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EU replaces plastic and paper documents with digital identifications

Wallet and plastic cards.
Wallet and plastic cards. Source: Merilin Pärli/ERR

The European Union's digital wallet promises to replace all paper and plastic documents, including driver's licenses and identification cards. However, there is no urgency to replace plastic cards; they will continue to be used for the foreseeable future.

In a few years, you might not even need your wallet. In the same way that a bank card can already be used on a smartphone, the EU is designing a digital solution that would allow your identification cards to also be stored on a phone.

"It is not like a plastic card that you take out of your pocket and show. With digital, it is as if I authorize another individual, an official, to identify me," Mark Erlich, the Information System Authority (RIA) expert, said.

The digital wallet can hold all of your licenses and entitlements, including your driver's license, fishing license and prescriptions. It would also provide you with more alternatives depending who you share your information with. "A traffic officer, for example, may have the right to view your ID and name if you are pulled over, yet a doorman at a bar may not need to know your address, ID, date of birth or name. He only needs to see that a person with that face is 18 years old. That is the only information he would get," Erlich explained.

EU legislators have started discussing a new version of the eIDAS regulation (electronic IDentification, Authentication and trust Services) in 2020. A week ago, a prototype app was completed and while this legislation is still in draft form, the project is currently undergoing testing.

By the end of 2025, there will be no obstacles for member states to begin implementing the system, Erlich said. But will the Europeans, still used to paper letters and documents, go along with it? "Honestly, I would have said no two years ago, but today I am more optimistic and would say yes. The French have the same problem as Estonia in that they only recently adopted plastic identification cards. Before that, paper documents in France were incredibly easy to forge. This was a serious issue," the RIA expert said.

Not everyone has abandoned paper, Erlich went on to say. It takes a considerable amount of time to give plastic documents to millions of people; digital documents are much quicker. So, after 20 years of digitization, Western Europe could finally experience a quantum leap forward.

Nonetheless, plastic documents will not disappear overnight. Before this to happen, all service providers must be able to utilize the digital wallet, internet availability must be nearly uninterrupted everywhere, and the European Union must do it cooperatively, as an ID card is also a travel document.

Plastic cards will eventually becoming obsolete. "The plastic document will be a rarity, so if a person wants one for travel or another purpose, they will have to apply for it separately," Erlich said.

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Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Kristina Kersa

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