Amid Russian invasion, Ukraine weaponizes mobile ID app

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In 2000, Ukraine became a pioneer in mobile identification with the launch of the Diia application. Developed by the government’s Department of Digital Transformation, the app was designed to work like a digital driver’s license, much in the same spirit as the Apple Mobile ID app which is just beginning to emerge in the US .

Since the Russian invasion, however, the app has evolved, offering unique insight into the potential impact of digital IDs in times of crisis.

Previously, the app’s functionality revolved around its use as an official government-recognized identifier, and its ability to allow users to access digital government services, such as paying traffic fines or obtaining COVID-19 vaccination certificates. Since the start of the Russian assault, the app has been updated to help Ukrainians adapt to the disruptions of war. Users can now easily change their registered address using Diia and can access government cash grants for those fleeing combat zones.

Diia also supports those who leave the country. The app now allows users to access work rosters remotely, and the Ukrainian government has made deals with some neighboring countries to accept mobile ID instead of physical ID documents.

For many government officials around the world, these capabilities may prove to be eye-opening examples of the power of digital ID and mobile ID technology – stark illustrations of how the flexibility of technology can be used to maintain government services and help citizens in times of crisis.

But the app takes it a step further by offering weaponized capabilities that may still raise eyebrows. Ukrainians can now upload geotagged photos of Russian targets via Diia and can submit tips on potential saboteurs, with the data passed to Ukrainian military intelligence. Users can also donate to the country’s military through the app.

Talk to Emerging EuropeDigital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov suggested the app could essentially turn an ordinary Ukrainian citizen into some kind of drone operator for the military.

“Our Diia wartime app is not just electronic documents and citizen identification at checkpoints,” he said. “Now is also an opportunity to donate to the military; report on the movement of military troops and enemy materiel; 24/7 access to television and radio. It is also the possibility of imagining oneself as a Bayraktar operator.

It is not yet known how many Ukrainians actually use the military functions of the application. But the app is popular: according to the ministry, at the end of 2021, around a third of the population was using the app; and analytics firm Sensor Tower reported it as one of the top three most downloaded apps in the country.

Sources: Emerging Europe, The Washington Post, Wired


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