EU building with flag

EU-wide digital wallet and ID to be unveiled this week

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According to a Financial Times report, the EU is preparing this week to unveil plans for a 'digital wallet' which would allow citizens a simpler way to access public and private services online across the bloc.

The report, which was informed by people with directe knowledge of the plans, says that the proposal was prompted by requests from EU member states to find a secure and simple way for their citizens to access services online amid a surge in use of digital services during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is expected to be fully operational by around mid-2022.

This European digital wallet will be an app which gives access to services via a single online ID, meaning that users are not required to memorise or store many passwords to access a patchwork of services. The app will be accessible via biometric methods such as fingerprint or retina scanning. It will allow users to log onto local authority websites, pay utility bills and store important official documents, such as their driver’s license, as well as passwords and payment details.

Reuters report that a European Commission document stated it can “be used anywhere in the EU to identify and authenticate for access to services in the public and private sectors, allowing citizens to control what data is communicated and how it is used.” The document also said that the wallet will enable electronic signatures to facilitate political participation, presumably such as by signing public petitions.

Importantly, the EU will enforce a separation in structure to block companies which access user data from the app from using this data for any commercial activity, such as ad targeting.

The European Commission is engaged in discussions with representatives from member states to develop guidelines on technical standards for the rollout.

There will be no requirement to use the digital wallet, although those involved with the project said that it would offer a high level of security and flexibility when managing these disparate digital identities. The wallet will be “simple, secure, and it will protect people online,” a source told the Financial Times. “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.”

The move could be seen as a counter measure to the growing use of digital wallets offered by private companies such as Apple, Google and financial institutions, which critics say could pose data privacy and security concerns. Little is known about the design of the European digital wallet, although it will be interesting to note how it will handle the inevitable criticisms of centralising peoples’ digital identities. Such a comprehensive digital wallet could prove to be a top target for hackers.

At present, 14 EU member states have issued their own digital IDs (of which seven are mobile apps) although there is relatively low take up and the systems are not all compatible with each other. There is also relatively low public sector digitisation in some EU member states. The European Commission document viewed by Reuters said that the adoption of a digital wallet could generate nearly €10bn in benefits across the EU and create up to 27,000 jobs over five years, as well as reducing emissions related to public services.

Last year, it was reported that the European Commission was interested in creating a voluntary future framework for all citizens across the bloc which would allow for “EU single sign-on”. In June 2020, EU telecommunications ministers supported the principal of a bloc-wide digital DI framework to create secure and interoperable digital ID for public and private transactions.

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