Starting on 1st November, the German government is to roll out a new national identity card that is billed as the most advanced of its kind. The contactless smartcard can be used as a travel document, enables transactions such as online banking, airline passenger check-in and tax declaration, and gives German citizens control over which service providers can access ID card data.
Around 60 million of the new ID cards, which contain fingerprint scans and a six-digit PIN digital signature, will be introduced for all citizens aged 16 and over over the next 10 years.
The system will allow citizens to, for instance, use a single card to provide data needed to verify enrollment status at a university and then provide only residency status to another government organisation, such as for voting registration.
More than 150 companies are preparing for the roll-out by participating in trials to offer services such as registration for online shopping, airline passenger check-in, and car registration.
The Personalausweis (ID card) can also be used as a travel document within the European Union – and to some other countries such as Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt – instead of a passport.
“The new German ID card will set new standards in terms of document security, privacy protection, and citizen convenience,” said the Federal Ministry of the Interior’s State Secretary Cornelia Rogall-Grothe. “With its citizen-centric approach, it is a prime example for other countries to follow.”
The new card is not without its critics. Testing done by a group of hackers, the Chaos Computer Club, on a local news TV show last month (August 2010) found that the cards can easily be hacked by using a basic home scanning machine.
Scanners will be needed to be used with home computers to process data for official business and possibly online shopping. The Interior Ministry has said it will distribute one million scanners free of charge with €24 million (US$31 million) set aside by the government’s recent stimulus package.
NXP is the maker of the chips that make transactions on the German ID card secure. VP of Sales for Identification at NXP, Steve Owen, told FutureGov that the card has been designed using new architecture which makes transactions and data transfer faster as well as more secure. The card contains features that protect against reverse engineering and attacks with light and lasers, and a hardware firewall to protect specific parts of the chip.
“This is the first government smartcard that sets out to integrate a secure government document with those for commercial enterprise. We’ve made sure that it’s as difficult as possible to tamper with, by introducing unclonable features. But no company can ever say that something is unhackable.”
So what do German citizens think of the new ID cards? Christian Poppinga is a Sales Manager at Axel Springer, a media company. He told FutureGov: “There’s a trust issue here and the Chaos Computer Club showed that these cards are not 100 per cent secure. Confidence in these cards is not going to rise as ‘phishing’ or ‘data hijacking’ becomes a more common problem.”
However, he added that there are advantages of the new cards that, on balance, make them worthwhile. “Faster and easier administrative communications with the government as well as commercial transactions are practical functions that I welcome. I am hoping that the new cards will give me anytime access so that I am not restricted to office opening hours any longer.”