”The Republic of Moldova is awaiting the final audit and official launch of the MobiSign - a new generation digital qualified signature. This application will be able to be installed for free in the smartphone and it will be easier to use and extend its validity. MobiSign has the potential to be a game-changer in the massive use of digital tools in Moldova. More information campaigns are needed about the functionalities, the degree of security and the ways to obtain it, including in the diaspora. The migration of valid digital signature certificates to the future MobiSign solution will be possible remotely. Only the first issue of MobiSign as a digital signature will require physical presence…”
For the first time in the history of the Republic of Moldova, digital transformation is not only the priority of specialized state institutions such as the E-Government Agency or the Information Technology and Cyber Security Service (STISC). Digitalization is placed high among the priorities of the National Development Strategy "European Moldova 2030". In addition, the position of the Deputy Prime Minister for Digitalization contributes to the creation of an ecosystem of thematic national coordination in the development of digitization policies in all areas. All this is to be reflected in the new National Strategy for digital transformation of the Republic of Moldova for the years 2023-2030.
The future strategy is currently in the process of coordination and public debate. It will cover all branches of public life, as well as all central and local public authorities, but also sectors of the economy. The preconditions necessary for an inclusive digital transformation are of major importance, without which systemic, coherent, efficient, sustainable and digitalization that benefits every citizen of the Republic of Moldova cannot be ensured. The most important precondition is to ensure that the number of citizens using digital authentication and digital signature tools is increasing. Without them, it will be simply not possible for the majority of citizens to access digital services. Otherwise, the use of the multiple digital services developed will remain low. The importance of digital signature derives from the fact that the digital system can only function efficiently if public institutions and digital services can electronically identify users and beneficiaries of those services.
The good news is that the Republic of Moldova has all the legal, technological, operational and cyber security tools for the wide application of the electronic signature. It is equated to the handwritten signature. The electronic document has the same legal value as that on paper. There is also a wide range of functional digital signature technology tools such as tokens issued by STISC, mobile signature certificates issued by telecommunications companies, and e-ID issued by Public Service Agency. At the moment, a modern digital signature mechanism based on the use of a smartphone application (MobiSign) that has the potential to revolutionize the wide use of digital signature in the Republic of Moldova is currently in an audit and testing regime.
However, we find that the number of the active users of digital signature certificates still remains relatively small. There are currently about 130,000 active digital signature public keys, most of which are issued by STISC (about 75%). If we relate these figures to the number of unique users, we find that the figures look even more pessimistic. For example, STISC issued about 97,000 certificates while the number of unique users is about 46,000 citizens. This is also due to the fact that many citizens hold two and more digital signature certificates (according to our data, over 15 thousand citizens).
Many digital signature certificates are not used directly by their holders, but are offered to third parties. For example, accountants of legal entities. Some of them keep dozens of certificates that do not belong to them, along with authentication and digital signature codes, which represent an increased risk of misuse of those certificates.
STISC certificates are issued with digital authentication codes consisting of a single combination of digits. In many cases, these codes are not subsequently changed by users. This represents a serious risk of fraudulent use of digital signature certificates if they are lost, which can have negative effects for their holders.
Another problem is insufficient level of information about the legal status of digital signature certificates, but also about electronically signed documents. This is particularly true at the local level. Consequently, it creates misinterpretations about them and as a result leads to marginal use. Many users believe that different types of digital signature have different legal power, which again creates ambiguities in their use. An eloquent example is that some users consider valid only the digital signature that, when printing the document, displays additional inscriptions in the text, which is actually not correct.
Free issuance of digital signature certificates to categories of civil servants (over 24 thousand certificates) is a good practice. However, if their issuance has a limited utility (for example, for submitting income statements to the National Integrity Agency), that effort seems unjustified, given that these are not used for accessing other digital services.
A number of civil servants do not use or deliberately recognize addresses or documents signed digitally, citing various so-called practices, which in fact represent a direct violation of the legislation that recognizes digitally signed documents as perfectly legal.
The approval by only one institution of digital signature certificates is an impediment to the development of several alternative technical solutions. In contrast, event more than that, Moldova should strive towards ensuring the compatibility at the European level. Hence, Moldova must speed up the necessary measures at national level to ensure compliance with the EU eIDIAS Regulation. This will allow Moldovan the qualified electronic signatures to be recognized at EU level and vice versa. At the national level, yet another measure that could encourage the popularization of electronic signatures would be the introduction of a phased and targeted mandatory use of qualified electrocni signatures for official documents. At the same time, the European Business Association (EBA) suggests that some technical documents, with less relevance, could already be signed with other types of electronic signature.
Now, we are awaiting the final audit and official launch of the MobiSign - a new generation digital qualified signature. This application will be able to be installed for free in the smartphone and it will be easier to use and extend its validity. MobiSign has the potential to be a game-changer in the massive use of digital tools in Moldova. More information campaigns are needed about the functionalities, the degree of security and the ways to obtain it, including in the diaspora. The migration of valid digital signature certificates to the future MobiSign solution will be possible remotely. Only the first issue of MobiSign as a digital signature will require physical presence.
In conclusion, Moldova has all the necessary legal and technological elements for the wide use of the digital signature. However, the use rate remains a modest one, requiring more actions to promote their use throughout society. There is a need for a more efficient cooperation between the state institutions, the private sector and the associative one, but also the elimination of the deficiencies mentioned above.
If you don't have a digital signature certificate, get one as soon as possible. If you have it, but you do not use it, start today, the options of digital solutions are already many and their number is constantly increasing. The digital signature is your key to a more digitized, transparent and efficient society!
Victor Guzun is an expert on digitalization at the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE).
This commentary is prepared within the project "We and Europe - Analysis of EU-Moldovan relations through innovative media and analytical products", implemented by the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE), in partnership with IPN, Radio Chisinau, Zugo.md and with the support of Konrad Foundation Adenauer.