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  BBC  NEWS  |  Technology  |  Belgium  plans digital ID cards
  
    
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  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.