01 July 2021
A Trusted and Secure Digital Identity For All Europeans
On 3 June 2021 the European Commission announced its proposal for a framework for a European Digital Identity which will be available to all EU citizens, residents, and businesses in the EU. Citizens will be able to prove their identity and share electronic documents from their European Digital Identity wallets with the click of a button on their phone. They will be able to access online services with their national digital identification, which will be recognised throughout Europe. Very large platforms will be required to accept the use of European Digital Identity wallets upon the request of the user, for example to prove their age. Use of the European Digital Identity wallet will always be at the choice of the user.
Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age said:
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. Be that renting a flat or opening a bank account outside of our home country. And do this in a way that is secure and transparent. So that we will decide how much information we wish to share about ourselves, with whom and for what purpose. This is a unique opportunity to take us all further into experiencing what it means to live in Europe, and to be European.
Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, said:
EU citizens not only expect a high level of security but also convenience whether they are dealing with national administrations such as to submit a tax return or to enrol at a European university where they need official identification. The European Digital Identity wallets offer a new possibility for them to store and use data for all sorts of services, from checking in at the airport to renting a car. It is about giving a choice to consumers, a European choice. Our European companies, large and small, will also benefit from this digital identity, they will be able to offer a wide range of new services since the proposal offers a solution for secure and trusted identification services.
The European Digital Identity framework
Under the new regulation, Member States will offer citizens and businesses digital wallets that will be able to link their national digital identities with proof of other personal attributes (e.g. driving licence, diplomas, bank account). These wallets may be provided by public authorities or by private entities, provided they are recognised by a Member State. The new European Digital Identity Wallets will enable all Europeans to access services online without having to use private identification methods or unnecessarily sharing personal data. With this solution they will have full control of the data they share.
The European Digital Identity will:
- Be available to any EU citizen, resident, and business in the EU who wants to use it.
- Be useable widely as a way either to identify users or to prove certain personal attributes, for the purpose of access to public and private digital services across the EU.
- Enable people to choose which aspects of their identity, data and certificates they share with third parties, and to keep track of such sharing. User control ensures that only information that needs to be shared will be shared.
To make it a reality as soon as possible, the proposal is accompanied by a Recommendation. The EC invites Member States to establish a common toolbox by September 2022 and to start the necessary preparatory work immediately. This toolbox should include the technical architecture, standards and guidelines for best practices.
In parallel to the legislative process, the EC is working with Member States and the private sector on technical aspects of the European Digital Identity. Through the Digital Europe programme, the EC will support the implementation of the European Digital Identity framework, and many Member States have foreseen projects for the implementation of the e-government solutions, including the European Digital Identity in their national plans under the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
Member States should issue the new European Digital Identity wallets one year after entry into force of the new Regulation.
The aim is that, by September 2022, Member States agree on the toolbox to implement the European Digital Identity Framework to enable the EC to publish the toolbox in October 2022. Once the technical framework has been agreed, it will be tested in pilot projects.
The EC’s Digital Compass, a vision for Europe’s digital transformation by 2030, sets out a number of targets and milestones which the European Digital Identity will help achieve. For example, by 2030, all key public services should be available online, all citizens will have access to electronic medical records; and 80% citizens should use an eID solution. For this initiative, the EC is building on the eIDAS regulation, the existing cross-border legal framework for trusted digital identities. Adopted in 2014, eIDAS provides the basis for cross-border electronic identification, authentication and website certification within the EU. About 60% of Europeans can already benefit from the current system.
However, there is no requirement for Member States to develop a national digital ID and to make it interoperable with ones from other Member States, which leads to high discrepancies between countries. The current proposal will address these shortcomings by improving the effectiveness of the framework and extending its benefits to the private sector and to mobile use.
What is the European Digital Identity Wallet?
Many citizens are already using digital wallets on their smartphones to store boarding passes when they travel or to keep their virtual bank cards for convenient payment. Under the new rules, European Digital Identity wallets, which will be available to everyone, are personal digital wallets allowing citizens to digitally identify themselves, store and manage identity data and official documents in electronic format. These may include a driving licence, medical prescriptions or education qualifications. With the wallet, citizens will be able to prove their identity where necessary to access services online, to share digital documents or simply to prove a specific personal attribute, such as age, without revealing their identity or other personal details. Citizens will at all times have full control of the data they share and control what personal data they want to share with online services. While public services and certain private services will be obliged to recognise the European Digital Identity, its security features make it attractive for all private service providers to recognise it for services that require strong authentication, creating new business opportunities.
How can I use my European Digital Identity wallet?
You will be able to use it to access both public and private online services in the EU, in particular those requiring strong user authentication. Examples of these could be accessing a bank account or applying for a loan, submitting tax declarations, enrolling in a university in your home country or abroad and many other things that you do with your normal means of identification.
Here are a few examples of how the European Digital Identity wallet could be used, once in place:
- Use the Digital Identity wallet:Peter has installed a personal digital wallet on his mobile phone. It has been provided by his home country, ensuring that the wallet has been issued to him personally. Peter’s digital wallet allows him to download, store and use his basic personal data, a driving licence, a diploma, and a bank card he used to carry around as physical cards in his physical wallet.
- Prove your age:Myra is in the queue to enter a nightclub and the security guard at the door asks for her ID. Instead of showing her physical ID card, she uses her European Digital Identity wallet. The security guard can verify she is over the legal age as Myra can choose to use her digital identity wallet to confirm her age without showing any other personal data.
- Renting a car at an airport:Sarah used to queue at the rent-a-car counter of the airport. She would have to wait for the car rental company to scan a copy of the passport or identity card, the driving licence, the credit card and sign all documents. With the digital identity this could be done without having to wait in the queue, even beforehand. Sarah will be able to head to the car park, pick up the car and drive to her hotel. The car rental company may either give her the key in the parking or else enable the car to be started via her mobile phone.
- Identify to an online service to prove who you are:Kurt has moved to a new country for work. To fulfil the need to register as a resident in the new country, he can use his European Digital Identity wallet. Kurt can also use his wallet to prove his identity for various online services in his new country of residence, such as to open a bank account, buy a SIM card for his mobile phone or subscribe to a public transport pass.
What is the added value compared to the current system?
The European Digital Identity wallets will be built on the basis of trusted digital identities provided by Member States, improving their effectiveness, extending their benefits to the private sector and offering personal digital wallets that are safe, free, convenient to use and protect personal data.
The existing eIDAS Regulation provides the basis for cross-border electronic identification, authentication and website certification within the EU but does not contain any obligation for Member States to provide their citizens and businesses with a digital identification system enabling secure access to public services or to ensure their use across EU borders. Nor does it contain provisions regarding use of such identification for private services, or with mobile devices. This leads to discrepancies between countries.
Some countries offer identification system to their citizens while other do not and, when they do, not all these systems can be used cross-border. Today, 19 notified eID schemes are used by 14 Member States, covering almost 60% of the EU-27 population but take-up is low, their use is cumbersome and business cases are limited. The EC will propose and agree with Member States on standards, technical specifications and operational aspects through an implementing act.
The coronavirus pandemic and the shift towards the use of digital services has shown that this has limitations that need to be addressed urgently.
David Goodman, Trust In Digital Life