BBC NEWS | Technology | Belgium plans digital ID cards Change to World Friday, 4 October, 2002, 07:33 GMT 08:33 UK Belgium plans digital ID cards Will ID cards be used for e-voting? A decision in Brussels to create a controversial ID card could radically alter the way citizens interact with government. The card will have a digital certificate embedded on it which will allow Belgian citizens to communicate online with government. It is likely to be widely adopted across Europe and could have major implications for privacy. Many countries, including the UK, are considering introducing ID cards but the Belgian Government is the first in Europe to embed a digital signature in the card. Privacy worries The signature will allow Belgians citizens to perform e-banking and conduct secure transactions with the government online. It is an ancient privacy principle that integration of data damages the integrity and rights of users Simon Davies, Privacy International The decision will be seen as setting a precedent that other European governments could follow. In theory the technology used to create the digital signature, known as Public Key Infrastructure, will allow Belgian citizens to conduct a whole range of transactions online, including e-banking, paying taxes and even e-voting. Head of Privacy International Simon Davies believes that the advantages will be outweighed by the same privacy issues that have haunted the introduction of photo ID cards. "It is an ancient privacy principle that integration of data damages the integrity and rights of users,"he said. My personal opinion is that ID cards will be a basic requirement of e-government Jan Verbeke, Ubizen "Your e-commerce identity should not be linked to day-to-day authentication. There are issues with data linkage as well as the possibility of massive technological failure," he added. He is in no doubt that the rest of Europe will take its lead from Brussels. "It is almost certainly a forerunner of what will happen in Britain," he said. Governments, he said, are often not specialised in managing complex data systems and such a complex scheme could be a recipe for disaster. The Belgian Government has acknowledged this. It has handed the sensitive project over to a private company, opening a fresh can of worms about the protection of citizens' data. Cornerstone of e-government Security firm Ubizen has been chosen for the role and thinks that the decision to outsource shows that an admittance by government that it cannot handle such a complex project. It is convinced that there will be no privacy issues. "We are used to monitoring and managing infrastructures worldwide and we won't have access to the data, instead will just be managing the certificates," said Jan Verbeke, Belgian Manager for Ubizen. Each citizen in Belgian with have an ID card with their name and photograph on it. An embedded chip will contain two digital certificates, one for authentication and one for their signature. Even children will be issued with the cards, although they will not have the signing facility on theirs. Mr Verbeke is convinced that ID cards will be a cornerstone for e-government policy going forward. "Obviously it is a question for individual governments but my personal opinion is that ID cards will be a basic requirement of e-government," he said. "Having a variety of authentication systems is too complex and it is important to make it as simple as possible for the citizen to access e-government services," he said. In the UK, e-government is high on the political agenda, with a promise to delivery all services electronically by 2005.