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Smart ID is the way out for German authentication roadblock

A problem with authentication is standing in the way of Germany’s drive to put public services online. For answers, the country should look to Estonia.

As one of its last legislative accomplishments, Germany’s previous grand coalition government passed a law to make all public services available online by the end of 2022. It’s a bold project, but it comes with a serious roadblock: The country lacks a widely adopted method for online authentication, a way for citizens to prove their identities in an electronic environment. Without one, e-services can’t operate.

Unfortunately, the national ID card, which the agreement of the new grand coalition government specifies as the chosen universal medium for authentication, is a non-starter. Only about a third of users have bothered to activate its electronic function, and of those, only 15% say they’ve actually used it, according to Zeit Online. Card readers are high-priced, and free app-based reader works only on a limited number of Android phones and does not constitute a convenient mobile identity anyway.

What’s the way out? For clues, Germany can look to Estonia, a country that not only solved the authentication riddle long ago, but used electronic ID to lay the groundwork to digitize not only its public services, but its whole society.

Lessons from the Northeast

Back in the early 2000s, when Estonia was in a similar authentication bind, the government hit on a novel idea: partnering with the banking sector. The country’s banks had already designed the same high trust level into their online banking systems that the government needed for public e-services, so a deal was struck whereby bank logins could authenticate users of government e-services. Eventually, this partnership developed into a wider public-private authentication environment, with banks, telecoms, public utilities and state agencies all sharing authentication infrastructure.

Read the full article on Nortal’s blog.

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