of the sector for the facilitation of the e-ID. With yesterday’s announcement of the contribution from the private sector, the path is now clear for getting the legal framework underway as quickly as possible. I hope that the members of Swiss parliament will not put any obstacles in the way of the draft legislation and its suggested division of responsibilities between the government and the private sector. If it does not, Switzerland will be able to make rapid progress in the digital age to the benefit of us all.