Discussing the government’s efforts to close the digital gap between Greece and other European Union member-states, Digital Governance Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis tells Kathimerini in an interview that one of the biggest changes will include the use of a single number in people’s dealings with the state.
This number will be the current tax number (AFM), which will eventually incorporate the identity and social security number (AMKA) too.
Since being voted into power last summer, the government has already developed a clear framework for the interoperability of the state’s systems and passed a law with new rules for the licensing of antenna systems for telecommunications providers, which is necessary for the country to move into the 5G era.
Pierrakakis said this change is expected to be completed within two years, after the issuance of new identity cards.
What are the results of your efforts to digitize the government that you started six months ago?
Essentially, last summer we set up a new ministry. The Ministry of Digital Governance is a tremendously different organization compared to the old Ministry of Digital Policy. One could say that this is the ministry of process and service simplification, a project that is pivotal for this administration as well as to Prime Minister [Kyriakos] Mitsotakis personally. We set an ambitious goal: to simplify the citizen’s most important interactions with the government using digital technology. A big part of our strategy required us to begin with important legislative reforms which are now complete. For instance, for the first time in the history of the modern Greek state, government registries can interoperate and “talk to each other.” Further, it was just as urgent to shape new regulatory rules about radio cell towers, which was necessary to enter the 5G era.
Simultaneously, our initiatives aren’t just about legislation, but also about code – i.e. development of specific solutions in citizens’ everyday lives. Indicatively, the “112” Citizen Alert System was delivered fully functional in time with greater device coverage than the one we had in July 2019. Also, many systems have started to interoperate. For example, the Citizens’ Registry – which belongs to the Interior Ministry – interoperates with the Independent Authority for Public Revenue (IAPR), which means that citizens will no longer need to visit the tax office to declare life events such as marriage or divorce. In February, we will roll out the new and simplified birth declaration process, which will be available from the maternity ward instead of having to queue up at five different desks. Immediately after, we will launch gov.gr, a web portal we have been developing since July which will be the single point of access for all digital government services, key among them authorization and the solemn declaration.
You’ve previously talked about the new digital identity card. When will Greek citizens get it?
The tender was issued by the Ministry of Citizens’ Protection last month. The way the tender process will evolve will of course affect the scheduled time plan; however, our estimation is that the new digital ID cards will be issued in early 2022. Meanwhile, there will be a reasonable timeframe to replace the existing ID cards with the new ones. Our goal – about which Toomas Hendrik Ilves [the former president of Estonia who is adviser to Pierrakakis] has talked about – is “decentralized identity.” That means that a citizen can “prove” who he is and access and use government services from his home or work. Citizens can already log in to government services, for instance via Taxisnet. Digital ID cards, however, add another security layer on top and allow us to digitize all government services, even the more sensitive ones. Estonian citizens, for instance, can do everything online but marry, divorce and buy real estate.
Consequently, new digital ID cards will include digital infrastructure which was missing in the previous tender. This infrastructure includes but is not limited to digital signatures as well as the ability to add the ID in smartphones.
The digital ID will also include another identification number. Will you use an existing one or create a new one?
Today, we use the tax identification number (AFM) as a single identification number. This means that we will rename AFM for private individuals since it will stop being used just for tax purposes and gradually will become the single identification number across all government services for citizens and businesses alike. We concluded that it wouldn’t be proper to signal such an important reform which touches on all citizens with the addition of a new one, even if it was only temporary. The new, renamed number will also be included and printed on the digital ID and act as a single point of authentication across government services.
How easy is this transition you’re talking about? What’s the timeframe?
The transition comprises many challenges, both legislative as well as technical. For instance, first eligible individuals must receive the existing AFM – predominantly minors – while at the same time we must legislate the technical characteristics of the new number. Furthermore, a key technical challenge is to upgrade existing infrastructure in order to comply with the new number. Meanwhile, we need to pivot healthcare and social security systems from the social security number to the new number. The required changes remind us of the drachma-to-euro transition. The projected timeframe is identical to the digital ID one. Hence we reckon that this process requires about two years before citizens can use the new number. It is a given that other ministries and agencies will be involved. The IAPR’s support is already of great value in conjunction with the help provided by officials in the ministries of Interior and Labor.
In the past, you’ve said that parents will be able to register a child’s birth with just a single declaration at the maternity ward as of February. How did you achieve this interoperability?
It is well known that today, in order to register a child’s birth, parents need to visit the maternity ward, a Citizens’ Information Center (KEP) for the social security number, a registry office, and one of the two parents’ insurers. Come February, all these systems will be connected and interoperate, thus allowing parents to simply register the birth at the hospital’s maternity ward. Moreover, the child birth benefit will be credited automatically. The interoperability behind the new simplified birth registration process didn’t require a substantial financial investment, but rather creativity, legislative and administrative amendments, and targeted development of new technical infrastructure. From start to finish, it took a few months to do it with increased cooperation between the government and technology companies. You will see many more such simplifications in the coming months which will tremendously ease the way citizens conduct their business with the government.
When will 5G be deployed in Greece?
Auctioning off the 5G spectrum will have commenced by the end of 2020. Essentially, this means that telecom companies, after buying their share of the spectrum, will have to act and invest fast in order for consumers to use 5G. Our commitment toward this process and the overall agility and speed required is reflected in Law 4635/2019, which introduces a new speedy and simple regulatory process for radio antennae accreditation, something that had been pending for many years. Also, as we’ve previously stated, the 5G auction will feature innovation where the emphasis is not only on maximizing revenue, but also on fast deployment and technological innovation. We can’t afford to miss the boat when it comes to the latest technological innovations, as we did in the past.