Digital identity: balancing caution and innovation

Since the creation of the civil status in France, the establishment, management and securing of thcitizen's identity is a regalian prerogative. It is in this perspective that the French State has initiated for several years the modernization of the national identity card, which arrives today little by little in our wallets.

Vincent Gourmelen

Vincent Gourmelen

Government Global Sales & Marketing Director

I am overseeing the Marketing & Sales strategy at Linxens Government. I have been working in the government identity industry for more than 10 years. Prior to joining Linxens, I worked for other major players in the industry such as HID Global and Arjo Systems.

Indeed, having stable identification systems is essential for governments in many ways. Official identification is necessary for the social, economic and political development of nations. It is also necessary for the populations, allowing them access to basic rights and services (education, employment, voting, justice, property, etc.), thus entering into the framework of Goal 16 of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. It is also a priority in the context of an increasing trend to control international migration flows and an indispensable measure in a hyperconnected world where transactions are now dematerialized and must be authenticated.

Caution, caution...

In order to bridge the existing "identity gap" - let's remember that, according to the UN, a quarter of children under the age of five have never been registered at birth - the trend is towards the use of new technologies, including the biometrisation of identities, which aims to reinforce the authenticity of identification documents. With biometrics, the recorded data is a guarantee of a high level of security and reliability. Biometrics also opens up a wide range of new functionalities.

However, as the numerous debates on the new identity card in the French National Assembly have shown, this is a subject that must be learned over the long term and with caution, because it deals with major issues such as ethics, inclusion, protection of rights, security and trust in institutions. Beyond the debates of the parliamentarians, the CNIL in France has come to secure the framework, having addressed several times recommendations to the government for a management of biometric data respectful of the citizen. In particular, the debate about the length of time these data are kept has been lively. Clearly, with the accelerated dematerialization of administrative formalities and the growth of digital tools for participatory democracy, the management and redefinition of citizens' identity are once again being questioned. 

In addition, these new identity documents can sometimes become a source of concern, due to the technical nature of the subject and the management of personal identity information. Consequently, the role of the State is also to inform and reassure its citizens about the security of these new identity documents and their new digital uses. A real awareness campaign would certainly be beneficial for a better understanding of this new object that all French citizens will soon possess.

...but not too much!

It is certainly a giant step forward that the French government is taking by adopting this new biometric identity card, which will be mandatory starting in 2031. France is finally following the example of its European neighbors (in Belgium, the electronic card has existed for 17 years, in Portugal since 2007), by allowing its identity card to regain its original value, which is recognized internationally. 

But beyond the new card itself, the development of biometric identity solutions opens the door to new functionalities and operations. Already adopted by the Belgian population to go to the pharmacy, rent a property or register a car, the new French identity card could make many services accessible, such as registering on electoral lists, applying for social assistance, tele-medical consultations, etc. This progress could also concern the private sector, such as opening a bank account, monitoring one's insurance, applying for credit, as is the case for the Monegasque population who can use their new identity card since the summer of 2021 to access not only many public services but also private services such as the telephone operator or the electricity company of the Principality.

Like the new bank card functionalities - such as contactless payment, which accelerated dramatically during the health crisis because users understood that they were getting a direct benefit from it, namely the possibility of not touching a payment terminal - the societal context, together with education, information and democratization of the new uses of the national identity card, are essential factors for its adoption by the population. It is therefore crucial to quickly offer direct benefits in the form of additional services. However, these are not yet mentioned in France.

It is also worth noting that a decree authorizing the creation of an "electronic means of identification" was published in the Official Journal on April 26. Since May 2022, a beta version of a mobile application developed by the French government makes it possible to prove one's identity through one's cell phone. However, this means of identification cannot replace the physical card since its objective is mainly to generate a proof of identity for public and private services and organizations online.

The new technological identity solutions, and more broadly these new policies of identification of individuals, oppose prudence and innovation, perspectives of surveillance and those of recognition. Although the universalization of human rights through technology remains an illusion, access to an identity for some, to new functionalities for others, are issues that must be urgently considered without fear of technology.