Digital Identities: Data Security the Most Important Criterion for Many Germans

eco Board Prof. Norbert Pohlmann: “Avoid national unilateralism. User-friendliness and open standards should be at the heart of promoting acceptance of digital identities and open competition.” 

  • eco study shows: Many people find the available digital government services far too complicated and insecure 
  • Citizens want public authorities to provide more online services (60 per cent), a better user experience (76 per cent) and warranties for security (77 per cent). 

Whether for the digital submission of tax returns or the online registration of a vehicle: Anyone who wants to use digital government services in Germany must log in and identify themselves online. This can be done, for example, with the new electronic national identity card on the basis of the eID procedure. However, only one-third of people in Germany use such digital government services at all, according to the study “Security & digital identities in a digitalised world”, which eco – Association of the Internet Industry published this year in cooperation with the analyst firm techconsult. 

One important reason for this reluctance is the user experience that many people (76 per cent) associate with public authorities’ online services. In particular, the poor structure and findability of online sevices holds many back. “One function is not enough,” says Prof. Pohlmann, Board Member for IT Security at the eco Association. “People expect comparable convenience and the ease of use that they are used to in their daily commercial applications on the computer as well as on the smartphone.” 

Usability is a key requirement, especially for elderly people. While, in the age group up to 49 years for example, slightly more than two-thirds consider usability to be an important factor, the figure for older people is around 90 per cent. 

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Unresolved issues regarding data protection and data security also play a major role for 47 per cent, which speak against the use of eGovernment services. Elderly people, in particular, tend to be much more concerned than younger people in this regard. The current proliferation of digital identities is a source of uncertainty. One-third of citizens currently manage more than ten different user accounts to use Internet services. One in ten even has more than 20 user accounts. 

Replacing this with a universal identity is only an option for the vast majority (77 per cent) once the security of this identity is guaranteed. “Disclosing highly sensitive personal data is a big hurdle for anyone,” says Norbert Pohlmann. “If these fall into the wrong hands or become public without authorisation due to vulnerabilities, this leads to massive damage and loss of trust.” 

It is basically a good thing that the German federal government is taking up the issue of digital identities in its digital strategy and naming it as a priority. However, corresponding projects would have to be thought of in connection with the planned EUid and the evaluation of the eIDAS Regulation in Brussels in order to avoid national solo efforts. “User-friendliness and open standards should be the focal point in order to promote the acceptance of digital identities and open competition,” Pohlmann continues. 

Fundamentally high acceptance for digital government services 

People would be pleased to use many digital government services if they were available. Nearly 60 per cent of citizens are dissatisfied with the number of services available. At the top of the citizens’ wish list are the issuing of identity cards and passports (53 per cent), registration or re-registration of residence (53 per cent) as well as services for issuing general documents such as birth certificates (50 per cent) and vehicle registration (50 per cent). Yet almost all other possible services would also enjoy high acceptance in principle. Today, for example, almost a quarter of citizens are postal voters and request their election documents digitally via the portal of their municipality. 

The public authorities primarily offer services to apply for state benefits for companies and citizens (33 per cent). This is followed by services for tax returns (25 per cent), the electronic issuing of driving licences (23 per cent), registration or re-registration of residence (23 per cent), requesting election documents (23 per cent) and issuing general documents (23 per cent). 

The availability of services is expected to increase even more in the future. 27 per cent of the municipalities that do not yet offer digital services for citizens are planning to introduce such services in the future. Services already established in other municipalities, such as the issuing of identity cards and passports or the digital registration or re-registration of residence, are particularly suitable here. 

You can download the full study here. 

*In spring 2022, the analyst firm techconsult surveyed around 300 citizens, 170 companies and 40 public authorities to compile the study “Security & digital identities in a digitalised world”. 


Digital Identities: Data Security the Most Important Criterion for Many Germans