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Ukraine’s digital identity app growing and becoming an inspiration for other countries

Ukraine’s digital identity app growing and becoming an inspiration for other countries
 

Ukraine’s digital identity app Diia has been growing despite the turmoil caused by the country’s war with Russia. Around 70 percent of its citizens now have the digital ID, which is used for storing biometric passports, tax IDs and driver’s licenses, accessing public services — and even sharing military intelligence: Users can send the geolocation of enemy tanks through the app.

The figure was shared last Thursday by Australia’s Ambassador of Ukraine to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko, trade publication InnovationAus reports.

The app also broke a three-year-record after enrolling more than 26,000 new individual entrepreneurs during September, the Ukrainian Ministry for Innovation, Education, Science and Technology Development announced this month per Ukrinform. Minister Mykhailo Fedorov shared in a post on Telegram that the registration of individual entrepreneurs in Diia is now fully automatic and fast.

Inspiration for other digital public infrastructure projects

Diia was launched in 2019 with 2 million Ukrainians signing up within eight hours of the launch. Since Russia launched an invasion of the country in 2022, the app has been adding new services. These include a issuing digital “evacuation document,” containing identity information to speed up checkpoint clearances, and allowing citizens whose homes had been damaged in the war to apply for compensation.

The Diia project, which was created in partnership with USAID, Eurasia Foundation and private sector partners, is also attracting interest in other countries which are learning from Ukraine’s experience. One of them is Estonia.

Estonia currently offers 99.99% of its services online, according to Carmen Raal, a digital transformation adviser at e-Estonia, including universal online banking solutions and super-quick business setups. The threat of Russia forced the country to focus on cybersecurity before it was of critical importance to private and public sectors, Raal said in September during an online panel organized by Gzero Media, a subsidiary of political risk analysis firm Eurasia Group.

In January this year, USAID announced it would support partner countries that are inspired by Diia. Mohamed Abdel-Kader, USAID’s Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub, says that USAID’s goal is to help strengthen its connection with citizens through the development of digital public infrastructure.

“When it’s done right, in countries like Ukraine and Estonia these resilient secure systems enable citizens to connect directly with their government and to receive a variety of essential services quickly and efficiently in a time of crisis as we see in Ukraine,” says Abdel-Kader.

Limits to applying Diia in other countries

Ukraine and Estonia remain inspirations for countries looking to introduce digital identity and digital public infrastructure. But some aspects of Diia may not be transferable to other environments.

Ukraine has had to beef up its defense while staying resilient against cyber attacks. To achieve this, working with the private technology sector has been an invaluable resource for the Ukrainian government. Applying this innovation model elsewhere in peacetime is doubtful, however, says Ambassador Myroshnychenko.

“It was an existential threat in war: Russians coming in and killing us that got us all kind of united and focused on that collaboration and high integration between business and government,” Ambassador Myroshnychenko said.

The back-end systems supporting the app were transferred to the cloud and migrated to data centers outside Ukraine to protect them from physical and cyber-attacks, the Ambassador explained. But the country was also aided by the fact that much of its critical civilian infrastructure remains on “legacy” platforms.

“If you attack it, it’s very easy to get back. You just reload it and it works again. So in a way, we were a bit more resilient just because of the older technology,” he says.

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