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17 October, 2021
 
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Minister grilled over digital ID bill

House committee member picks apart legislation on electronic signatures, raises privacy concerns

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Recent discussion on electronic signatures has reintroduced persistent challenges in the digital ID debate, with Cyprus’ innovation minister facing tough questions this week during a House committee hearing.

Deputy Minister for Research, Innovation and Digital Policy Kyriacos Kokkinos appeared before the Internal Affairs Committee on Monday where he pushed for government-sponsored legislation on digital ID.

The bill is expected to cut down on red tape and unlock the potential of digital ID in the Republic of Cyprus, but challenges have persisted throughout the discussion.

Kokkinos, who assumed office one year ago, said he hoped legislation would be approved by the end of March, adding that the new law would add on improvements already in place that allow citizens to take care of business online.

The bill, which was submitted to parliament back in November, would make a new law allowing electronic identification and signatures to be accepted more widely, such as signing loan contracts online or transferring vehicle ownership with the click of a mouse through the state’s motor vehicle website.

'We still have a long way to go before digital signatures can be accepted more widely,' the minister said, adding that businesses and agencies currently are not obligated to accept them

Kokkinos said currently e-signatures are accepted by banks for customers who already go through the identification procedure thorough their financial institution.

“We still have a long way to go before digital signatures can be accepted more widely,” the minister said, adding that businesses and agencies currently are not obligated to accept them unless the House approves the legislation.

But Kokkinos faced criticism during the House committee hearing on Monday, with MP Eleni Mavrou raising questions over privacy considerations.

Mavrou criticized the government for failing to consult with the Commissioner for personal data protection, adding concerns over the choice of a private organization that would manage personal data.

“But even if the state would be the provider, it would still have to work with an organization in the private sector,” Kokkinos clarified.

According to the bill, citizens won’t have to wait in line, bother with paperwork, or sign multiple copies of forms, while the minimum requirement to complete a procedure would be having a digital ID and an electronic device such as Smartphone.

“We need to have some trust in our citizens,” Kokkinos said, adding that that the issuance of digital IDs will be regulated by the Interior Minister.

While countries can cover the costs for issuing digital IDs, or even let companies foot the bill by competing for customers, it has been reported that electronic identification in the Republic of Cyprus is expected to cost around €20 with a three year valiodity.

The AKEL MP said she still had concerns over private entities having access to personal data, such as biometric information, in order to issue digital IDs and manage electronic signatures.

Mavrou went on to say that a fine in the bill for €1 million, in case any providers breached privacy laws, was “ridiculous.”

“We have seen social media giants leaking personal data, there was uproar over that,” Mavrou said, adding that she was not convinced with safety precautions in the bill that would protect the privacy of citizens.

House committee member picks apart legislation on electronic signatures in Cyprus, innovation minister hopes for law by end March

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