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24th Jul 2021

First glimpse of EU's new 'digital identity wallet'

  • 'The European digital identity will enable us to do, in any member state, as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles,' EU commissioner for tech policy Margrethe Vestager (l) said (Photo: European Union)

The European Commission on Thursday (3 June) unveiled its plans for an EU 'digital identity wallet' - designed to allow citizens to access public and private services across the bloc, both online and offline, simply by clicking a button on their phone.

The European digital identity wallet proposed is an app that citizens can install in their smartphone to store electronic identification forms and official documents, such as a driver licence, a diploma or a bank account.

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  • Currently 14 member states have their own national digital ID systems, but they have all been designed in different ways (Photo: European Commission)

Among its uses, the commission cited accessing public services such as requesting birth certificates, medical prescriptions, reporting a change of address, opening a bank account, applying for a university, checking in to a hotel or renting a car.

Major platforms, like Amazon, Google, or Facebook, will also be required to accept the use of the EU digital identity wallets upon request of the user - for example, to prove their age.

"The European digital identity will enable us to do in any member state as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles," EU commissioner for tech policy Margrethe Vestager said, saying it can be done "in a way that is secure and transparent".

Under this new regulation, all member states will be able to issue digital wallets based on common standards - for both citizens and businesses. But their use will not be obligatory.

The wallets will be designed with a "high level of security," the EU Commission said. Personal data will only be shared online if the citizens choose to share that information.

However, the proposal has raised concerns among EU lawmakers and privacy activists.

"Entrusting our digital lives to the government instead of Facebook and Google is jumping out of the frying pan into the fire," said MEP Patrick Breyer from the Greens/EFA group.

"Bringing all data and documents together in one repository creates the danger of hacks and identity theft," he added.

The commission has invited member states to prepare a common toolbox by September 2022 - including technical architecture, standards and guidelines for best practices.

Once the technical framework has been agreed upon, it will be tested in pilot projects.

As with the Covid-19 certificate, Brussels want to have all technical specifications in place before the legal framework enters into force.

The commission estimates this proposal could generate up to €9.6bn and create 27,000 jobs over the five years following its implementation.

But it also foresees a positive environmental impact, as the take up of the digital wallet might help reduce emission related to public services.

The proposal will have an estimated cost of €30.8m.

But before it becomes a law, both member states and MEPs will have to give the green light to the proposal.

Currently, 14 member states have their own national digital ID systems, but they have been designed in a very different way. As a result, the level of interoperability is "limited," an EU official said.

Yet, around 60 percent of Europeans can use their national e-ID cross-border.

The commission has set out specific digital targets for 2030. For example, all essential public services should be available online, all citizens will have access to electronic medical records, and most citizens (some 80 percent) should use the digital identity wallet.

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