SIDN, the company best known for running the .nl domain, has expanded its portfolio considerably in recent years. Meijer regards that as a natural progression. "Domain registration remains our core activity, but our mission is to connect people and organisations and to make digital living easier and safer for everyone. In support of that mission, we're developing new products and services linked to digital identities, digital security and digital utility."
SIDN has built up a strong reputation in those fields, Meijer points out. "When I joined SIDN in 2005, various things needed attention, while dependency on the internet was increasing rapidly. As manager of the .nl domain, SIDN is responsible for something vital to the Dutch economy and Dutch society. It was essential to make sure that our customers and the government were totally satisfied with us. Custody of the .nl domain is a weighty responsibility, which I feel implies an obligation to stand up for the interests of our customers and the Dutch internet community. That means doing a lot besides making sure that .nl domain names work properly. Don't we have a responsibility to intervene if we see that a .nl domain name is being used for something illegal, for example? Before 2005, the thinking was that, as the registry, our job was looking after the technical side of things; how domain names were used wasn't our business. I take a different view: the use of domain names definitely is our business. In fact, we have a responsibility to involve ourselves. Acting as one link in a chain, we nowadays actively oppose internet crime wherever we can. And we've been successful: the .nl domain is one of the most secure in the world."
What's more, the Netherlands tops the internet rankings in fields such as e-commerce, broadband distribution, private internet use, and of course domain names. "We are amongst the world's leading innovators and we are using our track record on the security and reliability of the .nl domain to get other premium services established."
SIDN clearly remains at the forefront of development: e-ID may be a new field, but SIDN has already made great strides. The e-ID system is the successor to DigiD log-in technology, which needs upgrading after ten years on the scene. E-ID is intended to make it easier for people to log in to public and private sector services.
"I expect that, now we have a number of concrete options, consumer and business use of e-IDs will increase rapidly. It's inevitable that everyone's going to be using them all the time within a few years. Also gaining ground is single sign-on software, which enables users to log in once to get access to a variety of applications. It was with those developments in mind that we began 2017 by taking a majority stake in Connectis, a company that has developed an innovative platform for secure log-ins, mobile authentication and interfacing with existing log-in technologies, such as DigiD, eHerkenning, iDIN (Bank-ID), Idensys, social media accounts and eIDAS. The deal was our first big step; now it's time to really make ground."
The decision to buy into Connectis wasn't an obvious one, according to Meijer. "We're used to doing our own thing with our partners, and we already had plans to launch our own internet ID service. But in the end we decided that this approach was better. Connectis is already an identity broker for clients such as major health insurers, publishers, government departments, the tax service and seventy municipal authorities here in the Netherlands. It's ready for the European eIDAS system and can handle all currently operational European e-IDs. The plan is that, before long, every EU citizen will be able to log in using their national e-ID. And Connectis already has the technology in place."
Connectis being a commercial organisation did lead to some soul-searching, Meijer acknowledges. "I'm a strong believer in our non-profit ethos," he says. "Making money isn't the objective here; it's a means to an end. Ultimately SIDN is about creating value for the society, about being a force for good. So it wasn't an obvious move for SIDN to buy into a commercial operation. However, once we started negotiating, it quickly became apparent that the then owner, Martijn Kaag, had a vision very like our own and wanted to transfer the remaining shares to a foundation with a social objective."
Kaag backs up that assessment by saying, "Connectis was always a commercial enterprise, but I was never in business to make money. Like SIDN, my goal was to create value for the community. Even when I was a student, I started a number of social initiatives. Connectis aims to reduce costs for health care providers and the public sector, and to share the proceeds of our activities fairly. A secure global log-in network has the potential to save on-line service providers a lot of money, while also tackling corruption and identity fraud."
What does the SIDN-Connectis link-up mean for the market?
"Connectis's customers benefit from Connectis being backed by SIDN, a company with a strong reputation, which can deliver continuity, growth and professionalism," asserts Meijer. "Together, our two organisations have a great deal to offer each other and our customers. The acquisition means that we can make digital living that bit more straightforward, more secure and ultimately cheaper."