App will allow citizens across bloc to securely access a range of private and public services with a single online ID
The EU is set to unveil detailed plans for a bloc-wide digital wallet on Wednesday following requests from member states to find a safe way for citizens to access public and private services online. The digital wallet would securely store payment details and passwords and allow citizens from all 27 countries to log into local government websites or pay utility bills using a single recognised identity, said people with direct knowledge of the plans.
The EU-wide app, which can be accessed via fingerprint or retina scanning among other methods, will also serve as a vault where users can store official documents such as a driver’s licence. Using the wallet was not compulsory, those involved said, but citizens who chose to sign up would benefit from an extra-secure digital ecosystem and greater flexibility ideal for post-pandemic life. “The new digital ID will give every European the keys to their digital twin,” Thierry Breton, and EU commissioner in charge of digital policy, said in a speech earlier this year.
In order to protect citizens, EU officials will force a structural separation preventing companies which access user data from using it for any other commercial activity, such as marketing new products. Brussels is engaged in discussions with member states to provide guidelines on technical standards for the rollout of the digital wallet, which is expected to be fully operational in about a year. The new proposals are part of a review of existing EU-wide electronic identification and follows a consultation on the “drivers and barriers” for the deployment of a digital wallet.
The existing system has experienced low take-up with only 19 countries introducing digital IDs and not all of them are compatible with one another. Ultimately, member states will decide how to implement the system. EU officials hope increased digital literacy and an increased use of digital tools during the pandemic will help boost the new system. Regulators will also highlight the ease of accessing public and private services should people choose to sign up.
A person hiring a car, for example, could use their digital wallet to do so remotely through an application that will verify their identity and issue an electronic key so they can take the car immediately without the need to wait in line at the airport. The digital wallet would be “simple, secure and it will protect people online”, said a person with direct knowledge of the plans. “People will also have the power to decide how much information they give out while Google and others don’t let you decide what you’re giving away.”