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Explainer: Electronic ID (eID)


An eID card is typically a government-issued document for online and offline identification.

The typical electronic identity card has the format of a regular bank card, with printed identity information on the surface, such as personal details and a photograph, as well as an embedded microchip. An eID is more reliable than paper-based ID because it provides more data security with built-in privacy features. The use of digital signatures makes it harder or even impossible to make a forged ID as the duplicate ones would invalidate existing digital signatures.

A citizen with an eID has the ability to use it or various different services, thus making the card multi-purposed. One of the unique aspects of the eID is its ability to authenticate the holder not only in the real world, but also in the virtual world. eID enables it holders to authenticate themselves securely when using an online service, while protecting their privacy.

Apart from online authentication, eID cards can provide users with the option to sign electronic documents with a digital signature or both government and private transactions. An eID is designed to be a trusted authentication mechanism for citizens and businesses to identify themselves in order to electronically access services from across government.

Convenience to both users and the authorities is therefore a major advantage of eID systems. In theory, an eID can be the only piece of identification that a citizen requires for all interactions with government. The cards can therefore be used for multiple purposes, including as a health insurance card for countries with socialized medicine, a social security card, a driver’s license, and or general identification. A further unique feature of an eID system is the ability to provide instant multi-lingual support through online systems.

ID systems also reduce duplication in terms of the time and effort necessary to issue identification across different government departments or varying services. eID systems also allows authorities to centralize the storage of data about citizens,making information footprints accessible from one credential. This benefit will predictably cause many governments to study, approve and implement the technology within the next decade.

Greece, New Zealand and Rwanda have been actively studying their implementation. Brazil, France, Indonesia, Poland, Russia, Malaysia and the Philippines have been actively issuing electronic identity cards that will replace conventional identity cards.

Supranational institutions such as the European Union have long been developing technology and policy frameworks for eID deployment. Once a EU framework is completely standardized and accepted by member states, over 700 million such cards could be issued.

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