Now's the time for digital validation

Signing a paper document is a thing of the past. The practice may not have disappeared altogether, but using that personal flourish of the pen developed in youth is no longer a convenient option in our digital age. Printing a document, signing it by hand, scanning it and mailing the scan: it's quite a palaver. And, with the arrival of the digital signature, there's no real need to go to the trouble. What fewer people realise is that the digital signature is only part of the revolution. Because digital signing goes hand-in-hand with identity verification. After all, a signature counts for little without the assurance that the person providing it really is who they say they are. Kick Willemse, founder and CEO of Evidos and Ondertekenen.nl, is an international expert on digital identities and actively involved in developments, both in the Netherlands and on the European stage. Willemse was one of the speakers at SIDN Connect, where he looked at the use of digital identities and trends in digital validation.

Kick-Willemse

In the early days of the internet, most people were preoccupied with things such as domain names and exchanging e-mail. "My focus was always elsewhere. I was thinking, 'If you come up with a good internet application, you need to know who you're doing business with.' That might not matter very much with a straightforward eBay purchase, but it's quite a big issue where commercial transactions are concerned." With purchase deeds, rental contracts, educational enrolments, crowdfunding and leases, you want confirmation of who the other party is. Because the financial and practical implications are very far-reaching.

An interest in the challenges of digital identification and the growth of the internet led Willemse to create Evidos. In the ten years since, Evidos has become the platform for digital validation. It incorporates Ondertekenen.nl: a legally valid digital signing tool, which makes a person's identity inseparable from a transaction. Evidos also helps with signing, identifying and authenticating transactions using local methods. 

Now's the time for strong validation

From Evidos's transaction data, it's clear that the popularity of digital signing and identity verification is growing. Last year, the number of transactions roughly doubled, from 800,000 to 1.5 million. That trend reinforces Willemse's conviction that we've now entered the digital validation era. "Organisations with low-threshold processes led the way, and now it's time for the more serious processes, including identity verification," he asserts.

Willemse puts the rise of legal validation and secure digital identity verification down to a number of factors. First, it's only recently that all the necessary ingredients for validation have been in place: the availability of media such as DigiD, iDIN and eHerkenning, and the introduction of national and European legislation.

Another factor is the economic upturn. "With the slump triggered by the financial crisis behind us, everything is looking good. Companies are expanding and have the resources to digitise previously manual processes."

Striking a balance

In other words, the business community now has both the incentive and the ability to invest in digital validation. What's more, the technological possibilities are increasing all the time. Where identity verification is concerned, a clear trend is emerging. "We started off with low-level security that's easy to use: user name and password. Over time, we've gradually progressed to higher levels of security. For example, it's now common for a code or link to be sent in a WhatsApp or text message to confirm authorisation. We recognise three levels of digital identification: low, substantial and high. We don't give everyone the 'high' label, because you have to consider convenience as well. But, obviously, when it comes to signing a will or the contract for a house sale, you want to ensure the highest level of legal validity." It's a question of striking a balance. 

eIDAS

Developments are in progress at the European level too. eIDAS is a European identification system, which enables a Belgian to use their national ID to access on-line services in the Netherlands, and vice versa. That requires technological integration, which Willemse has been helping to bring about. "I was involved in designing the technical interfaces. I also had a hand in setting up the national hub that enables me to use my personal DigiD in, say, Germany or Belgium."

It's happening now

Willemse's message is clear: it's happening now. "Organisations need to understand that it's already possible to adopt whatever level of digital validation is right for them. Although the field is highly dynamic, there's no reason for not getting started." Digital validation is now more important than ever. It's a vital element of internet security for all.

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