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19 October 2020, 13:27

Belarusians free to get ID cards instead of passports as from 1 January

Starting 1 January 2021 Belarusians will be able to replace their passports with ID cards. Biometric passports will be available for the sake of travelling abroad. The introduction of ID cards is heralded as a key step in the development of new digital services. BelTA talked to Belarusian First Deputy Communications and Informatization Minister Pavel Tkach to find out what ID cards will look like, who is testing them, how ID cards can help create a digital government, and whether purely digital passports will be a thing in Belarus in the future.

Biometric passports are supposed to be issued starting 1 January 2021. Is everything ready for it? Has a nationwide service and transaction system been created?

The deadline to complete the final stage of the project to create the nationwide service and transaction system is 30 November 2020. The main components of the system are being tested now.

In particular, the identification procedure has been tested using a dummy ID card in interaction with the unified system of identification of individuals and corporations. About 30 state-run information systems are integrated with the national automated information system.

The information system of the national telecommunication company Beltelecom is integrated with the unified system of identification of individuals and corporations. An ID card has been used to try and sign an Internet service contract.

What will ID cards look like? What functions of today's passports will they be able to replace?

ID cards are intended to serve as personal identification documents inside the country. An ID card is a plastic card that contains a microchip. The microchip stores biometric identification records and a cryptographic authentication token.

A photo of the ID card holder and his or her personal information are printed on the ID card. The data available to the naked eye is similar to what regular passports offer today – the first name, patronymic, and last name, date of birth, citizenship, gender, identification number, type and expiry date of the document, the holder's signature.

The same data will be recorded on the microchip in addition to a program for creating a digital signature. Additional data such as the registered place of residence, information about children, marriage will be stored in state information systems elsewhere.

ID cards will not allow their holders to travel abroad. Belarusians will have to obtain biometric passports in order to leave the country. A biometric passport will look like a regular passport but will contain a microchip with biometric identification data.

What kind of services will holders of ID cards get access to?

Belarusians will be able to get access to all the administrative procedures and services that are available digitally. The digital signature feature of the ID card will guarantee the legal value of their actions.

Five administrative procedures and five digital services will be made available on the digital services web portal within the first six months after ID cards are introduced.

Can you implement payment services into Belarusian ID cards? What technical aspects do you need to take care of?

Creating an external payment service using ID cards is already part of the new government program on digital development in 2021-2025.

The main technical aspect to consider is the development of the payment service and its integration with the banking infrastructure.

The Communications and Informatization Ministry, the Operations and Analysis Center, the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus, and the National Center for Electronic Services have developed technical requirements and have prepared the necessary documentation for the future development of the payment service.

Will ID cards be able to replace birth certificates, driver's license, student ID cards, medical records, and other personal documents? How soon can it happen?

ID cards have the functionality and the potential to replace any kind of documents if certain mandatory conditions are met. It will be necessary to create the information system to enable additional functionality. Users and the infrastructure have to be ready to use the new functionality. It will be necessary to keep the data up-to-date. The new functionality will also need the legal framework that specifies obligations and the interaction procedures.

Are the first few ID cards and biometric passports already available? Who and how is testing them?

Some have already been made. They are necessary for testing the identification of users in information systems via the unified system of identification of individuals and corporations. Interaction with the digital services web portal and Beltelecom's internal systems has already been tested successfully. Operators of information systems and developers are testing the new documents. Actually anyone can start enhancing their information system and testing its compatibility with ID cards.

ID cards have already been tested for compliance with security standards and requirements.

RUP Cryptotech will soon make 800 test ID cards for government agencies and organizations and is ready to make additional cards for anyone else if necessary.

Is the government infrastructure ready to use ID cards instead of conventional passports? Will ID cards put excessive burden on the infrastructure since conventional passports will still be in use? How soon can Belarusians switch completely to ID cards instead of conventional passports?

The Communications and Informatization Ministry has set up a working group to ensure government agencies are ready to work with ID cards and the nationwide service and transaction system. It includes representatives of 58 government agencies and organizations. The ministry has also hosted a series of educational seminars.

Since Belarusians will not be forced to replace their passports with ID cards right away, full transition may take up to ten years as conventional passports expire. However, the development of digital services and capabilities of ID cards may make ID cards more attractive and may expedite the process.

With the nationwide service and transaction system up and running and new identification documents available, will we be one step closer to the digital government?

Certainly. The nationwide service and transaction system and a new nationwide automated information system will become operational in January 2021. New digital services for interaction between citizens, companies, and the state using ID cards, the digital services web portal, a modernized system for document flow between agencies, and other digital systems will become available.

We also have to switch 300 administrative procedures to the digital format by 2024. The government is considering digitizing another 30 administrative procedures for natural persons and legal persons.

On the whole, the ability to take legally significant actions using ID cards is a key step in the development of new digital services.

Will Belarusians be able to use purely digital passports in the future? Like a mobile app?

Plans have been made to create cloud-based digital signatures in the next five years. The improvement of the system of identification of natural persons and legal persons using biometric data is under consideration. We are also looking into how digital mobile passports are used abroad.

The system of identification of natural persons and legal persons will be upgraded next year to allow using tablets and mobile phones to read ID cards. It will be possible provided the devices support the NFC technology.

Thus, various options for mobile identification and for doing legally significant actions are available. These technologies will certainly be examined in order to choose the best option for testing and introduction in Belarus.

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