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The Future of European Identity: All About the EU Digital Identity Wallet

Digital Identity
  • The EU Digital Identity Wallet aims to provide a digital identity system for all EU citizens by 2026, enabling access to various services.
  • It will store and share credentials securely, supporting e-signatures and digital transactions.
  • The initiative enhances privacy, data sharing, and reduces reliance on Big Tech.
  • Full implementation is expected by 2030, following legal and technical preparations.

The EU Digital Identity Wallet is an ambitious project of the European Union that remains relatively obscure; nevertheless, its potential is enormous and deserves our consideration as it could produce substantial results within years.

Goal of this initiative is to establish an all-embracing digital identity system for citizens in Europe. If all goes according to plan, Europeans will be able to download and use an EU Digital Identity Wallet free of charge to gain access to both public and private services using identity verification as well as authentication of credentials stored on smartphones.

EU countries recently passed an important legal framework, setting them on course to launch pan-EU Digital Identity Wallets by 2026. Unlike current national e-ID schemes, they will be recognized across all member states.

So while there won’t be one single EU wallet app that everyone uses, the goal is to establish a system where different wallet apps will function effectively across Europe – in line with EU’s Digital Single Market mission. 

An ID digital wallet for everything?

Convenience is clearly one of the primary drivers behind creating an EU Digital Identity Wallet.

Europeans will soon have access to an app-based wallet which enables them to securely store and selectively share key credentials when required, such as verifying identity or age verifications both online and in real life. Its primary function will be identity checks – whether online or off – while its digital repository feature serves as a secure place for official documents, including driver’s licenses, medical prescriptions, educational qualifications passports etc – making e-signatures also supported.

So the general concept is one of making managing papers or remembering where you put bank cards easier.

But there are other more strategic motivating forces at work here as well. The bloc has taken notice of the value of data in our increasingly automated era and implemented policies designed to facilitate it flow more freely – or at least try – such as getting people to provide personal data when signing up for services or transacting in exchange for something like subscription payments or transactions – are an integral part of their political game plan.

The EU boasts an expansive and rapidly increasing digital regulation framework. A Pan-EU e-ID would come in extremely useful in this regard; aspects of online governance established under DSA might become easier to implement once EU could demonstrate having in place “universal, secure and trustworthy” digital ID system – as provided by EU Digital Identity Wallet for instance – making privacy-protected access to adult content websites possible for individuals able to verify they’re over 18, for instance.

Recent EU digital policy efforts have sought to remove obstacles to sharing and reuse of data across borders by creating Common European Data Spaces with infrastructure and rules for sharing across internal borders. Offering them privacy protection would likely encourage more info sharing while helping it flow smoothly into these strategic spaces.

Ursula von der Leyen’s framing for her wallet announcement during her September 2020 State of Union address was quite unique: She highlighted rising privacy risks associated with online services that require users to share data in exchange for accessing services, with selective data sharing being one of its core features – offering individuals more control and helping preserve privacy by choosing which data they share and with whom. As part of an EU pledge that its use remains voluntary for citizens, its main pitch to users was as “privacy preserving“, offering users greater control in terms of choosing which data sharing options they share and with whom.

Other use cases that the EU has discussed for their wallet include apartment rentals whereby citizens could share verified intel about their rental history with prospective landlords without being subject to identity verification until/until signing contracts; similarly those who hold multiple bank accounts throughout Europe could use it to facilitate transaction authorizations more efficiently.

Online services will be required to accept the Pan-EU credential and it’s being pitched as an EU alternative to existing (commercial) digital identity offerings like Apple and Google “sign in with” credentials.

Implementation by 2030

Launching the EU Digital Identity Wallet system has taken years of preparatory work, yet much remains in terms of testing, standard setting and implementation.

So far, the EU has successfully established a legal framework to facilitate interoperable EU wallets (the Digital Identity Regulation which entered into force this May), work is ongoing on creating secure technical architecture standards and specifications; an EU Toolbox was also created. Furthermore, code is being open sourced, while ecosystem infrastructure based on common standards will drive trust and adoption by customers.

The bloc has also collaborated closely with industry and public sector partners on large-scale pilots designed to test proposed technical specifications.

More work needs to be done over the coming years, such as by passing several implementing acts to confirm technical details. There may still be glitches along the way; but at least the EU has allowed itself a reasonable head start towards success; although wallets should start appearing online within two or three years’ time, universal system access will not become possible until 2030 for its roughly 450 million citizens.

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