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A year in the works, North Macedonia’s digital identity project slowly takes shape

Digital Identity North Macedonia
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A year after being initially announced, North Macedonia’s digital identity solution project is starting to take shape. Being now deployed in production and ready for launch, it is expected to be done by the middle of May. The project is implemented by global payment giant Mastercard and Sofia-based company Evrotrust Technologies, an authorized electronic signature provider. 

The new technology will enable North Macedonia’s citizens to use digital services such as obtaining documents from public institutions, remotely open a new bank account, getting a prepaid or postpaid mobile phone account, and many more other features.

“eID is a technology solution that enables people and businesses to confirm their identities, authenticate themselves and get into legally binding relationships remotely from their mobile phones without the need to visit physical branches and sign paper documents,” Mastercard’s regional manager Vanya Manova tells The Recursive.

Challenges and opportunities of implementing the project during the pandemic

Having the misfortune of starting to work on the project during the COVID-19 pandemic, Evrotrust, the company behind the implementation, says that while there have been challenges, the pandemic also shed a different light when it comes to digital transformation.

“Besides the difficult times, which the COVID-19 pandemic brought upon society, it also played a critical role in enabling and boosting the need for digital transformation. McKinsey estimated that during the pandemic, in 2 months’ time, we have witnessed two years’ worth of digital transformation,” George Dimitrov, Evrotrust’s CEO, explains. 

“Stakeholders of the ecosystem were suddenly required to sell and provide services fully remotely while working within the same regulatory framework. Digital Identification and the full portfolio of legally binding trust services, aimed at replacing the paper processes, prove to be the toolbox that allows businesses to make this transformation possible, thus allowing for all digital services to become available to citizens,” Dimitrov tells The Recursive.

According to Dimitrov, the first results of the project could be seen by mid-May when the first integrated partner will finish the integration process and starts providing some of the services.

“We are in advanced talks with the government for using eID and trust services for e-government needs, thus the integration with the e-government portal of North Macedonia is currently ongoing. Citizens of the country will have full access to all e-government services completely remotely with one click from their mobile devices,” Dimitrov explains further.

Digital transformation also brings high hopes and expectations

For North Macedonia’s authorities, the hopes and expectations from the project are high. By implementing such a complex digital solution, North Macedonia’s government aims to put the country on the global digital transformation map. 

“With this opportunity, we are making a big and important step in the digitalization of our own identity, which is a prerequisite for many secure network services in the country and in the world,” North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said earlier this year. “The documents that will be signed through this application will be recognized not only in our country but in all countries in Europe and wherever Mastercard’s electronic ID card service is used.” 

For Mastercard itself, the eID card has been a very important product during the last year and a half, with the company launching several similar pilot projects.

“Mastercard’s global strategy is to expand its capabilities in new schemes and lines of business much beyond card payments. Examples include Open Banking, Instant Payments, to name a few,” Mastercard’s Manova tells The Recursive. 

Poor cybersecurity as a possible hurdle

Some of the downsides of implementing such a digital solution include the increased risk of hacker attacks, and the country has a rather negative experience when it comes to those. During the last year, North Macedonian institutions were targeted multiple times by various hacker groups from the country and abroad, too. 

On this note, Evrotrust’s CEO Dimitrov also added that the project is implemented to comply with the highest cybersecurity standards.

“We have developed the ID Service operated by Evrotrust from the ground up so that it complies with the highest standards for cybersecurity and personal data protection following the strict requirements of Mastercard,” Dimitrov said.

And while this can be a possible hurdle, the hopes are that authorities have learned their lesson and that they are approaching the topic of cybersecurity much more seriously than before.

“It requires a lot of time and resources to be able to develop policies, guidance, and procedures that are addressing the necessary cybersecurity training and knowledge to deal with such threats,” Berlin-based cybersecurity researcher Predrag Tasevski told The Recursive, adding that from his point of view, North Macedonia is not behind the rest of the world in this regard.

“However, we need to focus more on raising the awareness on building cyber capacities and cybersecurity culture not only on an institutional level but also on the overall public and private sector.”

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Bojan Stojkovski is a journalist based in Skopje, North Macedonia. He has been covering foreign affairs and technology in the Balkans region for over a decade.