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by Peter Franklin
Friday, 10
November 2023
Explainer
10:00

Beware the European Digital Identity

A proposed electronic wallet will store ID cards and medical information
by Peter Franklin
Has Britain had a lucky escape from Europe’s single ID system? Credit: Getty

As if the single market and the single currency weren’t enough, the European Union is about to get a single ID system.

Under proposals agreed member states and the European Parliament this week, every EU citizen will be entitled to a European Digital Identity (eID) which will operate through the eID “wallet”.

An electronic wallet, kept on a computer or mobile phone, stores, displays and verifies important documents in digital form. These tend to have specialised uses, like making financial transactions. The new EU system, however, is intended to be comprehensive. According to the European Commission’s own website, potential uses include storing ID cards, birth certificates and medical information. It can also be used to open a bank account, apply for a loan or show proof of age.

There’s no technical reason why it couldn’t be used as a driving license or even a passport. In short, if something can be digitised and requires proof of ID, then the eID wallet is there to handle it — and do so seamlessly across the EU’s internal borders.

Therefore, assuming the technology works, the eID system may prove highly convenient. In fact, it is likely to be indispensable. The Commission says that it is “available to any EU citizen, resident or business in the EU who wants to use it” (my italics), but how long will it be before individuals and organisations have to use it?

So far, opposition appears to be limited to Europe’s Right-wing populists. And no wonder, because to those who fear the imposition of a transnational surveillance state, the eID system looks like their nightmares come true. For instance, the spread of electronic wallets through the EU population provides the necessary infrastructure for a Central Bank Digital Currency — and hence the eventual abolition of physical cash. Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers might fear the ability of the system to store vaccination certificates (and to provide notification of the absence thereof). As for location tracking, the authorities have multiple ways of doing that already, yet eID could bring these together: “one ring to rule them all, one ring to find them…”

As the project nears fruition, expect protests. But also expect establishment politicians not to listen. With the key decisions being made at EU level, national governments would be insulated from any backlash. What’s more, the implementation is likely to favour EU-based business interests — so one can add concerted lobbying efforts to the political momentum.

Like it or not, then, eID is coming, though not, of course, to the UK. That’s not to say that we won’t one day have electronic ID cards of our own. I don’t like the idea, but if we ever want to control our borders, we may have to accept them.

Any yet, even though we can’t ignore these new technologies — we can decide how to implement them. Further, because we left the EU, we can make these decisions for ourselves as a free and sovereign nation. Not for the first time, we should be grateful for Brexit. 

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Mrs R
Mrs R
23 days ago

Who can trust the EU executive after the covid vaccine scandal? We saw how the power of the state was harnessed to bully and demonise, to exclude those who dared to question the wisdom of the imposition of a max vaccination mandate of a wholly experimental mRNA jab even when the dissenting voices were highly qualified doctors, vaccine developers and virologists. Remember this therapy was only given an emergency licence because there was supposedly no other therapy available: that was not true.
I never used to question vaccines, all my children had their jabs but something really didn’t smell right about this from the get go and so I refused it – and suffered for taking what had been, since being enshrined in Nuremberg, the absolute right to refuse a medical intervention if I could not give legitimate informed consent. Now I question everything.
We saw how the state unleashed an enormous propaganda campaign in order to increase fear and coerce compliance. The vile and aggressive language used to denounce the ‘anti-vaxxers’ and ‘refusniks’. Vaccine passes kept people out of shops and work across much of Europe, Australia, NZ, Canada. I was sickened.
Peter Franklin is absolutely correct, eIDs will be a choice but only in the very short term because the goal is that they will be universally enforced. This has been a shared goal and EU project for many years. The UK are also developing the infrastructure. The digital vaccine certificate was an opportunity to trial the idea.
Welcome to the Social Credit System. What next the chip implanted for even more ‘convenience’?

Last edited 23 days ago by Mrs R
Helen Hughes
Helen Hughes
23 days ago

Can people please stop labelling those who want to decide for themselves whether to have medical interventions in their healthy bodies “anti-vaxxers”? They are just people who take a different decision from the one desired by big pharma and biotech companies.
I don’t think it will be long before the UK pushes through digital ID, either.

M L Hamilton Anderson
M L Hamilton Anderson
22 days ago
Reply to  Helen Hughes

I agree Helen. It’s called critical thinking. As a pharmacist, I have been appalled at the travesty of the imposition of this dastardly ineffective vaccine imposed upon the world.

Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
23 days ago

Such a difficult area. Pitfalls and benefits all over.
Something like this could be very convenient for the general user.
And there are benefits around identifying illegals of all sorts. Whether this is illegal entrants, illegal drivers, illegal access to health care.
I have pondered ID cards idea for ages. I had an ID card when I lived and worked in France, this was card with my photo etc and was convenient and used in place of a cheque guarantee card and other such.
Big State surveillance is an issue and how to control and minimise this. Not sure on this. It could be by limiting who can read the information. So; only health care organisations can read health info. Only Police read drivers licence etc, sort of thing.
At present (in the UK) my “stuff” is separate. Passport some stuff, DL other info etc etc. A convenient way of bringing this all together has advantages and disadvantages. Lots to ponder!

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
23 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Buckley

I share your ambivalence, Andrew. I don’t object, indeed would welcome, a system in which one has to prove identity/entitlement when, say, accessing NHS services or claiming benefits. I still oppose a situation where a policeman could stop you on the street and demand to see your ID card.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
23 days ago

That seems to be the bottom line, police demanding to see your ID. It’s sort of a back-door way to get to martial law.

Jonathon
Jonathon
23 days ago

Even if we had a national ID the current system of not having to carry it can continue. One being introduced doesn’t negate the other and I’m not sure why this is always the jump taken.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
23 days ago

I’d be surprised if there aren’t protests from Muslim groups about the use of eID as an acronym.

Peter B
Peter B
23 days ago

Just imagine how useful this could be in efficiently delivering state services to those who are entitled to them (and by implication deying them to those who are not).
Then ask yourself if that’s really likely to happen in the human rights paradise that is the EU. Does anyone actually have the backbone to enforce such policies ?
But then there is surely little point to digital IDs if they are not to be used to deliver services better. Unless it’s simply for tracking people.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
23 days ago

 “How long will it be before individuals and organisations have to use it?”
This is a huge problem with new technology. Unintended consequences, nefarious uses, corollary harms are not thought through before law — or market economics — torce all of us to become users, because alternatives disappear.
I hope Brits just say “no,” as long as meaningful choice exists. I imagine we Americans will be facing the same sooner rather than later.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
23 days ago

Already in the US, even domestic flights require a passport if one doesn’t have a state-issued “safe ID.”

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
23 days ago

Any technical innovation has the potential for good and ill. It is broader cultural values that will determine where the trade off settles. These will determine whether ID cards are a blessing or a curse.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
23 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Unfortunately, we live in a time when “broader cultural values” don’t have any real sway with political reality. When they say “stake-holder democracy” they’re not including you or me.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
23 days ago

Idk. Big brother was unleashed a long time ago. We don’t have any real privacy now and I’m not sure how much worse this can really make it.

ANNE Quinlan
ANNE Quinlan
23 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

We overshare with privately owned tech companies, yet worry about our own States having info on us; that always intrigues me.

Jonathon
Jonathon
23 days ago
Reply to  ANNE Quinlan

Anne you are completely right and it’s been a bafflement of mine on this subject too.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
18 days ago

An important rule in IT is to never rely on “security through obscurity”. For example, it’s bad practice to put sensitive documents on a website without password protection and just hope that nobody guesses their location. But the maxim highlights the reality that obscurity does provide some security.
Just as documents get some “security through obscurity”, individuals enjoy some “liberty through inefficiency”.
As the author notes, it’s generally the case that “the authorities have multiple ways of doing that already”, but when things are too inconvenient, bureaucrats don’t bother.
As someone who hates inefficiency, I’m caught between wanting ID systems rationalised and fearing what governments will do as things become more convenient.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
23 days ago

‘Any yet, even though we can’t ignore these new technologies — we can decide how to implement them.’ Yes we should. Rather than constantly fulminating about the supposed pitfalls, and demanding an unachievable ideal, we should look constructively at what a digital ID system could offer us as individuals. The main advantage could be that it would enable all of us to own our biological signatures – genetic make-up, facial features, retinal patterns, fingerprints, the whole lot; our identity, in fact. We could then selectively allow or license their use to governments, businesses, etc, on our terms.

Jonathon
Jonathon
23 days ago

I don’t really mind these things coming in. The UK should have had an ID card years ago, making sure benefits for UK citizens/residents go to the right people and also used to do thing such as bank opening, voting etc as well as unified systems for the NHS. Technology can sometimes be good.

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
21 days ago
Reply to  Jonathon

The NHS wouldn’t know what to do with it. My wife’s cancer test results were posted, as in Royal mail, to her GP 2 miles away. If they can’t send an email or pass the results electronically now, the hope of a unified NHS data system is a universe away.

Jonathon
Jonathon
18 days ago

Oh I fully accept right now that it wouldn’t be able to manage it, but it doesn’t mean in principle the technology isn’t useful.