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Digital ID, the European way

In a world where everything gets digitized, travel documents are also increasingly digital. Thanks to ICAO, ePassports are already heavily standardized and interoperability is guaranteed. At every border in the world, easy procedures are in place that allow immigration officer to access biometric data from every passport.


Identity is at the center of economic activities. Consequently, governments are rushing to establish reliable digital identity infrastructures that can be used to issue ID documents and to provide services to the population using always more secure biometric technologies.

“Technologies are neutral, but their uses that can be perverted,” said Marie Figarella, from Gemalto DIS, Thales, during the ID Forum in Lille, France, earlier this week.

To tackle this risk, Europeans have established totally different prinicples on digital identity from other cultures. For instance, the interpenetration between the public and private security is a lot more regulated in Europe than in North America. Also, the European culture that drives technology decisions that consist in keeping data in secure hardware or software containers in our ePassports, electronic ID cards, or even our smartphones is radically different from the American all online approach. Even if centralizing all data in huge databases can be seen as making service developments easier, having data distributed in millions of travel documents and smartphones make the whole system more robust, more difficult to hack and brings a much better guarantee for privacy and individual citizen rights. In addition, storing sensitive data aboard millions of documents ensures they are only read after a voluntary decision by the citizen.

Also, China has a different approach from the Europeans. Chinese authorities see no inconvenience in using face recognition in open spaces without obtaining citizens’ permission, analyzing images and then deciding on each person rights. Efficiency comes first, privacy is not part of the considerations in setting up such a system.

The European set of principles is the result of a delicate balance between different requirements. We want our experience to be always more seamless and our travels to be always easier. The European Union has set up a regulatory framework with the GDPR regulation and standards such as eIDAS that aims at protecting citizens’ rights while allowing the development of more efficient services. The European regulatory framework provides a harmonized definition of authentication levels and paves the way for the implementation of electronic national ID cards across the EU. The Schengen Information System (SIS), the EU system for security and smart borders, is to be complemented with biometric data, making European external borders more secure and guaranteeing freedom of movement within the EU limits.

Europe has a wealth of technology providers coming from the secure transactions industry, which are able to implement the principles set up by our regulatory system while driving innovation and business development. The European regulatory context and its evolutions constitute a driver for European industrialists to be always more innovative and propose technologies that bring secure solutions to the increasing need of citizen services, while keeping the delicate balance between citizen rights and increasing technology presence.

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