Managing Director of Nortal Peeter Smith talks about digital identity

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There are many ways to use an ID card. Most notably it can be used for many governmental e-services such as starting a new company or managing your existing one. The card can also be used for signing documents. Such digitally signed documents are as valid as documents with a manual signature, says Peeter Smith, Managing Director, Nortal

With the dawn of the digital age, technology has created many new possibilities for managing our lives. Mobile phones and Internet keeps us connected to the world and each other, bank cards have minimised the need to use cash and even self-driving cars are no longer a subject of science fiction. It is therefore natural that formerly manual processes are converted to digital and made available online.

One such process is identification. Formerly identification required face-to-face recognition between different parties. An official needed to confirm the identity of the person requesting money from his bank account or doing more specific activities, such as registering a business. This started to change with the introduction of debit and credit cards and ATM machines. Now the official needs to identify a person only once – when issuing the card. From there on the card can be used for retrieving money from the ATM machine and personal identification is done using PIN codes.

A similar change is taking place in other fields requiring official identification with the emergence of PKI enabled ID-cards. PKI stands for Public Key Infrastructure and simply put is a collection of hardware and software measures allowing secure identification of a person, whereas the practical applications go way beyond those of a debit card.

Using an ID-card itself is similar to using a debit card – you will receive an ID-card from ROP official who makes the initial identification. From there you need to take one extra step of activating the card and choosing your PIN code using eOman kiosk, which looks similar to ATM machine and is set up in a large number of locations all over Oman. After that you can use the ID-card with your computer, using a dedicated ID-card reader. Simply enter your card into the card reader and type in your PIN code when asked.

There are many ways to use the card. Most notably it can be used for many governmental e-services such as starting a new company or managing your existing one. Only a few years ago, these activities required visiting one of the offices or Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Now you can use the dedicated online services to do the same. But not only that – the card can also be used for signing documents. Such digitally signed documents are as valid as documents with a manual signature. Last but not least, it can be used for online banking services and to make bank transactions – assuming your home bank offers online banking.

The beauty of it is that digital signature is much harder to counterfeit than a manual one. It is not impossible to use the image of an existing signature to copy it on other documents. However a digital signature requires two-level confirmation – you need to have the specific ID-card and you need to enter a PIN code that only you know. It can be considered as safe or even safer than using a debit or a credit card.

The technology itself is not very new, as ID-cards have been used in many countries worldwide for a decade. Most notable is the experience of Estonia, where ID-cards were introduced in the beginning of the century. Today almost all of the population has an active digital identity which is being used extensively – declaring taxes can be done within minutes and nearly 90 per cent of the population uses the e-service, most new commercial registrations have been done using the online-service, and almost all of the customs declarations as well as bank transfers are done online (both 99 per cent). And this covers only a small number of e-services available, as there are dozens of available e-services from most government entities, but also from a large number of private companies. Today, using a desk-service in Estonia is an exception, not a rule.

In Oman, the first PKI enabled ID-cards were issued in July 2013. The cards issued after that have all been automatically PKI enabled and require only activation. Though the first e-services have only just been introduced, they are constantly gaining momentum. Currently the most used applications for an ID-card are the e-services introduced by the Invest Easy project – an innovative initiative aimed at the business community and run by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) in cooperation with several other government entities including Royal Oman Police, Information Technology Authority and others.

The Invest Easy portal (investeasy.gov.om) allows the business community to use many services previously available only at MoCI Investor Services desks. Currently 80 per cent of desk services are also available online. This includes starting a new company and managing the Commercial Registration information of an existing company – changing contact information, adding or changing business activities, managing signatories and auditors and also closing a business. Invest Easy portal has been built using the experiences gained from the Estonian e-identity project and developed by Nortal, a multi-national company dedicated to producing high-quality e-government services.


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