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  • Thierry Spanjaard

At last France gets electronic IDs!

For everyone in the secure transactions industry, France is known as the home of two out of three of the leaders in the industry: Thales (formerly Gemalto) and Idemia (made of Oberthur and Safran), while Germany is home to the third leader Giesecke & Devrient (G+D). However, everyone belonging to these major players was slightly embarrassed when they were questioned by international customers: “if your electronic ID card solution is so great, how come your government has not yet adopted it?”

Now, with the latest government announcements, the wait is over! France will have its electronic ID cards including all features of modern ID documents.

One may remember the previous attempt at deploying a national ID infrastructure in France was short-lived: the French government decided to introduce smart card based driving licenses in 2012, that included a chip containing cardholder biographic data. But in 2015, a new decree canceled the presence of the chip on driving licenses, making the whole electronic ID plans move backwards!

The new electronic ID card, known as CNIe – Carte Nationale d’Identité électronique – is at the same time an answer to the growing issues of ID theft and document forgery, a means to implement EU directives on Identity, and a base for the development of new services as a step towards a national digital ID infrastructure. The new cards will be distributed gradually all over the French territory between now and August, they will be valid for 10 years and will allow to travel all over the EU and neighboring countries with the notable exception of the UK. The new cards will be produced by IN Groupe, formerly known as Imprimerie Nationale, in relation with ANTS (Agence Nationale des Titres Sécurisés), the Agency in charge of ID documents in the country. At the same time, the inceptions of the CNIe is a boost to the whole French identity industry, including semiconductor and smartcard manufacturers, software developers, ID card reader vendors and systems integrators.

This time, the new ID card, based on a polycarbonate smart card and in a standard ISO 7810 ID-1 format, is equipped with all modern security features. It includes several graphic elements such as laser personalization, hologram, DOVID (Diffractive Optically Variable Image Device), guilloche background with additional graphical security features, MLI (Multiple Laser Image) and the engraving of the Marianne and RF symbols on the micromodule surface. Data printed on the card includes classical biologic information (first and last name, date and place of birth, gender, nationality, card expiry date, up to two residential addresses) along with the document number, data in a Machine Readable Zone, and a Visible Digital Seal (VDS) in the form of a 2D barcode.

The Visible Digital Seal brings authenticity by providing confidence on the origin (trusted issuer) and the integrity of the information (tamper detection). On the CNIe, it contains the family first and last name, gender, citizenship, date and place of birth, document type, documents number and issuing date. The VDS can be validated using a mobile or web application. The VDS technology is supported by Otentik network, an industry association including public bodies such as the French Interior Ministry and ANTS as well as private companies including IN Groupe, Advanced Track & Trace, id3 Technologies, associations such as the Alliance for Digital Confidence (Alliance pour la Confiance Numérique), National Federation of Trusted Third Parties (Fédération Nationale des Tiers de Confiance du Numérique), among many others.

Protected by data printed in the MRZ, the chip contains the personal information appearing on the physical card including the picture, in addition to two fingerprints (except for children under 12 years old). According to information from the Ministry of Interior, the digital ID data which was part of the initial project, and that would have allowed to set up a national digital ID infrastructure permitting authentication and signature has not been kept in the final implementation.

Thanks to the new CNIe, representatives of the French industry will no longer be ashamed of the decisions of their government, although many analysts consider the lack of digital ID data constitutes a missed opportunity to set up a national digital ID infrastructure for the country, at least for now.

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