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Is open source the common denominator in EU’s digital ID wallet debate?

Is open source the common denominator in EU’s digital ID wallet debate?

In any negotiation, it is smart to find an area of consensus as a platform on which to build a durable agreement. Open-source software, policies and practices could be one such platform in the European Union‘s debate over digital ID wallets.

Alexandra van Huffelen, the Dutch digitization minister, was in Brussels last week offering her view of open source’s necessary role in selling people on the whole idea, in making ID wallets secure and easy to use.

Appearing on news publisher Euractiv’s The Tech Brief podcast, van Huffelen said The Netherlands has found consensus on the use of open source in most or all aspects of a digital ID wallet.

Patrick Breyer, a German member of the European Parliament and the Pirate Party, stands solidly against some proposals for digital ID strategies (unique personal ID numbers, personal data in government hands, lack of anonymity rights, etc.) that are acceptable to a good many people in the digital ID community.

But Breyer has issued a statement saying any planned wallet must use open source code. The document is a summary of important amendments he wants to see to the European digital ID that is being hashed out.

Van Huffelen similarly says she is working on an open-source strategy to present to other EU nations.

“Everything should be open,” she says, if people believe in the digital economy and society. Few are the areas in which digital ID wallets cannot be improved with an open-source mindset.

The transparency builds trust among everyone involved in a digital wallet program. The software is better than proprietary applications because anyone can reach into the source code to make improvement. For the same reason, open-source software can be more secure. It also is more efficient, says van Huffelen.

Echoing decades of previous arguments in favor of open source, she says she “believes in not being super-naïve.” There are areas that should be off limits for the programming, such as defense. But at least in the civilian world, it is a mistake to reject it.

The only roadblocks should be those that users create themselves, she says. In fact, people should have the power to not participate at all in a digital wallet program.

But the average person, van Huffelen suggested, will have some data points and attributes they would prefer not to share or to share with only some organizations and people.

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