Group Calls For Coordination Of European eID Card Initiatives

Lack of best practices for security, privacy could threaten cross-border travel, commerce, report says
A lack of coordination in the deployment of electronic identification cards across Europe could cause problems for cross-border travel and commerce, a major European security agency said today.

In an report on European identity card specifications published today (PDF), the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) maintains that differences in technology, as well as in the various nations' approaches to privacy, could jeopardize the potential value of electronic ID cards across the continent.

"Privacy is an area where the member states' approaches differ a lot, and European eID will not take off unless we get this right," said Andrea Pirotti, executive director of ENISA. "Europe needs to reflect on eID privacy and its role in the interoperability puzzle. The fundamental human right to privacy must be guaranteed for all European eID card holders."

Today, 10 national eID card schemes are already in use across the European Union, and 13 more are in the pipeline, according to ENISA. They are used primarily by e-government services, but commercial applications of eID cards also exists, the report observed. In the future, some countries plan to use the data on the card for anything from secure chat to library access and shared network access.

"In all these applications, the eID card is a gateway to personal information, be it at a national or European level. At the same time, it is key to address privacy concerns related to eID: unwanted disclosure of data and subsequent misuse," the report states.

The report outlines the technologies and specifications used in the eID card efforts of 30 different European countries, highlighting wide differences in privacy, strategy, and technology in the various initiatives. It also outlines the most likely threats to eID card users, including both criminals and potential compromise of personal information.

The report does not advocate the adoption of a common eID scheme akin to the adoption of the euro. However, it does recommend that European nations adopt a common set of best practices relating to privacy and a level of interoperability among the card schemes that will ease cross-border travel and commerce.

"A lot of very practical techniques exist to protect the citizens' privacy and, from the survey of available techniques in this paper, it is possible to identify a set of best practice guidelines for the protection of personal data in national eID card schemes," the report states. "European eID card specifications are very diverse in terms of their implementation of the privacy features we have identified: They are by no means universally implemented, and where they are implemented, they are not always technically interoperable.

"A lot of work is currently being done in the planning of new eID card specifications, in creating cross-border interoperability between specifications, and in standardizing eID card specifications," the report continues. "It is important that in creating these specifications and in working on the wider aspects of interoperability, the features identified in this paper should be carefully considered and built in by design." Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message