Disparate Privacy Features Devalue ID Cards, Warns Eu Security Agency

The failure of European Union nations to co-ordinate the privacy features of identity cards will be a major barrier to their usefulness, an EU agency has said. The EU's network security agency hopes countries will co-ordinate cards' privacy features.

The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), which is funded by the EU, has studied all 10 ID card systems in the EU and the 13 in development and has found that they each adopt different standards of privacy and methods of protecting it.

Unless countries co-ordinate activity and ensure that all ID systems have good privacy protection, many of the claimed benefits of having ID cards will not materialise, it said.

“Privacy is an area where the member states' approaches differ a lot and European eID [electronic identification] will not take off unless we get this right," said ENISA executive director Andrea Pirotti. "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."

The report said that the lack of co-ordination over privacy controls will damage the usefulness of cards.

"The increasing numbers of card schemes in place are creating opportunities for pan-European initiatives exploiting the new infrastructure," said the ENISA report. "Privacy features have been developed, implemented and tested at a national level and there is no co-ordinated strategy at a European level as to which features should be implemented and how they should be implemented."

"The lack of co-ordination is an important obstacle to any possible cross-border interoperability of eID card schemes," it said. "[This is] important in order to create the necessary trust in the users of such schemes – any cross-border scheme only offers as much protection as its weakest participating member: If just one participating country offers what is generally considered to be inadequate privacy protection, the citizens of the other countries are not likely to accept any cross-border interoperability scheme which puts their data at more risk than their national scheme."

The ENISA report outlined the various kinds of attacks that can be made on ID cards and the systems behind them, and the different kinds of measures that countries put in place to guard against those threats.

It said, though, that though it was possible to create systems to deal with the problems, this was not always done, and even when done it was not always replicable on other countries' systems.

"A lot of very practical techniques exist to protect the citizen’s 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," said the report.

"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," it said.

ENISA said that the report was designed to give policymakers the information necessary to improve the situation.

"A clear statement of the status quo is an essential first step towards the important goals identifying best practice, improving the base-line of citizen privacy protection in eID cards throughout Europe and ultimately to improving interoperability and adoption by citizens," it said.