Ukraine’s digital revolution continues with enhanced legal status for e-passports

The digitalization of daily life in Ukraine continues. On March 30, the Ukrainian parliament passed legislation that recognizes e-passports as official documents and provides them with the same legal status for domestic use as their more traditional paper cousins. Parliament’s groundbreaking vote is a major step towards the creation of a truly digital Ukrainian state, a goal which has been the key focus of the Ministry of Digital Transformation since its creation in 2019.

The new law stipulates that from August 23, 2021, all Ukrainian companies and government agencies will accept e-passports via the Ministry of Digital Transformation’s flagship Diia application. From opening a bank account to booking a train ticket or accessing government services, Ukrainians will only need a smartphone and the Diia application.

This latest digital innovation will create new levels of convenience for Ukrainian citizens, who can now use their e-passports for everything except international travel. After all, passports remain the primary identification document used in everyday life. By bestowing the same status on e-passports as physical passports, the recent legislative changes is expected to hasten broader shifts within Ukrainian society towards digitalization.

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As with all digitalization steps, security is of paramount importance. Ukraine’s Diia application, which serves as the basis for the country’s digitalization efforts, only contains information that already exists in state registers and does not collect personal data.

It is worth underlining that digital documents are in many ways much better protected than the paper documentation that you typically carry in your handbag or pocket. However, we recognize that no system is impenetrable, which is why we dedicate 80% of our time and resources at the Ministry of Digital Transformation to testing and improving the security of the Diia app.

In December 2020, we invited groups of ethical hackers from around the world to attempt to hack into the Diia app. They failed to gain access. We plan to continue running similar tests on an ongoing basis to make sure data remains as safe as possible.

Ukraine is part of a global digitalization process that involves the development of e-passports and the increasing use of other forms of electronic identification in countries around the world. We have sought to learn from the best international experience and apply these lessons to the innovations underway in Ukraine.

Poland has a similar mobile application to Ukraine’s Diia that was launched at the end of 2019. This Polish app displays seven digital documents and allows users to identify themselves with a digital ID card in places where a paper passport is not legally required.

In the UK and UAE, citizens can use e-passports at airports for check-in and security control. In China, citizens have access to virtual ID cards integrated into a mobile application. Users can use this to identify themselves when they register at hotels or to receive certain government services. Meanwhile, 70% of the population in Estonia uses digital ID cards, while 99% of public services are available online.

The continued development of Ukraine’s Diia app, along with recent legislative changes, places the country among the group of nations leading the global transition towards a digital future.

One of the first key steps in Ukraine’s digitalization journey was the launch of digital driving licenses in February 2020. The success of this option on the Diia mobile app led to the decision to digitize passports, the most essential personal document of all. A few months later in April 2020, we were able to launch e-passports.

In October 2020, an additional service was introduced via the Diia app that makes it possible to share documents digitally. This has increased the functionality of the app to cover more situations where Ukrainians need to use their passports. It has eliminated the need for people to produce endless copies of different documents. Instead, users can simply open the application and confirm the request to share a copy of their passport.

Transitioning an entire society towards digital solutions is no easy task, even in a country like Ukraine where the adoption of new technologies is often rapid. At the Ministry of Digital Transformation, we have created an implementation department to ensure maximum acceptance of e-passports. The implementation team interacts directly with vendors in order to optimize this process. In addition to working with the private sector, they also engage with government agencies. This is often the most challenging aspect of the implementation process, as state bodies tend to respond more slowly to innovations.

The recent change in the status of e-passports is a landmark event in the digitalization of Ukraine with broad practical implications for Ukrainians. It will allow them to complete a range of tasks and access all manner of private sector and state services with maximum convenience.

E-passports can also serve as a gateway to a whole new level of digital services. Further progress in this direction will depend to a degree on the desire of every Ukrainian to embrace innovation. We are ready to provide them with the tools to do so.

Mykhailo Fedorov is Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

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Image: The Ukrainian parliament has recently passed legislation that recognizes e-passports as official documents.